Six years ago, our church embarked on one of the greatest and most rewarding faith-adventures of my years in pastoral ministry. We launched a second campus.
Today the multi-site movement has become a staple in many cities and communities, but eight years ago when we began praying and planning toward this venture, it was a vast learning curve and many unanswered questions. By God’s grace, we’ve not only been blessed with a vibrant, growing second campus, but the stories of life-change, baptism and heartbeat for mission are something that have truly breathed life and hope into us all.
One challenge, “one chink in the armor,” in our shiny new adventure was the inability to have adequate and effective means of “live” video link to this second campus. Though the technology was “technically” there, issues of buffering and bandwidth created a crisis. Three out of the first five Sundays ended up with “frozen” being the feature video during worship. Given our church schedule at the time, there were no easy solutions. We had to opt for a week delay or attempt to record ahead. For many reasons, I did not feel the delay strategy to be right or helpful for us. Instead, we started doing video at the new location on Wednesday mornings with a handful of available staff to come and listen.
Standing in that empty building every Wednesday morning created a major fear factor and life change for me. First, I had to do a much quicker turn around on my message to completion than ever before. I also had to try to match the mood and energy of a Sunday “live” worship experience with a Wednesday morning empty building exercise. And I had to learn how to preach without an audience.
During those days, there were several things I had to do and learn. Given the sudden onset of digital preaching and empty chairs many are facing today, I thought it may be helpful to share a few tips.
Since you don’t have others in the room with you, help them get to know you. Talk about your life, thoughts, affections, concerns and weaknesses. In many ways, this becomes one of the best platforms for your own testimony of grace, forgiveness and faith in your life. Of course, I recognize, preaching is not about us (you); it is the declaration of the treasure of the gospel of grace. However, you are a “jar of clay” and those who see and hear you will connect with the clay, even as they hear and receive the treasure. Talk to people in a way you need to hear others talk to you and connect with people through warm facial expressions, personal stories and life experiences that enable them to relate to the message you are delivering. Sincerity and authenticity are the parallel tracks of personal connection and good communication. Don’t be like someone you may have seen on television or you have listened to on a podcast. Be who you are by God’s grace and share about His goodness and grace in your life.
Candidly, far too many of us are used to leaning into our basic knowledge of the Bible and ability to read and relate to the audience. We approach Sundays with a general sense of direction (a topic, a series, a few good illustrations or stories), but often let the way the wind blows determine where we go and what we do. Preaching without a visible audience demands disciplined preparation. While none of us want to come off robotic as if we are reading a script, we must invest the time and effort to prepare a message that has order, structure, and substance. My pastor, Adrian Rogers, offered this simple structure for every sermon: “Hey, you. Look, do.” The “hey” is a means of getting attention. Invite them into your presentation. The “you” is needed to bring about personalization and reflection. The “look” is the reveal of knowledge, truth and instruction. And the “do” is application and action. Be sure each of these elements are present in preparation and be sure you prepare.
You are not going to be good at this at first. It is strange and awkward to preach in any setting without people. I’ve often said, “It’s hard to feel anointed alone.” Preaching is a discipline of mind and devotion of heart, but the practice of preaching without a congregation can quickly lead to exasperation and frustration. The crucial issue today is not to try to be perfect, but to persevere and well, “Just do it!” Admit your discomfort, but don’t dwell on it. Remember, this is a new skill and will require some time and effort to get comfortable. Don’t let the self-conscious concerns about your delivery keep you from simply taking a breath and stepping into the arena and preaching. As has been observed by many, in reality we always preach to an audience of One.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, David H. McKinley