How to Preach to an Empty Auditorium
By Dr. Rick Reed – President of Heritage College & Seminary
There are times when a preacher will need to preach to an empty auditorium. Right now, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, we are in one of those times. Government officials have mandated that we avoid gathering in groups, effectively shuttering our Sunday services.
Since pastors are called to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep at all times, we still need to provide spiritual nourishment to the believers in our churches. And we still need to proclaim the gospel message to those who don’t yet know Christ Jesus in a life-saving way. We are commissioned to preach the Word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:3).
Thankfully, technological advances have made it possible for us to preach to people who are unable to gather in our churches. For the past few Sundays, many preachers have been recording sermons in empty auditoriums.
Here’s where it gets challenging for us as preachers. Preaching to an empty auditorium feels unnatural. We look out and instead of seeing faces, we only see spaces. No smiles, no nods. Nothing.
So how are we to preach well at these times? Especially if this is new to us and we don’t have a video team to help out? Here are ten reminders that I’ve found helpful when preaching in an empty auditorium.
Preach the Word
One thing that must not change when we move from live to recorded sermons is the centrality of God’s Word. We must study it deeply, handle it correctly, read it publicly, relish it personally and apply it practically. While preaching to an empty auditorium feels second-rate, our sermons should not be.
Preach to people not chairs
Remember there are people who will listen to your message even though you can’t see them as you speak. Think of specific individuals in your congregation who will hear the message. Speak to their hearts though you can’t see their faces.
Position the camera so you are easily seen but have room to move
Even if you don’t have high-end video equipment or an experienced production team, you can still use your smartphone or tablet to record an effective video of your sermon. Use a tripod or improvise with a music stand to place the camera directly in front of you. Frame the picture so that you are centred and central, close enough for people to easily see your facial expressions.
Do a partial test run to make sure audio and video settings are correct
Before preaching through the entire message, record a small sample of the sermon to make sure you are happy with the camera angle, lighting and sound quality. Make sure your video camera or smart phone has enough storage to record an entire sermon. By the way, the video will look better if you wear solid colours. Striped shirts create a blur when filmed.
Look at the camera to look people in the eyes
When you look directly into the camera, those watching the video will see you looking directly at them. This gives the message a more personal, direct feel.
Preach with both empathy and energy
Enter into the mood of the moment by preaching with a pastor’s heart full of empathy for those who are fearful and alone. In addition to expressing empathy, preach with energy. Remember, energy enhances engagement. Generally, you’ll bring more energy if you stand rather than sit. Don’t equate a conversational tone with a monotone. Speak with believable passion.
Get free from your notes as much as possible
How can you get free from your notes? Internalize them. Start by internalizing the overall structure of the message so you know where you are going next. Then, internalize your introduction (to make a personal connection right from the start) and your conclusion (to make a pastoral close). Next, internalize illustrations and applications. Remember, eye-contact increases connection.
Don’t worry about verbal perfection
Stumbling over your words a bit is normal in a live sermon. Don’t stop the tape every time you trip over your tongue. Authenticity outweighs perfection when it comes to presentation. (And do remember to smile at the right moments!)
Make a clear, compelling gospel move
While we should preach the gospel at all times, it’s crucial that we preach it now. There may be people who listen to your online message who will never come to hear you live. Make sure you present the good news of the gospel in a clear, compelling way. Tell your listeners how they can respond in repentance and faith right now. As you preach the Word to your congregation (2 Timothy 4:2), do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
Trust God who is present when people are absent
Remember the Lord is with you as you preach and with your hearers as they listen. Pray for His Spirit’s empowerment. Trust Him to do immeasurably more than you could imagine (Eph 3:20). Even when the auditorium is empty, God’s can use your preaching of His Word to fill hearts to overflowing.