This was a very eventful weekend for churches in Minnesota. We had an historic blizzard spiral over the state for three days with a bullseye on the Twin Cities. I think the official snowfall was 15+ inches…in mid April! All the church buildings that I know shut down and church leaders told everyone to stay home and be safe on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The text messages flew across my phone on Saturday evening as a group of us deliberated over the choice to shut things down. I had attended the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Religious Leadership in downtown Minneapolis earlier that morning and heard a wonderful presentation on the use of digital media in higher education from Dr. Kris Stache from Wartburg Seminary. That talk was fresh in my mind during the conversation. The decision to shut down came through and then…light bulb! Why don’t we offer a FaceBook Live Video as an alternative to gathering in brick and mortar space?

Our brilliant communications team at Easter quickly schooled me on making the Live event happen on our FaceBook page. I did a short promo video Saturday night and the communications team spread the word.

I have to be honest. I had more anxiety going to bed Saturday night about this upcoming Facebook Live Video Event than I ever do about preaching in front of hundreds of people in a typical worship service on Sunday mornings. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was afraid that the technology woudn’t work, or that it would just be a total fail.

Our set up for Facebook Live Event. A French Easel to hold an iPad Pro. Analog meets digital.

Sunday morning at 10am happened. My wife, Lona, sat next to me to monitor the comments that may or may not come during the event. We went live and people started logging on. The numbers quickly climbed to 150 people and hovered there for the duration of the broadcast. I experimented with the interaction by asking those who regularly attend Easter on the Hill to hit the thumbs up button. A flurry of thumbs floated across my screen. “This is working, “ I thought. “Who normally attends worship at Easter by the Lake? Hit the thumbs up.” Another flurry of thumbs floated across the screen.

I treated the event like it was a worship service, just without the wonderful music. I shared announcements, offered a meditation on our new worship series, prayed, and gave a benediction and sending.

Here’s the significant difference between a regular worship service and this FaceBook Live Event. I interacted with people throughout the event. People were chattering on the comments continually throughout the event. It didn’t bother me, though. Lona would interrupt me with a question or comment, and I would acknowledge it.

The flow was totally different, and it felt good. We prayed and I asked people to lift up their own prayers in the comments. The comment ticker flowed with names and circumstances, bathed in prayer. People shared stories and links and encouragement continually throughout the event.

I hit the “end live video” button, sat back and looked at Lona. “I think that worked.”

The cool thing is that the event continued even after the live broadcast was over. People continued to comment. They shared the recording on their facebook feeds. I received emails and texts.

Our lead pastor, who is on medical leave right now, was able to attend and interact from the safety of her home. She offered one of my favorite comments. She said,

What if all these people giving thumbs up are actually shouting “Amen!” It’s like the comfortable Lutheran way of responding to a sermon 😂

Here are some photos people sent from how they experienced this event.

This screen shot shows the stats on this video 24 hours after the event.

I write this post for two reasons:

  1. To chronicle the event because it was a highlight for me.
  2. To continue my wondering about the use of digital media in spiritual formation.

Thank God for this blizzard. Without it we would have never tried this experiment. We are the body of Christ and you can’t shut that down.

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