I hear this from pastors and church media types quite a bit and, on the surface, I understand. My answer, though, is not easy to hear.
The internet is arguably the greatest invention of our time. You can research a college paper on Quantum computing or watch videos of cats falling into toilets. It has changed the way we live our daily lives. It has changed the way we work, play and even the way we worship.
It has also changed the way television stations operate. When I started in television, programs were delivered on tape. Usually the ¾” variety and occasionally the new upstart format of Beta. (Although I have also used a 1” tape machine and I worked with some photographers in a newsroom who remembered having to go out and shoot film.)
Now, most of our programs are delivered via the internet using File Transfer Protocol. It has made it easier for ministries (at least technologically) to partner with us to spread the Gospel.
Then came the ability to stream church services LIVE via the internet and offering Video-on-Demand copies of sermons. This is still a fantastic tool. Pastors love to tell you how many people are watching their streaming services and how far away those people are. I'm not against using the internet. We even use it here at CTN. I love to tell people that we have documented viewers in Norway and Turkey!
However, I have to come back to another question: To whom are you connecting when all you do is stream? How many are regular members/attenders? Shut-in members? Military members? Related to the Pastor?
Now ask yourself how many new people (people who never knew your church existed before) tune in to your live service on the internet? I would wager that the bulk of the people watching your stream and viewing your downloads are members/attenders or have had some kind of contact with your church.
For all of the wonders of the internet, one of the things it is horrible at is reading your mind. What image comes to your mind when you think of “chair”? Now search for chair images on Google. I just did it and got 336,000,000 results and NONE of the chairs presented looked anything like what I had in mind (especially the ones from IKEA).
Now if you are looking for a specific chair, say a “recliner”, you are going to get more specific results. Some that are fairly similar to what those images you had in mind.
It is the same when people are searching for a church. So how can you stand out? How can you find that one person who does not know that your church exists and drive them to your website? Television.
Television has the ability to reach those the internet can’t reach. Those who have chosen to cut the cable and only get their video “over the air”. In fact, the number of people doing just that is not only increasing but getting younger. A recent scan through the “over-the-air” channels here in Macon, GA revealed 17 separate channels available for FREE!
In Luke 15, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He describes leaving the 99 sheep in favor of the 1 sheep who was lost. I think we get too tied up in the numbers of 1 vs. 99. Jesus was more concerned about their state of being. He was talking about the condition of their spirit. Their “lost-ness” or their “found-ness”. In vs. 3 He tells us that the 99 have no need of repenting. Our Good Shepherd wants to be where there is a need of repentant sheep. He was moved, not by numbers, but by spiritual need.
You see, what it comes down to, for me at least, is that streaming live services is an effective tool for reaching out to the sociable few. Broadcasting reaches the lonely millions.
They are looking, they are lonely, and they are watching television.
Now, why wouldn't you want to be on television?