Effective communication in online preaching

Earlier this week, I had a fantastically stimulating discussion with Bryan Wolfmeuller, Pastor of St Paul Lutheran Church, Austin Text, and Jesus Deaf Lutheran Church, about the challenges and opportunities of online communication. I previously linked some of his material, including his instructional video on tips for pastors when preaching online, in an earlier post.

Bryan offers some great insights into preaching and communicating online–as well as stimulating observations about the task of preaching in any context. Below the video is a timeline of the issues we discussed. Enjoy!

01.12            The new challenges to preachers with online preaching. Sound, using the camera, and the way the medium changes the way we communicate.

03.15            Where Bryan learnt these lessons in dealing with ‘new media’. We can’t just video what we do in real life and put it online. But new media doesn’t need too much polish

06.00            The challenge of the intensity and directness of video preaching. Ways in which we can relieve the intensity. There are rules, but they can be broken if we have compelling content.

08.32            The difference between search content and relationship content. Some things allow people to find us online, but other things enable people to connect with us and stay interesting.

10.15            The importance of theological imagination, allowing the ideas in our preaching to simmer and develop.

11.30             The connections with basic disciplines in preaching—the relation between study and analysis in preparation and the creative imagination.

13.30            The particular need people have at the moment to ‘see church’. Future communication will be different.

14.27            Bryan’s conviction that in preaching you need to ‘smell’ the text—have a sense of inhabiting and engaging the text with the imagination.

15.45            The importance of basic, classical good rhetoric in online communication. The twin concerns in preaching are to ask ‘How does this text convict me?’ but most important ‘How does this text comfort me?’

18.22            The immediacy of online preaching. Looking for what God is doing rather than what we ought to be doing.

20.45            When you read the Bible, what question are you asking? If you ask ‘What should I do today?’ then you will get law. If you ask ‘What is God teaching me today about forgiveness?’ then you will get something else.

22.40            The challenge of online preaching in focussing on the window of the camera when doing video. The loss of direct interaction and response. The difference for introvert and extraverts.

24.40            How Bryan got involved in new media. The low barriers to entry for new media, which means that we can experiment and take risks. Ways in which we can keep things simple.

27.30            G K Chesterton: we should be very serious about our theology, but not serious about ourselves. In this moment, we should be ready to take risks and not worry about making mistakes.

28.33            What are the positive things that are happening in this moment? What is Jesus teaching us in this situation? Repentance, and thankfulness. Today is not the future that you thought about yesterday—we are not in control the way we thought we were.

30.15 In a time of crisis we are learning to retreat and rest and learning what is important.

31.48            Will this bring particular change, or is it a time when we need to decide what will happen? There is a growth in online engagement—but how will that translate into real life?

33.48            Will we respond in the right ways in ministry to make the most of changes?

34.30            How to go and engage with unbelievers when we cannot do that in physical spaces. The challenges in this situation are actually the same as they were before—but they take a different form.

38.10            Why might people not invite their friends? What if we aren’t engaging with the questions those outside church are not asking. The difference between relevance and resonance.

39.30            When lockdown ends, will churches revert back to previous practices or will we take some of what we have learnt now into the future? The weekly gathering for the Lord’s supper and to hear the preaching cannot go away. But the ‘shaking’ of this moment will get rid of our unnecessary busyness. We will have more compassion for those who are housebound.

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3 thoughts on “Effective communication in online preaching”

  1. Hi Ian,

    I am a newcomer to your blog but I’m becoming addicted which is a bit worrying because after lockdown there may not be the time to feed my addiction!

    What I really enjoyed this time was the discussion about the production of sermons. The way you were suggesting you approached it and the warning you gave to new preachers really resonated with me.

    I don’t actually preach sermons but I lead collective worship in three different primary schools often on three different themes. The way I approach them as a relatively new leader (2 years in all) is very similar. The outline for the term is usually “downloaded” to me through the Holy Spirit often at a very inconvenient moment! Nevertheless it is an awesome event. Each week, after the first two on Monday morning, I will look at that outline to see where to go next cosidering points which have come up that morning and where I am expecting to end up at the end of term. I will make a simple outline of ideas and then let it roll around in my head all week. Ideas which I know I would never have come up with on my own, then permeate the ether which passes for my brain and I try to collate all the offerings into a 20min presentation which has something for each age group that will sit in front of me. That’s Friday’s task, leaving time for preparation of resources on Saturday. Sunday pm I will look over and check everything which allows for any last minute Holy Spirit changes prior to Monday morning. There are quite often changes to be made, sometimes quite major ones, proving I’m not a very good listener! Needless to say there is much prayer and study of relevant Bible passages etc within this preparation. If you have any more suggestions they will be gratefully received!

    Altogether, I gleaned so much from today’s blog, agreed with all of it and hope that this time out will have caused all our congregation to reflect, and where necessary repent, and be moved to action to save what is meaningful and discard what is accessory. Thank you so much. Sue

    • Great to have you hear Sue! Don’t worry about the addiction—it is a good thing!

      Really glad you enjoyed the interview. I usually aim to comment on the lectionary gospel reading each week, and will do some new videos on that in time.

      See you again!

  2. Yes, I agree with the very last sentence, “We will have more compassion for those who are housebound.”. I hope that is so. I had been house bound after having a profoundly disabled child. Had very little compassion come our way from those in the Lutheran Church. We were new to Lutheranism. Came at it from listening to Lutheran radio. It was so isolating. Only going out to go to the hospital, doctor’s or sometimes church. When at church fellow members would tell me, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. All law no gospel, no help from other believers, no asking if you need help, but saying as an aside, I can’t help you but, then the above mis quote. Hopefully, Christian’s aren’t saying that to the dieing, those who have lost their jobs, loved ones….. Maybe a little bit more care and compassion than we got. That would be an answer to prayer.


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