Last week I posted a poll on Twitter asking pastors to respond about the length of the weekend worship services at their churches during this season – the season when we are not gathering physically but are relying solely on online worship services. It is one thing to stream your physical worship services and quite another to rely solely on streaming your worship services.
There were three options for response in terms of length of service compared to “back in the day when we used to meet with people physically in the same room:” shorter, longer, or the same. More than 500 pastors responded and the overwhelming response (74%) was the services are shorter. A few brave souls (2.4%) are having longer services and the rest (24%) have worship services that are essentially the same length. So why are church services that are exclusively online shorter? Here are five reasons:
1. Leaders are responding to “screen fatigue.”
People are growing exhausted with the amount of time spent in front of a screen, whether on Zoom calls, group texts, or Google hangouts, and are experiencing screen fatigue. As church leaders are hearing of this fatigue, some are responding with briefer worship services.
2. Some worship service elements are missing.
Baptisms, communion, and times of greeting are not occurring in online only worship services, so service times are shorter even if the length of the message and the music remains the same.
3. Less interaction (less reading the room) reduces teaching time.
A sermon with the same word count and the same speaker will be shorter when there is no one in the room. I know this personally! When teaching to a live audience, you inevitably respond more. You pause for laughter. You double down on a point. You sense and respond to the room. All of that is gone when staring at a camera, and the sermon will be shorter unless you are adding more content. (Disclaimer: Most of my sermons since “stay at home orders” have been around 30 minutes when they are typically 32-35 minutes. Last weekend I went 39 minutes and just added a bunch of content on the fly for some odd reason. We are bringing a clock in for me next week.)
4. Cultural norms for watching.
Shows on Netflix and other streaming platforms have trained the attention span of our people, and some church leaders are responding to that reality. A regular episode is less than an hour. Others, of course, are attempting to push against the reality of declining attention spans.
5. Kids and junior high students are attending.
When a church that typically has kid’s ministry that meets separate from the adults during a weekend worship service, the pastor who is teaching makes adaptions on services when there are more kids present (such as holidays). There are more kids present right now! They are just spread out through lots of living rooms rather than in one room.
If you are wondering about the church I serve as pastor. On a typical weekend, our physical worship service gatherings are 70 minutes. We had more flexibility on Saturday nights, but with an 8:30, 10, and 11:30 on Sunday mornings, we needed to watch the times pretty closely because of moving people in and out of the facilities. Online, we have aimed for 60 minutes. We have gone a bit short a few times (55 minutes), and then there was one time (last week) when I went long in the pastoral moment AND the sermon (1 hour, 14 minutes).