Often things don’t survive translation from one medium to another. Different mediums tell stories in different ways. Every medium has its own unique rule sets and constraints. Every medium has its own inherent strengths and weaknesses. To successfully translate from one medium to another the story must be boiled down to its essence. You must then submit to the rules and constraints of the new medium. 

These last few weeks have been a large scale experiment in ecclesiology. As we boil down what we think the church is so we can “do it online” – we are revealing what we consider to be the essence of the church. We are changing the nature of the church. Here are a couple of things to consider as we do the translation work:

  1. Spectator or participant?

Marshall MacLuhan is famous for saying the “medium is the message.” Your chosen online platform will have a direct impact on your church’s message. Youtube is predominantly a one-to-many communication tool. Youtube is designed to broadcast to viewers asynchronously. Meaning people will interact with your message at different times. Even if you choose to livestream to Youtube people will watch at whatever time suits them. Youtube has very limited viewer engagement options. Facebook has slightly higher engagement options but essentially turns your service into a broadcast. So if you choose to use a platform like Youtube or Facebook you need to think like a broadcaster. Your service, if it is going to translate well into this new medium, is going to need to honour the rules and constraints of the medium. If those rules and constraints bother you, consider another option. Zoom and other chat programs are designed for synchronous meetings. Meaning your people will have to meet at the same time. This is a high engagement environment. You need to think of your service like a meeting. Imagine a service where everyone is sitting in a large circle or around tables. To do this well you’ll need to think more like a facilitator and less like a broadcaster. 

  1. Time now works differently

Someone I met with this week described the world like this, “Someone pushed pause on the world and stepped on the accelerator at the same time.” People are going to be as busy as they were before just in different ways. If our current #stayhome orders last for months don’t be surprised that people will have about the same amount of free time as they had before this crisis. Families, where both parents are working from home in a house full of kids, are finding it difficult to find time to juggle it all. 

I chose to go to virtual church this Sunday with my small group on Zoom. We met at 8:30 pm rather than our usual Sunday morning time slot. Why? The kids were in bed. We had the time and space to actually sit and watch our church’s Youtube video, time to pray, and time to connect. There is no way that time slot would have been available a month ago. This month it is. Pay attention. Time is working differently for people. New weekly rhythms are possible but you have to know your people and how their new lives work.

  1. Create a multi-pronged approach to community

Don’t stop at simply live-streaming your church service. Use all of the communication tools available to you. Use email. Use Facebook and Twitter. Even consider encouraging people to use Whatsapp and Discord. These platforms enable you to message each other regularly throughout the week. Get people talking with each other. You can even use these platforms along with things like Tabletop Simulator to host a games night! Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Nobody has perfected home isolation in the middle of a pandemic before. So don’t be afraid to try something new.