Preaching to a camera is different to preaching to a crowd. It seems as if it needs a whole new skill set. So here are some tips to make it better.
Preaching to a camera is weird. Whether you’re in an empty building preaching to a room of empty chairs, or preaching somewhere at home, or outdoors, it’s just not normal. You don’t get any feedback (unless you count the dog snoring, or the feedback from your microphone when you forget to plug your headphones in!). It feels like you need a completely different skills set. It has taken me fifteen weeks of doing it before I felt comfortable enough to write this post. But here’s what I’ve learned can make preaching to a camera better.
Look at the lens
When you’re preaching in front of a congregation, I imagine your eyes roam the building, your gaze falling on different individuals and sections of the crowd as your sermon progresses. Unless, of course, you come from a college that taught you to fix your gaze on an object at the back of the room (a clock, for example!) and keep it there! Preaching to a camera means there is one eye looking at you, and in order to be most effective, you need to fix your gaze there. It will feel awkward if you are not used to it. But your online audience expects you to make eye contact with them (look at newsreaders or reporters and how they do it). If you rely on your notes a lot, you might need to think about using a teleprompter app or equipment to help you do this. If you preach from an outline and look at your notes now and then, then I think it is better to have them in sight on screen (perhaps in your Bible or on a lectern/stand, etc.) so your viewers can see that’s what you’re doing. Looking off camera to them looks weird!
I don’t think there is a rule of thumb for this in terms of length of sermon. After all, some people tune out as soon as they see the first news headline. Others can be gripped by several hour-long Netflix series episodes back-to-back. But the rule of thumb for preaching to a camera is, I think, be shorter than you usually are. I seem to be preaching the same amount of content each week, but in a shorter period of time. “Live” I seem to preach 25-30 minutes. But preaching to a camera, I have shortened it to 12-18 minutes. I think that’s because of the lack of feedback and interaction with the crowd. As you see how the crowd is reacting when you’re live, you re-emphasise certain points or move on quickly. You don’t get that from preaching to a camera. You need also to remember that your audience has so much more to distract them if you go on too long – they can open another tab on their laptop, switch to social media on their smartphone, or play with the kids, make a cup of coffee, check the Sunday roast, etc. Which brings us to …
Focus on keeping their attention
Whilst a congregation might get a little annoyed if you get up to make a coffee in the middle of the sermon, there is no such problem at home! The phone might ring. A child might need some help. You might even have a conversation about what the preacher has just said. Your audience’s attention is even more transient at home than it is when they are in front of you. Keep this in mind then, and think about the ways you can keep their attention throughout the sermon. You may need more illustrations dotted throughout the sermon than you do when you’re live. You may want to weave your application point(s) throughout the sermon, reiterating them/it several times rather than leaving it all for the end.
Remember you are still preaching to your congregation
It’s tempted to get excited about the number of people watching you preaching to a camera online. It helps to remember that, for example, Facebook records all 3-second views as a views in your numbers. Remember, you are still preaching to your core congregation as you are preaching to a camera. Picture them in front of you, interact with them before and after the broadcast if you can. Think of them and what they need to hear from God’s Word as you prepare your sermon each week.
Remember you are preaching beyond your congregation
But remember you are preaching to a wider audience too. There may be someone who has discovered your Facebook page or YouTube channel who stops to listen for the first time. You are probably preaching to your members’ family and friends as they either share your sermon or live worship deliberately with them, or Facebook or. YouTube alert them. I try to give application points for both those who do not yet know Christ as their Saviour, as well as those who have been a Christian for many years.
Tone it down and turn it up
If someone was to shout at you from your television, you might be tempted to switch it off or change the channel. The same can be said for preaching to a camera. In a church building, you are further away from the crowd, and so you need to raise your voice and enlarge your gestures in order to reach them effectively. Now, preaching to a camera, you are in their living room (or wherever) having a personal conversation with them. Thumping the lectern and jumping up and down is probably going to seem a little weird! So tone it down a bit, if this is your usual style. That said, when people see you preach live, they can vary their focus a little. Rather than fixing their eyes on you for 30 minutes straight, then can glance around the room, take a quick peek out of the window, or look down at their Bibles or up at the screen. When you’re preaching to a camera, then you are the sole area of focus. So in ensuring you don’t go overboard in shouting at them through what is really a personal conversation with them, don’t let your energy levels drop too far and become monotonous.
I know it can be painful, but if you want to get better at preaching to a camera, watch yourself do it. I pre-record my material each week and then live stream it on Sunday mornings. That means I have to watch me preach each week. As I have done so, I have made changes that I hope have made things better. Having my notes on screen, editing from wide focus to close focus, using full slides (rather than lower thirds) for Bible verses I’m referring to, and using pictures where appropriate, have all come from studying my sermons each week.
Some practical pointers
- Beware of your lighting. Use natural lighting if you can (record in front of a window). Don’t record with a window behind you. Look for shadows or for shine.
- Preach without notes if you can. If you use them, only look at them every now and then and have them on screen (in your Bible or on a lectern) so people can see what you’re referring to. If you need to look at them more often, or usually preach from a manuscript, then use a teleprompter or teleprompter app.
- Use a simple, tidy background. It’s amazing how people’s attention can be drawn by untidy bookshelves, a mass of cables or photos of your dog.
- If you are using your phone or standing some distance away from your video camera, then invest in a microphone. A lapel mic or headset will improve the audio no end. People will forgive poor video easier than they will poor audio.
- Encourage your congregation to share your sermon videos. Done well, they can be a great evangelistic tool.
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Why not check out these posts from around the blog?
- How to Livestream a Worship Service: 6 Tips
- The Important Ministry of Interruptions
- Why You Should be Planning Your Preaching
- God Still Calls the Salvation Army Soldier
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