Kenny Jahng: 8 Things Online Pastors Can Do To Make Online Church Better Than In-Person Church

Andrew Mahon

July 13, 2021

Kenny Jahng is Co-Owner of ChurchCommunications.com, and helps mission-driven leaders and orgs drive engagement with the right audiences by creating content with purpose. He met with Altar Live CEO Stephanie Leathe on Facebook Live recently to discuss practical ways to make online church better than a copy and paste of an in-person service.

Here are the highlights.

Kenny: One of the things we nerd out on is how do you make your church online service better?  Can you actually make it better than in-person services in some ways? 

I think that’s what we need to do as practitioners in this church online world. Figure out what are the sweet spots for church online services so that it isn’t just a copy and paste of your broadcast?  We want to figure out ways to take advantage of technology and use that in a way that respects the medium. 

Altar Live is a tool that everyone should be checking out. There are other tools out there -- the one from Life.Church is free… But beyond that platform, Altar provides some of these interactive elements, and I think it is going to be a market leader. You’re going to see other platforms mimicking and trying to evolve in different ways. 

Stephanie, I asked you to talk about some of the ways to make this church online service better than in person. There’s half a dozen ways we’ll go through today. Let’s just nerd out on each one of them!

1. Pre-Service Prayer

Kenny: The first one you are talking about is prayer. Prayer is an important part of so many ministries. It’s one of those things, especially online, we tend not to do it. We feel like it’s weird to pray to a camera. And the participants themselves are at home on a mobile device or on a keyboard.  Talk about using Altar Live for pre-event prayer. 

Stephanie: Barna came out with a study a couple months ago that surveyed practicing Christians, non-practicing Christians, and those of other faiths. They asked them, why would you attend a church online? And the really shocking result of that study to us was the amount of people who said they would go to a church online to receive prayer. That was more important than your message or anything else that you might put up online. Prayer was what people really wanted to participate in. 

That has been a central part of what we think about on Altar and other platforms. What you often see right now -- how do people pray online? You’ve got chat; you’ve got maybe communal prayer led over livestream; Facebook, thanks to Nona Jones, came out with a prayer button which is really cool. 

While those ways are great, there’s so much opportunity with the tool of videoconferencing to actually have a time of prayer and organicnes.

That’s one of the things we see people do in Altar Live all the time. You can set up rows and tables, and sit down and pray with one other person or two privately. They can hop in and out of that, just like you do in person. In my church, we often have prayer partners on the side of the room, or up in front afterwards. It’s nice, because you are not the center of attention. But, you can also go and have an intimate moment with someone. 

Kenny:

The table set up is one of the things you guys have on the platform that many people probably haven’t seen at all… That’s, in my mind, how I would use it as a church online pastor.  I’d have volunteers at a table available for prayer. 

2. Passing of the Peace

Kenny: The next idea we were talking about is the passing of the peace. Now, this is really interesting to me. This is one of those limitations when you translate offline service to online, that kind of disappears, usually. And you’re saying we can do this online. Tell me a little bit more about passing of the peace. 

Stephanie: It’s my favorite thing! This is the piece I love the most on Altar Live… If your church does a time of greeting one another or passing of the peace, it’s usually a beautiful chaotic time in your church where everybody’s reaching over rows and saying hi, and then you are herding people back together. 

Altar lets you do that exact same thing..

From the stage, you might say, ‘Turn to your neighbor.”  I can join a row with Andy and say hi, and I can jump to another row. It’s literally like playing musical chairs. It’s so fun. And, it’s just as chaotic as in person. 

3. First time visitors can watch with others, or alone

Kenny: So you automatically see the person sitting next to you in a specific row. 

Stephanie: Yes, you sit next to them, and it’s just like joining a breakout room with them. I’m still watching the livestream and we can interact, or I can choose to kind of stay at a distance if I don’t want to be on video camera. 

Awesome opportunity for first-time visitors. Think about attending a church online during Covid. If you’re watching on Facebook, that’s one of the benefits. I can check out what’s been happening behind those church doors from the comfort of my couch. But on Facebook, I only really have the comments as a way to really get to know somebody else at the church. 

Now, Zoom allows us to do that face to face, but chances are I’m probably going to be joining a 50-person large Zoom meeting if I am hopping in. Personally, I would find that incredibly intimidating. 

Instead, imagine being able to invite a friend to church and sit in a private row with them, and slowly introduce them to other people. Or if I’m a first-time visitor -- maybe I am moving into your city.  Actually, one of our churches in Canada, Elim Church, has a university in their city where a lot of Brazilian students come. They’ve had quite a few Brazilian students over the summer attend their church online, get to know their pastor, participate in passing of the peace, get to know other members of the community. Now when they move to the city they will already know some people’s faces when they attend in-person. 

That’s one of the things we were just so excited to see people using on the platform. 

Kenny:  Love it. I love it. 

4. Reflection Questions

Kenny: OK, the next one -- and I’ve seen Andy Stanley actually do this -- is reflection questions. Talk through this little piece; I think this is a powerful engagement piece that people aren’t… It’s an easy low-hanging fruit tactic to get engagement, and to make it better than in-person. Tell us how reflection questions can be used. 

Stephanie: This is one those things that churches have even been doing pre-Covid. Thinking about how do you make the lessons, the sermon, the information that you’re presenting on stage really a part of the conversation between people. Not just information that you take in on a Sunday, and you forget immediately when you walk out of the building, and you repeat the following Sunday. 

What does it look like to actually have a conversation as a community about topics you are covering in your sermons? My church does this in person, and now they do it on Altar as well. They offer a time during the service when they offer reflection questions. They pause halfway through the sermon and ask three reflection questions, where you turn to your neighbor and you discuss something. [In Altar] I can take a seat next to someone, and we can discuss something together, we can share thoughts and reflections about the service.

Kenny: Love it. I love it. 

5. Prayer and Petitions

Kenny: The next idea we were kicking around is prayer and petitions during the service -- not before the service, but actually during the service. 

Stephanie: Yeah. You can imagine in these tables and rows… when people are led by the Spirit, you can actually sit next to someone. That might [take place] in chat, just like on the Church Online Platform or using Zoom. You have Greeters on these events, and I’ll be able to have a private messaging session with them. 

Maybe I am praying with this person, and they ask me if I’d like to pray face-to-face as well. If that’s something we’d like to do, maybe we find a back row to sit in. We can still hear the audio of the livestream, and we can sit together. Some churches will continue to have music praying while there is a time of prayer for the congregation. 

Kenny: That’s cool. 

6. After Service Sermon Questions

Kenny: The next one is After Service Sermon Questions. How is that being used for church online? 

Stephanie: Again, this is all part of the theme of continuing the conversation. Just like church Sunday services are about more than just what happens in that 20-minute sermon -- it’s about how are people applying these lessons to their own spiritual lives, how have they seen God at work in their own lives, where are they being called into the places where they are in the world. 

We want that to happen online too. To do that, you have to be able to ask people to become a part of the conversation. Questions after the service are a great part of that.

Some of the things we’ve seen people do is have panel discussions during the main service, and then move people to the Lobby with some specific prompts. You can send those [prompts] out in the General Chat.

Kenny: In the tables, there’s a button that makes our videos become full screen.

This is the part where I think it’s powerful; that you can actually have intimate conversations -- you can have counseling, mentoring, and prayer in this type of situation. 

7. Ending Neatly

Kenny: Stuff like this, the tables, I see as the analog to the [church] Lobby. My question is, for technology, how do people find the Lobby after the service? One of the things that I think this technology that you are offering does is that you are able to end your service neatly. Right? So you are able to shepherd everybody out.  Tell us a little about that. I am sure there are practitioners watching who are thinking, “sure, this is a great feature, but, how are people going to actually find tables after a service, and not just stay stuck in the rows in the main sanctuary?” Tell us about this. I think ending neatly is important. 

Stephanie: Ha ha. Yeah, we have designed the feature that all pastors wish they had in real life -- the ability to mass move everybody from one location to another, and they’re seated right where you want them to be. 

In Altar, it's really simple. Think of it like two rooms: the auditorium and the lobby. As the host I can move the people between those two rooms… Things to keep in mind. Most churches have prelude [postlude] music at the ending.  You don’t want to do that on Altar, necessarily. You want people to stay on the platform. The way we’ve done that is that we’ve [automatically] moved everyone [from the auditorium] to the lobby. We are still seated with each other. The link is the same. All of your people who are prone to hitting the wrong button have very little chance of going to the wrong place because you have moved them there. 

This also solves the problem that a lot of churches have right now, which is: “Watch on Facebook, and join us on Zoom afterwards.” Just even that extra step is going to lose so many people. That’s why we’ve designed it like this, to easily get people from that main watching session into a communal conversational session, 

Kenny: I love it… This is one of those things. I actually want to foster real conversations. I want to be able to say, “Andy, I know you went on a trip the last week. How’s it going? Or, how are your kids doing, I know they were sick,” or something like that. This is the place you can actually have conversations in the lobby, that are meaningful, that everyone else isn’t hearing. I love this thing. Awesome. 

8. Meet the Musicians

Kenny: The last one -- this is the one is a very good use of it. One of the debates I’ve always had with a peer, Dave Adamson, who is another church online pastor we used to work together -- he always wanted to worship music (he’s a worship pastor). On the Internet, you want dense content. You want to go straight to the content. So we experimented with taking the up front worship music set in the service and going from five songs to four songs to three songs to two songs, realizing that the shorter the music set up front is, the more engagement you have. Putting the music throughout the service is a different piece. 

The thing that every worship musician is understanding is that relationship is actually going to get them to sing together, to be part of that musical set. 

You say meeting the musicians is a great way to use Altar Live. I love this idea. I never thought about this. 

Stephanie: This is inspired by one of the churches we work with. A lot of the features you see on this platform come from us watching churches using the platform and saying, ‘hey, that’s really cool, let’s design around that.’

Meet the Muscians -- the concept behind this is that getting to know the people on stage who are doing the worship, the ability to have conversation about the worship set, to be able to go deeper with those people. Often, worship musicians during Covid don’t get a lot of feedback from the audience beside what happens in the chat. But they are part of your community. They are helping serve in a specific way, and it’s meaningful when they can be part of that conversation as well.


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