On this Friday Lives episode, host Anya Razina spoke with a global influencer, the founder and senior pastor of All Nations Worship Assembly, Dr. Matthew L. Stevenson. He leads the All Nations Chicago YouTube channel with more than 90,000 followers and provides spiritual support for professional athletes, politicians, business executives, and entertainers.

Anya and Matthew spoke about live streaming for churches — how to do it and why it is beneficial and prolific. Matthew shared his experience of establishing and developing an online church and gave some tips for reaching a bigger audience.

💪 Fighting the traditions

Matthew was one of the first "ambassadors" of religious live streaming and met considerable criticism and judgment. Even last year, the idea of church going live was considered "ungodly." However, with the pandemic rocking our world, everyone had to adjust, and so did the Christian community's viewpoints. Matthew and his team were one of the small groups of prepared creators, so he came to share his experience on developing live streaming for preaching.

Curiosity is what led Dr. Stevenson and his team to start exploring new online opportunities. They were interested in whether it was possible to reach more people and to become their primary source of spiritual teaching, education, and formation.

We would put some matter of investment into trying to figure out if there was a way to reach the world from the rooms we were in.

👀 Why do churches need live streaming?

For Dr. Stevenson, live streaming is an excellent opportunity to reach and engage more people at once. Offline pastoring and preaching aim to retain regular attendees, while live streaming makes it possible to "cast a net, hoping that it reaches beyond who was in front of us before."

I think the broader issue is who we want to really reach. And it needs to be that we're reaching beyond who we had been reaching, and we need to use the medium of the worldwide web to do it.

⚡️ Challenges of live streaming for churches

Dr. Stevenson mentions two types of challenges. The first one is about technical issues — trying to learn how to function in tandem with sound and camera and production are the topics that the traditional urban church doesn't necessarily explore. Matthew was among the pioneers of live streaming for churches, so he had to investigate such things as camera call quality, internet quality, and production timing.

Click here to learn everything you need to know about starting live streaming for churches.

The second major challenge was the generation gap — who will be watching at what length of time, at what age, and whether they will be tuned in long enough to give feedback. These questions helped to understand and shape a future online church's concept — to make a digital church that could reach everyone — so they analyzed feedback to know their target audience. Matthew noticed that, in comparison with an offline church, the live streams reached more millennials and baby boomers.

🤔 How is streaming on social media different from the traditional broadcasting approach?

Religious TV has been around for a long time in the US, so in some way, people are familiar with religious streams. The main difference for Dr. Stevenson lies in the ability to get feedback from the audience. While watching live streams, people can express their opinions, ask questions, and become more engaged than while just watching TV.

TV was not as social as what people think social media is. It is 100% different because now we're reaching back and forth to people that we may never, ever see.

💬 Speaking about feedback

For Matthew, giving feedback is a great way to engage viewers. Now All Nations Chicago has a special team that provides feedback in real time during live streams. According to Dr. Stevenson, streams are not just about who's watching; it's about who's engaged.

I don't think we need to just look at viewership. We need to look at how many people we can retain and make them a part of what we do and who we are for future productivity.

To engage their audience, Matthew and his team created a unique conversational space. In this place, the team could help direct viewers to websites or other information resources, where they can find more information on the topic.

Read later: The only multistreaming guide you’ll ever need 📍

😷 The effect of COVID-19 on leading the church

The effect was dramatic. People got used to leaning on the feelings of camaraderie and morale at the gatherings, and suddenly they were taken away. Churches had to adapt quickly to the new environment, which was a stressful experience for almost everyone. However, that was not the story of All Nations, as they turned out to be prepared thanks to their previous interest in modern technology and live streaming in particular.

We were not prepared necessarily, but it was not a huge challenge for us to invest in production.

📢 How to captivate the audience

The short answer is to be distinct.

We're dealing with a world and a culture that has a remote control in their hand.

Diversify your content. During the pandemic, people started experiencing so-called Zoom fatigue because they were tired of being in front of the computer. In such circumstances, the main objective, according to Dr. Stevenson, is to diversify content. What are you talking about? Is it current events? Is it biblical stories? Is it musical? Is it for the children? Is it helpful advice? Try different approaches and find what’s best for you and your audience.

I think it's about diversified content that brings people to your page and creates the traffic that you need to garner momentum.

👉 What is the future of live streaming for religious organizations?

For Dr. Stevenson, live streaming should become a part of church activities. Again, live streaming is a great tool to reach a bigger audience, and he emphasizes that it is crucial to focus on the people you want to reach. Matthew said that you should focus on an "ideal audience," which is an undiscovered group of people who could be interested in your content.

You never want to get comfortable with your current reach, and you always want to design a strategy for who else needs to hear.

🤓 How can small churches benefit from live streaming?

Thanks to live streaming, small churches may grow and spread their influence on more people. Prioritization is the key in this process. Dr. Stevenson advises prioritizing the budget, the power of publication, and the power of media. You should decide on your goal and determine the spheres to invest in.

It's a matter of revisiting what is really important to you and what you're willing to do to get where you want to go.

He also spoke about advertising. To effectively reach people, Dr. Stevenson suggests focusing on quality — don't underestimate the power of a great video and great photography. Another focus should be understanding your target audience so that you can root for them and express a clear message that will gain people's attention.

Invest in some form of research or some form of intentionality on who you're intending to reach.

🔥 Tips for increasing engagement

Throughout the interview, Matthew shares some tips on how to increase the audience's engagement.

Don't be afraid of risky topics

The main insight Dr. Stevenson found during the development of their live streams is that content creators shouldn't avoid difficult or controversial questions. Viewers are willing to learn more and discuss and express their opinions, and hot topics are great for creating genuinely engaging discussions.

He also emphasizes the importance of having your own opinion. It may not be prevalent, but having a firm stance is a beneficial tool for creating profound, thoughtful conversations among the community, which results in the rise of audience engagement.

Go live before the start of the scheduled stream

Dr. Stevenson suggests trying to go live seven to eight minutes before the scheduled start of the stream. This time is filled with content that has nothing to do with the live stream's actual topic, but it helps to catch the audience's attention even before the start.

I don't think that the real power is in the start time. I think it's seven to eight minutes before starting when your audience starts to gather for the show.

🦑 The benefits of multistreaming

All Nations goes live simultaneously on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Exploring new platforms can be daunting and even intimidating at first, but it is a great way to reach more people, to "cast a big net," and get to people who would never have known about you before. According to Dr. Stevenson, another benefit of multistreaming is that there is no need for viewers to adjust. They can choose the most convenient channel for them.

I wholeheartedly believe that certain platforms captivate certain audiences, but I want to reach out to and attempt to retain some from every platform possible.

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⏱ How often should you go live?

Dr. Stevenson said it is okay to go live once a day to tell people about what you're doing, what you're planning, where you're going, and what you're incentivizing to get people to know you. However, he stresses that it depends on the size and the resources of the organization, and you should find a way that is comfortable for you.

🔗 Scheduled content vs. live stream content

Unlike businesses that rely a lot on pre-scheduled content, Dr. Stevenson found out that it is more engaging to go live without preparation in terms of preaching. This approach helps you become closer to people, to grab their attention on the spot.

💫 Wrapping things up

First and foremost, live streaming is a great tool for every religious organization to reach a bigger audience and become visible to more people. Unlike regular TV broadcasting, live streaming allows for connecting with the viewers — immediate feedback is a key for engagement.

Another great way of engaging the audience is to diversify your content and try something new, whether it’s singing or discussing hot topics. Lastly, one final pro tip from Matthew: try multistreaming to gather a bigger community with less effort. Kind reminder: Restream is the best tool to do it!

A big thank-you to Dr. Matthew L. Stevenson for appearing on this edition of Friday Lives! We hope you learned as much about live streaming for churches as we did!