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Is It Time for Churches to Stop Live Streaming Services?

Is It Time for Churches to Stop Live Streaming Services?
Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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Many churches started live streaming their worship services when they were forced to stop meeting in person during the COVID pandemic.

Fortunately, the vast majority of churches are once again gathering together in person.

But now, one of the questions being discussed in many churches these days is…

Should we stop live streaming our worship services?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a church leader who told me (and I’m paraphrasing here):

We’re trying to figure out when to stop live streaming.  We still have people staying home and watching from their couch.  We want to stop live streaming soon so those people come back to church.

This is the perspective of a lot of pastors and church leaders.  I believe it is based on several assumptions.

  1. It’s better for people to gather for worship in person than online.
  2. Some people are choosing to stay home and watch services instead of gather in person because it’s so convenient.
  3. If we eliminate the online option, people will come back and worship in person.

Generally speaking, I agree that it is better for people to gather for worship in person than online, but people continue participate in online worship services for more reasons than just laziness or convenience. Some of these reasons include:

  • Illness
  • Quarantine due to a recent exposure to COVID
  • Shut-in or disabled
  • Out of town
  • Non-members interested in visiting the church

Before live streaming, these people were often neglected. Now, we have the opportunity to continue to help these people connect with God and the church.  That seems like a good thing to me.

There’s a fourth assumption I think some people are making that I didn’t mention earlier.

4. We have to force people to come back to church, because if we don’t they will choose the easy, convenient online option.

I believe this is a false assumption based on two problems…

First, if we think we have to force people to come to church, we are likely overlooking the power of the Holy Spirit draw people into a close community of believers.

Second, there are certain aspects of gathering for worship that really can’t be experienced online including the handshakes, the hugs, the personal conversations with close friends, and communion.  Some churches also incorporate bible study or discussion. Others give people the opportunity to share prayer requests or testimonies of what God is doing.

I’m a part of a small church that emphasizes community and participation in gatherings. When people watch a gathering online, they inherently know they are missing out on many of the richest, most meaningful aspects of the gathering.

We frequently get comments on our Facebook Live stream from people saying, “I miss you guys so much!”  “Can’t wait to get back and worship with you in person!”

This is why we have no plans to stop live streaming.

It’s kind of like when you Zoom or Facetime a close friend or family member.

You never hear people say, “Well, now that we can Zoom, I really don’t care if we get together over the holidays.”

No! Those video calls just whet our appetite and make us long to see the people we love in person even more.

So, if you’re thinking about ending your live streaming, I challenge you to think and pray about this:

How can we enhance our church gatherings in ways that emphasize community and participation so when people view a service online, they long to be there in person?

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Comment and Discuss

  • What is your (and your church’s) perspective on live streaming services as you are able to gather together in person again?

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.

    5 Comments

    • Yes, yes, yes, we will continue to live stream as well as offer on-line giving. There is really no substitute for the in-person gathering of the local church. However, you are absolutely right about the sick, shut-ins, those out-of-town and others looking for a church.

      When my husband and I were looking for a church we listened on-line first. Now that he is a pastor again (came out of retirement), we totally understand.

    • My church is small with an older congregation, and we don’t have anyone to volunteer to work video equipment, so we have not been live streaming. We do have audio on CDs which we distribute to shut-ins, and I edit the audio files to enhance the quality and put the sermons on our website. (This is nothing new; we have been doing this for many years.) I wish we would advance to video – either live-streamed or just recorded and added later – but our people just aren’t ready to put in any effort toward it yet.

      My personal views on the churches which do the streaming is that it’s a good thing. I do share the concern that some people are lazy and have just become comfortable watching the services from their couch. However, I wonder if these people would actually come back to the services if they could no longer watch the video or if they would just skip church all together. I suspect many would do the latter. It’s better that people watch from their couch than for them to not watch or listen at all. Plus, as was mentioned, this is very helpful for people who cannot attend because of illness, quarantine, being a caregiver, or other reasons. If pastors think they have members who are watching online who should now be back to the in-person services, they need to preach a tough message emphasizing how the Bible says in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” and talk about the benefits of being connected to a church family. Sure, tough messages run the risk of “offending” somebody, but it’s a pastor and preacher’s job to tell people what they NEED to hear rather than just what they WANT to hear.

    • While our little country church has never offered live streaming services, our pastor (who is in his 80s) is adamantly opposed to considering the option! I can certainly appreciate both sides of this debate, and while I understand the concerns for those who have “gotten a little too comfy” in their jammies, the opportunity to better serve the home-bound in our community wins my vote. Making a greater effort to reach out to the community at large is more critical now than ever. I say, keep the “stream” flowing but ramp up the imagination and seek new and creative ways to inspire enthusiasm for in-person attendance at every opportunity. TaDah! That’s my opinion!