Why you need to throw out your old order of worship (for now)

by | Apr 29, 2020

Imagine 75% of your congregation walking out before you even start your sermon.

That is basically what is happening right now as our churches produce online worship services. Chances are, within about 90 seconds, you’re losing 50% of your initial audience and by the time your sermon starts, you’ve lost 75% of your initial audience.


Don’t worry. It’s not all your fault!

It’s ok. Don’t freak out! It’s not all your fault. When the world flipped upside down due to the Coronavirus and COVID-19, we all did the best thing we could come up with at the time…take the worship service we typically provide on Sunday mornings and film it for internet consumption.

At first, that was fine. Everyone was doing it like that. Your congregation appreciated it and you were even bringing in some new folks doing it.

The problem is, the novelty wore off, and distractions crept in.


Watching from home is different.

The first few weeks probably went pretty well. After a while, the novelty wore off. Sunday mornings blurred together with every other morning because, honestly, they don’t feel much different.

While trying to engage with church online, people are being slammed with all kinds of distractions…

  • Kids who only last about 5 min before going crazy
  • Clothes need to be moved from the washer to the drier
  • Amazon delivering packages during worship
  • The Internet feed going in and out
  • Spilled drinks
  • Fighting children
  • Constant notifications on Facebook
  • No shame in responding to texts

The list could go on.


How to adjust to meet the times

People are watching online. You don’t have a captive audience for an entire hour or more. You have to adapt because they won’t.

I know you probably have a longheld order of worship that you, and even your denomination, have used for years (Decades? Centuries?).

You need to throw it out. At least for now.

You don’t have 25 minutes to ramp up to the sermon. You have about 90 seconds.

Here are some ideas to capture your audience more quickly and keep them through the sermon.

  1. Prioritize the Most Impactful Content First
    • Your most important content, likely the sermon, should begin within 2 minutes of the video starting. Just before you’ve lost your largest audience.
  2. Give a BRIEF Welcome
    • Take 60 seconds and welcome people, but don’t drag on and DON’T give announcements.
      If you don’t have anything to say that is crucial, just welcome people and get on with the service.
  3. Consider Singing Later
    • If you have to sing up front just do a verse and a chorus and bring the song back in full after the sermon.
      You can do a few songs if you want after the message.
  4. Move Less Critical Content to The End
    • Announcements
    • Offering
    • Attendance request

If you think about it, you’re basically flipping your order of worship upside down.

  1. Welcome
  2. Sermon
  3. Worship Music
  4. Announcements etc.

It might seem a bit like sacrilege to those of you that have been preparing worship services for years. However, the internet is different and you have to rise to meet the moment.


Don’t be deceived by Facebook Reach

Some of you are thinking, “Joe! You’re wrong! We’re a church of 80 on a normal week and Facebook says we’re reaching hundreds (or thousands) of people.”

Facebook stats are deceiving.

First, the “Reach” stat on Facebook is how many people saw your video on their feed. That could simply mean that someone scrolled past your video and didn’t engage with it at all, let alone open it and watch it for 40 minutes.

Second, Audience Retention is a stat most overlook and the most important. Facebook gives you a graph of what percentage of your audience was present at any given time in the video. Below you can see a real breakdown of how a church’s audience fluctuates throughout their 30min service.

Facebook Church Audience Retention Graph

You can see within 2 minutes they lost 54% of their audience. By 15min in, 75% of their audience had left. In other words, about the time many churches are starting their sermon.

By starting their sermon at the 2-minute mark, they would have had double the audience and a better chance of retaining more of that audience throughout the sermon.


Don’t be stubborn. Adapt and make a difference.

Everything has changed. Only some of it will go back to how it used to be.

For now, our churches need to be as flexible as possible. Adapt to meet the times. Be willing to take risks and do things differently to reach new people and continue to minister to the congregations we have.

We can do this. I know, as a whole, churches aren’t known for making massive changes at breakneck paces. I grew up United Methodist. I get it!

Churches that are flexible and willing to be a bit innovative will be the ones that come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

I fear that many of our churches will stick to the old ways of doing things, refusing to adapt, and might never open their doors again. That would be a shame.

Let’s adapt and continue to share the Gospel in new and transformative ways.

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