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Whatever Happened to Excellence

My brother was in the Marines … a loooong time ago. I was in the Air Force … a looooooonger time ago. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Good enough for government work.” I imagine I heard that now and again during my tour in Europe, but I know good and well my brother not only heard it, but said it. Sometimes “good enough” is just that. But when you’re working with jet airplanes and munitions, good enough can get you or someone else killed.

And good enough can put you and your church out of its misery … especially during this new online era.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve started a conversation about how the church has responded to the COVID-Crisis. To be honest, for most churches their responses can be summed up in one word: Badly. The number of outstanding online worship services that we’ve been able to find have been staggeringly low. This isn’t the place or time to be the picker of nits, but as an overview, here are some of the things we’re seeing far too often:

  • Low-quality video
  • Low-quality audio … bad video is bad, but bad audio is unacceptable
  • Unreliable technology (dropping frame, freezing, etc.)
  • Poor singing (sometimes because the vocalists are singing outside of their range! … come on, instrumentalists, transpose!!!)
  • Karaoke singing (singing along – badly – with canned music)
  • Stagnant camera angle (typically a one-camera show)
  • Poorly executed transitions with lots of dead time
  • Worship flow designed for the sanctuary rather than for the virtual campus

Of course, the list can (and should) go on, but that’s enough for you to get the gist, and it begs the question:

Whatever happened to excellence?

I’m not talking about perfection … even Groeschel’s worship has an occasional glitch now and again (but they’re darned rare!) … but I am talking about creating an online experience that is attractive enough for a “visitor” to hang in there more than the Facebook allotted Three – Ten – or even the Sixty Second Rule.

The reality is, if all you’re trying to do is keep your die-hard members content-enough to hang in with you until you go “live” again, then you’ve already missed the point. According to research from Barna, you’ve already lost over 40 percent of your members either to other churches or to no church at all.

In today’s new world, no one has to get dressed up (or dressed at all!) to attend a worship service. And if a visitor “drops in” to your virtual church, if they’re not caught up in the Spirit, they don’t have to worry that someone will see them slip out the back door … a few quick keystrokes and they’re off to the church across the street, across the state, across the nation, or even to Hillsong in Australia. When it comes to virtual worship, there’s no longer any pressure to stay … and every opportunity to leave.

When it comes to virtual worship, there’s no longer any pressure to stay … and every opportunity to leave. Click To Tweet

That said, excellence isn’t an option … your worship service is being compared to everybody else’s, including the Warrens, Kellers, Osteens, Groeschels, Hamiltons, Stanleys, and everyone else.

And no, you can’t compete … at least not head to head, but you can put together a worship service that increases the odds of keeping your members and even retaining a visitor or two or three (believe it or not, people still initially get involved in a church-based on relationships).

So, here are a couple of tips that might help you ratchet your excellence level up.

  1. Audio first.

Even Paul knew that if people can’t hear the gospel, they will never believe (Romans 10:14). Do whatever it takes to make sure your audio signal is always strong, clear, audible, and understandable.

2. Create Worship for the Online Campus.

Even if you’re a hybrid church (a church that’s engaging both in-person and virtual worship), design your worship flow for those in front of a screen.
> For instance, no one is going to wait four minutes while you pass offering plates (and why would you pass anything in these COVID days?!?) … or hang out while the next speaker makes their way to the platform. Move from one worship activity to the next smoothly and quickly.
> Remember, online worshippers have short attention spans and are easily distracted, so keep them engaged by letting them know what’s coming up. (“Coming up, we’ve got more music from the worship band, communion, and more. But first, let’s hear from our Miracle Maker Moment” (the stewardship message)).

3. Invest in Dependable Technology.

If your worship service keeps freezing, dropping, or buffering, you’ll lose even the most faithful followers. Don’t skimp here.

4. Two Cameras Are Better Than One.

Today, you can get a PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) USB camera for less than $2000 (check out PTZOptics.com). For your online worshippers, it’s nearly impossible to pay attention when all you’ve got is a single camera angle (think talking head for an hour, sheesh!). It’s no longer cost or technologically unreachable for most churches to provide interesting video.

5. Vet Your Musicians and Vocalists.

Sure, I get it. Maryann has been singing solos since she was eight years old, back in 1953. But the fact is, if Maryann’s voice isn’t on pitch or if she slaughters the words or … only those who know and love Maryann are going to still be attending your virtual worship when she gets to the second verse. For the sake of the Kingdom, invite Maryann to invest her gifts in some other way than leading worship. (Same goes for your instrumentalists.)

6. Preach Like You’re Talking to Me.

One of the greatest advantages of virtual worship is that it’s intensely personal. It’s just me and my screen, or more like, it’s just you and me having an intimate conversation. If you “preach” at me, raise your voice, point your finger, or treat me like I’m just one person in a massive (or not so massive) audience, then you’re going to lose me. If you record your sermon, as many are today, look at the camera. Look ONLY at the camera. Look at the lens, not the monitor – cover the monitor if you have to. Don’t yell. Don’t preach. Have a meaningful and impassioned conversation with me. Not with the whole world, but with me. Because that’s what it feels like on my end … or at least, that’s what it should feel like.

Once upon a time, excellence in worship was as much about your worship space as it was about your worship, but that’s no longer the case.

Hopefully, you’re recording your worship services from start to finish and making them available for those who’d rather worship on Thursday afternoon than Sunday morning. And if you’re recording it, watch it. Or better yet, pay someone who’s not a church member to watch it and to give you some honest feedback. Then do something about what you learn.

Excellence … God deserves it.

Your worshippers expect it.

And your would-be visitors demand it.