Make the most of your church's online sermons

When my first church client set up sermon podcasts, we didn't know it, but we were among the first. Less than a month after launch, the church office got a call from National Public Radio. The reporter was doing a story on churches that had podcasts. He said that in his research at that time, he found two, and of them only my client returned his call.

The minister was a little leery about it when we first posted the sermons on the web site. This was before podcasts of any kind were common. He wondered out loud who would ever be interested in listening to sermons on the web or on an iPod? He learned that many would, as he began to receive calls and emails from across the country, from people he'd never met, saying they appreciated a particular sermon.

The sermons were on the web site mainly to eliminate the cost of putting the sermons on cassette tapes that the church provided mostly to home-bound members, but with podcasts, we started reaching a younger audience as well as those far away from the church building.

If your church posts or podcasts sermons, I have two questions for you.

What are you trying to accomplish and how does it fit into your overall goals?

If you've read my past posts about church web sites and social media (see after the end of this article), you know I'm a strong advocate of a church having some sort of plan and to know how and where your digital efforts fit in to that plan.

So, how DO your online/podcast sermons fit into your plans? Are you simply saving the money and manpower to burn them to CDs (for that matter, why were you burning them to CDs?)? Are they for your congregation's ill or elderly who can't get out of the house to come to church? Are they part of your plan to reach non-Christians? Or they there just because someone at your congregation thought it'd be a good idea?

Who your online audience is should influence not only affect how you present sermons on your web site, but also how your pastor/minister/priest. delivers his or her sermons. (I'm going to use the more generic term "preacher" for this post, since we are talking about sermons.) Is your intent to reach non-Christians? Then your preacher should keep in mind that "insider" terminology and concepts should be explained for those who are probably not familiar with them.

Preachers at churches which project sermon slides and multi-media need to remember, especially for audio podcasts, that your online audience can't see what's on the screen. So if your preachers play a video or refer to points on slides, they should use terms or descriptions that can help those who can't see them. When I am listening to a sermon podcast, I always appreciate it when the preacher says something like "for our internet congregation. we're looking at ....". Another option is to upload PowerPoint presentations and upload or link to videos in the sermon post.

Preachers still use physical illustrations ... hand gestures, pointing to something, or using physical objects (for example, a towel for a foot-washing sermon). You'll make your sermons more podcast-friendly if you name what you have in your hand. This is valuable even if you post video of your sermons, if the visual aid is outside of the camera's view.

A recommendation to benefit both your physical and i-audiences ... when a preacher refers to a book or article in a sermon, include a link to it with your audio/video post.

The comments field of the MP3 can serve to not only summarize or tease the topic, but to mention that there are links to videos or reference materials available with the sermon post on your church's web site. When you do this in your comments, it's not a bad idea to include a web link directly to the sermon page.

What are you doing to maximize your sermons' reach?

If you are using a sermon component, such as SermonSpeaker for web sites that use the Joomla platform (on which the following list is based), take advantage of as many features as you can, such as

  • The sermon description. If you are trying to reach non-members too, be sure to avoid the Christian buzzwords.
  • Include references to the scriptures used in the sermon.
  • As mentioned above, upload or link to mentioned materials.
  • Tag the sermon with relevant terms and phrases. This not only helps in web searches, but if you click on a tag, the result is a list of sermons that all use that tag.
  • Make sure the speaker's profile includes a picture, even if s/he is a visiting/guest speaker. Adding his/her brief biography is a bonus.
  • For the sermons series, have a summary and a relevant image. If your preacher associates an image with the series, use the same image!

It also pays to make the audio/video file itself appealing. Have you ever had a song on your MP3 player that didn't have an "album cover" image, and only showed a gray general icon? Most sermons I see in iTunes look like that. It's easier than you think to add an "album art" image to your file, even if it's simply your church logo. Speaking of iTunes, it has the added option of assigning an image to the overall podcast. Take advantage of this option for the same reason.

Don't forget that promotion is key. Ongoing promotion. Promote your sermon series on your home page (using the same image used in the sermons and on the series page of your web site). Promote each sermon after you've posted it. Promote a series when it begins and when it ends ("if you missed our series on X, it's not too late. Hear them all here" (link to series page)).

The hardest part about implementing these features is to make doing them a habit. Do you have to do all of them to be successful? Clearly no, but imagine if a business tried to promote its products without photos, descriptions and details?