Expending My Ministry

TL, DR: I’m offering myself as a consultant – at no cost – specifically to smaller congregations that want an online presence and (1) don’t know where to start and (2) can’t afford a paid consultant. I’m also offering a webinar on the basics of live streaming this week. More information on this can be found here.

Ever since I answered God’s calling to pastoral ministry, I have been seeking ways to incorporate my past experience. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, I have noticed that my previous experience in video and audio production have been very beneficial as I have had to make streaming my primary means of preaching and teaching. Rewind a bit: Even before the pandemic, I have seen the need for churches to embrace streaming, social media, and other technologies such as podcasting to reach new people for Jesus. Research shows that people will check out a church online before visiting in-person. Experience has reinforced this, as almost every person who has visited a church that I’ve been the pastor of first found us online and checked out a sermon before attending a worship service.

The reality is this: Congregations and pastors that do not embrace technology are not reaching people other than those who are already sitting in their pews. Online ministry is essential in the 21st Century. Yet, the task of beginning any sort of online ministry can be daunting. There are consultants who try to sell their services, convince congregations that they must have Hollywood-quality equipment and have marketing companies to manage their social media. Smaller congregations especially do not have the means to use consultants in the first place and, the ones that do decide to use one, often become intimidated and overwhelmed. My issue with consultants is that they often have a one-size-fits-all approach and assume that what works in the megachurch will work in the rural congregation. These consultants are out of touch with the reality of the church, which is that the majority of which have an average weekly attendance of 50 or fewer and do not have a ton of money to spend.

Enter Strangely Warmed Media Group.

Strangely Warmed Media Group has been a vision of mine for a few years now but was not something that I pursued. This changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially now, I am seeing that the need for consultants with a heart for the small and rural congregations are essential so this is why I have decided to launch this new aspect of my ministry. God has shown me that using my previous experience in broadcasting in service to the church is part of my call to ministry.

I want to help congregations and pastors who want to do online ministry well but do not believe they are capable and I believe I can help because I have been there and have had to overcome many of the challenges they face.

Just to be clear of a few things: I’m not charging for any of this. This is a ministry that I want to offer to the wider church. This is not going to be a full time venture for me. I see Strangely Warmed Media Group being a resource. I will do occasional webinars and teachings (more on those in a moment) as well as some short-term coaching. I envision this ministry pointing people in the right direction for things such as equipment and giving advice on running social media as opposed to being in active management of assets.

In short, I want to take my experience and pass it along.

I have launched a website which can be found at swmediagroup.net. On there, you will find that I am offering two webinars over the next couple of weeks: One on the basics of streaming and another on effective social media. There is no cost for either and you can register right on the website. If you can not join live, a video will be uploaded to YouTube (channel coming soon).

Again, I see this as an expansion of my current ministry. I don’t want to use this as an extra source of income (hence why I’m not charging money for this) nor will I be changing careers. Rather, this is another component of my ministry that I want to offer to the wider church. Just as Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed on Aldersgate Street and just as he proclaimed that the world was his parish, so too is the world our parish. God wants to use us to warm as many hearts as possible. Often, the tool to do this is social media and streaming.

I’m no expert by any means but I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Simply, I recognize that online ministry is essential in 2020 and I want to help others do it well.

“We Don’t Need to Stream:” Lies Churches Believe

I want to tell you a story about a guy named Vlad. First, you need to know that Vlad is not this man’s real name, it’s an alternate identity he crafted for himself as part of his hard rock lifestyle. Vlad is a guy from Kentucky who found the Facebook page for the church I was serving while I was in seminary. At some point, I noticed that this guy named Vlad was liking the streams of the sermons from our services. Soon after that, he reached out to chat about faith and I came to realize that he had experienced a lot of judgment and hurt at the hands of the church due to his hard living. Finally, one of my final Sundays in Kentucky, he showed up to meet me in person and to experience a service in-person. We lost touch a while back but I continue to pray for him and give thanks for his being receptive to God’s grace.

All of this happened because of streaming.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve had some conversations with pastors who simply do not see the value in streaming. The excuses run the gamut from a lack of equipment to “my people don’t use Facebook.” I get that there are true challenges for some churches and people to be able to stream but the vast majority can be overcome with a little creativity. We don’t need fancy productions and equipment. As for people within the congregation not using Facebook or being receptive to streaming, my experience has been that that is not entirely true. In fact, when I first started to really look, I was surprised at the people within a congregation that do use social media more than I was at who does not. I can promise you, if you believe streaming is of no value because your people aren’t using social media, you might be surprised.

Also remember that we don’t stream only for the people who are currently in the church. Consider the Vlads of the world who might discover your stream and decide to check out your worship service or even Jesus for the first time.

There has been much discussion on how the church will come out of the pandemic and whether or not we will cling to the lessons we have learned during this time. I pray that we do. I pray that we continue to embrace new ways of doing worship and discipleship. Your website and social media are the virtual front doors of your congregation. Continue to welcome people and to invite them to your physical doors but know that virtual you is the first taste most people will get of you and your congregation.

“We don’t need to stream” is a lie straight from the enemy to keep you from reaching more people than you ever could only from your pulpit.

May we not forget these lessons and may we continue to embrace them. Only by continuing to embrace these new opportunities will the church come out of the pandemic stronger than when we entered. The Vlads in your midst are not going to come to you, you must go to them. From the largest congregations to the smallest, it’s time for us to embrace new opportunities at reaching new people for Jesus.

To Pastors and Churches Having Online Worship Today

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6 (NLT)

Dear Pastors Leading Worship Online Today:

I see you. More importantly, God sees you. I’m in this boat with you so I’m experiencing this “new normal” with you. And, like you, I will get the experience of leading prayer, proclaiming scripture, and preaching a sermon in an empty worship space (minus two musicians and our worship leader) to only my cell phone and whomever watches on Facebook Live and our website. Like you, I’m having to fumble my way through and figure things out. Like you, I’m nervous, yet excited at what God is going to do through our efforts today.

It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different. It’s also going to be OK.

God sees you as you have had to make difficult decisions, often while receiving flack from your congregation and other clergy. Claims of your “lack of faith” sting but hopefully ring hollow. God knows better. He knows that your first concern is for the safety of your flock, the flock that He entrusted you with when you were called or appointed. Calling off in-person worship today and for however long is necessary does not make you a poor pastor, nor does it mean you lack faith. Making these tough decisions means that you are being a good shepherd. Not exposing your people to a disease that could kill them means you love them. You’re not reckless with your flock. Instead, this is how you love them. If some in your congregation don’t realize this now, they will. And they will be grateful.

While online worship is not a replacement for in-person community, it will have to do for now. Thanks be to God for modern technology that He can use to keep people connected to Him and to lead them in worship. My prayer for you – for all of us – is that we remember that God can be glorified anywhere and in so many more ways other than sitting in a pew or on a chair. Like you, I long for the day when we can return to our worship spaces but for now I will lead in the best way that I can. My encouragement to you is to seek to do the same. God is with you. God is with your people. And God will be worshipped and glorified today and for however long this is our “normal.”

Press on. Be bold for the Kingdom. Preach the word just as strongly as you would in front of a congregation. The truth is, you still are preaching to a congregation, only for now they are disbursed. Try to ignore the criticism and outright shaming. God is proud of you for pressing on in spite of what the world is enduring right now. God is using you.

Most of all, God loves you.

Offered to you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by a fellow preacher in the trenches…

Got a Smartphone? You Can Stream Your Service

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need to stream your service.

With COVID-19 causing many congregations to shut their doors to the public, there has been a lot of discussion of streaming worship. There have been articles about everything it takes in order to stream, several of which includes a laundry list of expensive equipment to buy. I’ve been streaming my sermons since 2015 and when it comes to needing an expensive set up in order to stream effectively, I only have this to say: Bullbutter.

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need in order to stream your worship service.

Typically, I go with a very basic set up using my phone. Here, I will lay out what I typically use and give some tips. I will also talk briefly about copyright issues.

A note: I’m not a “guru” or some other expert. I’m just a pastor who has been doing this for a bit and can offer some tips. I will also list the equipment that I employ and provide links for you to look at these for yourself but know that this is only for information – I receive no compensation at all so feel free to buy or not buy what you wish.

“Why Should I Stream?”

Some believe that streaming the service will keep people from attending in person but the opposite is actually true. Streaming the service is a way in which new people can find us in order to connect in community. Online worship is not a replacement for physical community. Unless someone has a reason that they simply can not attend worship physically – such as frequent travel or health issues – most people will use a streamed service as a “first look” at a congregation they are interesting in visiting. Putting a stream online can reach new people and act as an invitation to join the community in person (after the pandemic is over, of course).

Equipment

Again I emphasize that you do not need a fancy set up to stream. As I stated above: If you have a smartphone, then you have everything you need in order to stream. Seriously. Typically, I use my Apple iPhone X on a small tripod made for smartphones placed on the pulpit (here is one similar to the one I use). This works since all I have been typically streaming is the sermon. You will want something adjustable so that you can make sure your shot is level and steady. If you plan to stream more than just the sermon, I would recommend a bigger tripod such as this one so that you can make sure to include shots of worship leaders and the choir.

Another important thing on using your phone: Turn your orientation lock off and turn your phone to landscape (sideways). Doing this will provide a wide shot which will make the video look better on many kinds of screens. You want your video to give the best possible presentation for you and your congregation. Taking this step will go a long way in improving your quality.

When it comes to sound, if you’re only streaming the sermon you can likely use your phone’s built-in microphone and be just fine. However, if you want better sound quality or if you plan to stream more than just the sermon, you will want to invest in a better microphone. The one I use and have found to be of amazing quality is the Shure Mv88 iOS Stereo Microphone. This microphone plugs directly into your lightning port and provides excellent sound quality. If you choose to use audio recording for podcasting – something else you can do straight from your phone – you can use the Shure app to adjust the settings on the microphone and to capture audio. For Android phones, there are several options that will plug into your USB port. I can’t speak to these so I encourage you to consult an audio professional for guidance. My personal recommendation would be either a local music supply store or the amazing folks at Sweetwater.

EDIT: I’ve since exchanged emails with a sales engineer at Sweetwater who has educated me on feeding sound directly from a mixer/soundboard to your device. The audio interface he recommended is the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo and even included a tutorial on how this works. I am going to look into this and will provide a follow up should I work this out.

Internet?

With most cell phone plans having unlimited data, this should not be a major hurdle. I use my carrier’s LTE signal and this works just fine for streaming. If your church has any kind of wifi that reaches your worship space, you should also have enough bandwidth. The more bandwidth you have available – that is, the faster the connection – the better quality of video you can stream. If you have no cellular signal or wifi available at your church, don’t let this stop you from putting your worship service online. You can use your smartphone’s video recording feature to record the service and then upload it afterward.

Which Streaming Platform?

If you search Google for streaming services, you will be overwhelmed with the sheer number of services out there that cater to churches. Many have their advantages and disadvantages and if you hope to grow your streaming later on these services may be worth investigating. But if you’re only wanting to get through the pandemic or do something very basic, you need not worry about this. If you didn’t know, you don’t have to pay for a streaming provider because you can access Facebook Live or YouTube for free. If your church has a Facebook page, I would highly recommend streaming via Facebook Live from the church page. YouTube may be nice if you want to reach a different audience but Facebook is where I would start. All you need is the Facebook mobile app and you can go live on your church page from your smartphone.

Edit: I have since found out about a service offered by Outreach.com that allows churches streaming their services on Facebook Live or YouTube to provide a stream to their church website. The best part: It’s free! Click here to check it out.

Staying Legal

If you’re only streaming the sermon along with other spoken parts, you will be fine and won’t have to purchase any sort of license. However, if you plan to stream any music, you will probably need to purchase a streaming license in order to be covered. Copyright is a tricky thing and I won’t discuss all of the ins and outs of the laws here. Unless all of the music you use in your church is in the public domain – and I can almost guarantee must of it is not – then you will need to ensure that copyright is protected and you make sure that royalties are paid.

There are several options to be in compliance and, thankfully, this is not overly complicated. If your church already has a CCLI license, you can add on a streaming license for a small additional fee based on your average worship attendance. One License is another organization that you can also utilize in order to be compliant. One License is also offering a free month of stream licensing in the wake of COVID-19. The license is good until April 15, 2020. Click here for more information.

“Wrap, Wrap, Wrap”

To wrap up, I hope you see that streaming your worship service is not as scary as you may think it is. In all likelihood, you already have most if not all of the things you need to stream well. If you have other questions, fee free to reach out in a comment or by my social media and I will gladly give any help I can. Engaging with the world through social media is vital to ministry in the 21st century. Streaming our services is an important way to connect.

One More Time: “Why Should My Church Stream?”

“The world is my parish.” – John Wesley

Pastoring in a Pandemic

This has got to the most challenging time for ministry so far, at least in my short career. When I began candidacy and seminary, I never imagined that I would find myself ministering in the midst of a global pandemic. There were no classes offered on how to manage a congregation in the midst of a true global crisis. And yet, like so many other clergy, here I am learning as I go. Trial by fire has been a constant in my life so why not now? I’m here, do the best I can, making mistakes, but trying to learn from them. It helps to know that I’m not alone.

And as a reminder: Neither are you. You are not alone.

So, at least for this season, this is our new normal. I’m having to get use to doing nearly all of my pastoral care by phone since I can not go visit any of my parishioners right now. I’m having to navigate coordinating an online worship service and making sure we do things like stay in compliance with copyright and have the best sound possible on a shoestring (thankfully, I believe we’ve figured this out). I’m resigning myself to the fact that, for the first time in my career, Sunday I will be preaching to only the musicians and to my phone while people watch on our Facebook page. It’s absolutely different but it’s also the best we can offer to our folks, all things considered.

I’ve come across some people who have said that online worship streaming is invalid. To them I say: Save it. Streaming is not meant to be a permanent replacement for a community of faith but also it’s simply not safe to gather as a body at this time. In the early church, the body was disbursed and had to meet in small groups in houses. They used what they had available to them to continue worshipping in the face of persecution. In this situation, we must do the same but, thanks be to God, we now have modern technology whereby God can work in ways we never imagined. The awesome part about that is, he is using everyday people to do this. I have long been a proponent of using streaming technology for worship and we are now at a place where this can truly become mainstream.

I have no sage advice to offer from a ministry standpoint. Like everyone else, I’m fumbling my way through this and learning how to do ministry in the face of a pandemic. But I will say this: I am a former healthcare worker and, while I was no doctor (I was a paramedic), I learned a few things in school and educated myself on many topics that school did not cover. I’m no epidemiologist by any means but I can say this: COVID-19, and diseases like it, is no joke. This is highly contagious. The numbers are honestly frightening. Reuters did a great graphic that illustrates how COVID-19 spread in South Korea. One person attending worship ended up infecting over 1,000 people. You can see the data for yourself here. If this happened in your congregation, how many would that impact? How many outside of your congregation could it impact? How many people could die as a result?

Shut it down.

Please, take the warnings seriously. Do your part to flatten the curve. Swap to online worship and discipleship with the knowledge that this is not permanent. Reach out to your parishioners and make sure they’re cared for. Do visits by phone and FaceTime. Is all of this different? Absolutely. But it’s also necessary.

“And the best of all is, God is with us.” – John Wesley