5 Reasons to Make Your Online Services Suitable for All Ages
Sunday mornings are looking very different for church families right now as they tune into online services at home. One church shared the reasons why they made the decision to make their online Sunday morning services suitable for the whole family.
Have you had those experiences where you stumble on a good thing without much prior planning? As I look back on our services at Beccles Baptist Church a couple of weeks ago I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. It just so happened that in our year plan Sunday 22 March (the first Sunday of the current restrictions) was due to be an All-Age Family Service, which we have six times a year.
When we learned from the Government that we couldn’t meet together on Sundays, we decided to stick with the All-Age Service for the morning and the more conventional service for the evening. We recorded both services on Saturday in our church building and then broadcast using YouTube Premiere, which plays the videos at a specified time for people to watch together (you can see instructions for using YouTube Premiere or Facebook Premiere on their websites). Both services included Bible reading, prayers and a sermon. In addition to this we sent people a playlist for songs to go with both services.
As the week wound on, I was increasingly convinced that this was the right thing for us to do. So much so that we are planning to continue this pattern through to the end of the restrictions on our church meetings.
There are five convictions that stand behind this decision.
1. We want to encourage our church family to continue to meet each Sunday
We want to meet around God’s word, albeit virtually, at the same time as we would normally.
We don’t want to lose the habit many of us have ingrained deeply and we want to keep the sense of meeting together. Watching a service at the same time still carries a real sense of togetherness even when we are split across dozens of living rooms.
2. We want to serve the children
On a typical Sunday we, like many churches, will teach the children when they head out a little under halfway through the morning service for their Sunday school classes. But I can’t see how Sunday school could work virtually and at the same time as the sermon while we can’t meet physically.
Thankfully an All-Age service includes and teaches the children.
3. We want to include children and families
We include a family in the service by inviting them to bring in our Bible readings and sometimes our prayers. These are recorded at home and then edited into the rest of the service.
Unsurprisingly the children have been excited at the opportunity to be on telly. Including children has enabled them to look forward to Sundays seeing that they and their friends have a part to play. All of which goes a little way towards the children feeling like they are a genuine part of church. We’ve also had some of our older and more isolated members comment on how much they’ve enjoyed seeing the children take part each week.
4. We want to serve the adults
As parents of three boys (aged 5-9) we appreciated being able to sit down with our boys to listen to the talk together. It held their attention, in the most part, and ours too. And our experience these past few weeks is that the visual and interactive nature of our All-Age sermons makes up for the limitations of communication via a screen for both the adults as well as the children!
If the sermon was aimed at the adults you would miss the children and lose some of the adults who might need to entertain the children in families with younger children, like ours.
Sure, the adults who missed out could catch up later, but I think listening together is important for individual families as well as for the church family as a whole.
5. We want to resource the parents of children
In addition to the all-age sermon, we also provided everyone with family worksheets by email on the Saturday. These worksheets included questions based on the talk, a word-search and some colouring. There were also some notes, written by the preacher, for grown-ups to help the children with the worksheets and to further aid discussion. (Samples can be found on our website)
Parents are going to have to take primary responsibility for teaching their children in the weeks ahead – something I’m convinced they’re responsible for anyway. They can’t delegate this responsibility to the Sunday school teachers. And while some parents will find this easier to do, many others feel ill-prepared although often willing to have a go.
As church leaders we are therefore presented with a great opportunity to equip parents to do a good job through online services.
Having said all of this, I don’t know what the coming weeks will bring, and it might be that we choose to change this plan in light of factors that we can’t foresee today. But as things stand, this is what we are going to do and why.
I can understand that churches may come to a different decision given their particular setting. I hope this might help you consider what’s best for where you serve Christ in your own context.