Preaching to a Camera In a Covid World

We pastors have been thrust into a new world as the Covid-19 virus has shut down public worship services all around the world and affected our preaching. We’ve all scrambled to assemble the needed equipment, web services, and routines to video-tape (or live feed) our services and sermons. And with the great uncertainty of a second wave coming and our governments’ slow lifting of restrictions for large group meetings, virtual preaching is here to stay.

Whatever the future holds, prevailing churches will have to maintain a strong virtual presence. And prevailing pastors will need to adjust their preaching because preaching to a camera involves communication dynamics that differ from preaching to a live audience. In this post I suggest three general guidelines to make your virtual preaching more persuasive.

1. Admit and learn to be OK with the fact that we’ve lost many communication supports that a live audience gave us. I’ve been in ministry almost 40 years and only recently have I begun to deal with my disappointment that for the next year I may spend more time preaching to a $39 camera than to a live audience.

What have we lost? We’ve lost the benefit of live community. We’ve lost the benefit of facial and body feedback from those in our congregation. We’ve lost convenient technology, specifically for those of us who aren’t taping in our worship centers and have had to assemble equipment for a basement or closet studio. We’ve lost kids care during the worship service. Now parents must try to pay attention to our on-screen preaching while at the same time try to keep their kids quiet. We’ve lost the use of auditoriums and stages that are built to help focus peoples’ attention on what’s happening on the stage where we preach from. The list goes on.

2. View this change as an opportunity to hone your craft, even with its limitations. It’s easy to get into the rut of familiarity. I’ve been preaching for decades and have taken for granted somebody at the sound board managing the sound system, somebody advancing PowerPoint slides, and a generally friendly audience. Now, when preaching to a camera with no live audience and the other supports, I’ve been thrust into a new world. I struggled initially, but I’m making progress in seeing virtual preaching as an opportunity to adjust my preaching, and hopefully get better. We all must decide how we will respond. We can see this as an irritation, or an opportunity.

3. Study how the brain learns and apply that insight to your virtual preaching. Preaching to a camera IS different in many ways. We can’t preach virtual sermons using all the same communication rules that apply to preaching live sermons. Although in one sense preaching is preaching, to keep your listener’s attention via a virtual sermon, you must do some things differently. Virtual sermon preparation and delivery requires that we apply a new set of principles and guidelines to help us maximize attention and minimize distraction so that our sermons achieve their goals, to foster spiritual growth.

The neuroscience of learning provides helpful insight that can make our virtual sermons more impactful. One of the most important neuroscience insights relates to how attention actually works in the brain. The more attention we can create in our viewers, the more they learn, because nothing gets learned without attention having been paid to it. There is no fixed attention span length because many variables influence attention, but we can help increase that attention span when we apply certain principles.

Every person who watches your virtual sermon has their own genetic attentional capability based on many factors that include working memory and processing speed. A waxy substance around the tails of brain cells called myelin (akin to insulation around a wire) influences processing speed. Some have thicker myelin than others and they process things more quickly. So, simply understanding how genetics plays a role in your viewers’ attention can help you preach better. 

So, to enhance the impact of your virtual preaching, admit the losses from this the new virtual preaching environment, see it as an opportunity to grow, and learn about how the brain works so that you can maximize the attention of your viewers.