Improving Your Online Worship Experiences
Learnings and Best Practices from COVID-19 Season of Streaming Worship Services
Churches are adapting to these trying times by changing how they present themselves online. In the last days, I have spent much time researching and talking with others to find some of the best practices and learnings from the first few weeks of online church with a totally at-home congregation. Special thanks to Scott Shepherd, my counterpart in Tennessee for sharing his findings. Also, i gleaned much from my discussion with state convention worship leaders in our weekly online meeting this week.
You’re speaking to your congregation through the camera. Look at them. Don’t pretend that people are in an empty auditorium. People know these are different times and the auditorium is empty. It should feel different. Take a look at this article on speaking directly to the camera.
Your congregation is online, so mix your audio for them, not the room. The audio tech should put on headphones and make sure the sound going to the video is clear. Keep levels between various segments relatively even.
Ensure leaders are well-lit. Make sure backlighting is not brighter than foreground lighting. Consider these additional lighting tips.
Consider using a more intimate setting rather than an empty sanctuary. Use a living room or a prepared set at church that communicates a homier environment. Use an acoustic or small band setting for music. Consider changing up your setting—go outside, use another venue, be creative.
Close camera angles translate better on computers, cell phones and tablets. Don’t show an empty sanctuary or stage.
Most people won’t tune in to a 60-75 minute online service. Be succinct and impactful, probably 40-50 minutes. Families are not in quiet sanctuaries, they are at home with many distractions. Consider reducing the number of songs and length of songs. Messages should be shorter than usual.
If you livestream, assign a member of your ministry team to interact live with the folks that are watching. Engage in comments. Open up dialogue. You need at least two hosts in chat to interact with others. One person can log users to make follow-up contacts. Check out this article for more information. Also consider adding a “click to call” button for people to talk with a live person.
If you want participation, provide lyrics. If possible, offer lyrics directly on the stream. Alternately, you can provide a PDF for your congregation vie email, social media or embedded on the website.
Churches that prerecorded their worship services reported increased quality, dependability and flexibility versus those who livestreamed. In informal polls, we are finding more than 75% of churches are now prerecording and premiering their services and are much happier with this approach. Those who livestreamed felt they had better interaction and a heightened sense of community, but also encountered increased internet problems, Facebook crashes, higher stress, etc. Be prepared with a backup plan if plan A fails.
During the online service, encourage your people to sing at home, read Scripture together aloud, pray together, etc. Their tendency is to treat the online service like another television program and become a couch potato. Obsess of ways to engage the people at home in active worship. Rather than praying prayers for them, guide them in prayer times where they are asked to pray aloud as a family at home.
Practice social distancing of your online praise teams if you are still using people from more than one household to lead music. We need to set a good example for our people. I hear many comments of people being distracted by the worship teams standing too close together in the services.
Churches should increase the frequency of times they get online with quality content, helping people realize the church is a daily thing, not just a Sunday thing. Consider a daily online prayer meeting with a short message and perhaps some music, and then invite people to online weekend services. Offer a time of singing some time during the week as you sit at the piano or play guitar and lead songs in an informal environment (with downloadable songsheets). People are consuming more media now that they are sheltered at home. Give them wholesome media to set their hearts on God.
Involve your families in your service. This will help provide a greater sense of community as people see and hear from one another, and it will help your people take a more active role in worship. Your church members want to see each other during these days of isolation. Here are some ideas:
Rather than the pastor or worship team member praying, ask families to provide videos of one of them praying to be included in the service.
Have a family prepare a video of them welcoming the viewers.
Have one or more members of the family read scripture to include in your service.
Share a video of missions that your church is currently involved in. Show your people active in doing missions during these times.
Show people worshipping at home during your service. One church prerecorded their worship service and then had a few families agree to have a video camera capture them as they watched and interacted with the service. The videos from the families were included in the church’s premiered service to give a feel of people worshipping together wherever they are. It was very effective. Take a look.
Share video testimonies of what God is doing in the lives of your people.
Encourage your members to invite their friends to Facebook Watch Parties with your services. This will be a great way for outreach. It makes it really easy for people to invite their friends to church. Be sure to provide resources for them to be successful with this. Here are a couple of great examples: example one example two
Find ways to connect with seekers and members that are watching your services.
Offer Zoom meetings for guests to meet the pastor after the service.
Provide online forms for people to connect with virtual small groups.
Help your church members find ways to connect with others online to invite them to services and follow up with them (such as watch parties mentioned earlier).
Offer an online chat time 15-20 minutes before (and/or after) the service for people to socialize.
Create intentional paths for people to take next steps.
Offer a chat session after the video ends where people can comment and ask questions.
Consider producing a virtual band, choir, orchestra, quartet or other music group to build fellowship in that group and provide a song for the online worship service. Seeing the people they know and love singing and playing will make a great impact on all your home-imprisoned people. Here are some examples:
We should do all we can to create a culture of family worship in the home. While people are sheltered at home is a great time to build healthy habits. Equip your families with resources to be successful in this area.
Your website needs to reflect your new approach to ministry—it probably needs a makeover. Have an obvious button to view online services. Include clear places for children, student and adult ministries with online age-specific resources for worship and discipleship while at home. Look at your site with eyes of someone who is visiting for the first time and wants to connect. Look at it from the perspective of your church members who are coming for today’s resources.
Remember some people in your congregation perhaps aren’t connected with internet. Think through how to reach them by telephone and other creative ways. Some churches are preparing DVDs and delivering to these people. Connect them to the online service through a call-in service. Here is an example. A radio broadcast is another possibility.
Watch the video of your service and see what went well and what needs improvement. Keep working to be the most engaging and compelling you can be with the greatest story ever told.
Focus on Strengths
Do the things that you do best. In today’s online church world, there can seem to be much competition. Don’t get pulled into a competitive nature. Focus on your strengths, and do them with excellence. Some churches have great production, some have great community, some find a great balance. Don’t try to compete. Be faithful to shepherd those whom God has entrusted to you.
Also, check out these great suggestions from ChurchProduction.com