As churches continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, worship remains one of the most important tools. But how do you do that when public gatherings larger than 10 are banned?
That question was the topic of a Training Tuesday webinar on March 23, where more than 220 people joined in a conversation about best practices and how-tos for online worship.
Lead by the Rev. Bill Brown, Director of New Faith Expressions for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, the Zoom-based webinar featured a panel of pastors, musicians, and technicians who have years of experience in online worship.
The first key takeaway: keep it simple.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good results,” said Myca Jones, the BWC’s webmaster and media producer. “Work to maximize what you have.”
Jones addressed the importance of good lighting, stressing that it needs to be bright enough for video. Good composition of the shot is important, too; you don’t want the main subject to be hidden or in a shadow.
He also suggested using (or buying) a lavalier microphone because good audio is paramount. Those mics are clipped to a person’s collar and are usually wireless.
“Figure out what you’re doing with what you have,” Jones said, “before buying something else.”
Matthew Jenkins, who serves Bethany UMC in Ellicott City as Director of Worship and Creative Arts, said that he uses an “iRig” device to connect the church’s soundboard to his iPad. He then uses the iPad to livestream the worship on Facebook.
More than 75 percent of the webinar participants said that their church did not offer online worship prior to March 15. Just more than half – 56 percent – said their church would continue to offer online worship after the crisis is over.
The second key takeaway: pre-record your worship and then present it Sunday morning as if it were live.
The Rev. Terri Cofiell, the pastor of Epworth UMC in Cockeysville, said her church does just that.
“We went from live broadcasts to recorded,” she said, “because it helps us avoid some of the technical glitches that may come. Plus, if you make a mistake, you can go back and do it over or edit it out.”
The Rev. Daryl Williams agreed. The pastor at St. Paul UMC in Oxon Hill, Williams said recording the service gives you a backup in case the system fails on Sunday morning.
“Our system failed last Sunday morning,” he said, “the worst time ever.” Many churches reported difficulties with the Internet last Sunday as thousands of people flocked to online services.
Ben Trawick, who, along with the Rev. Chris Bishop, has held an online church for the last several years, said that there are several platforms a church can use to host and broadcast worship services. The most important thing to keep in mind, he said, is, “what is the best way to reach your people?”
Trawick and Bishop put together Common Table Online out of necessity four years ago when they were snowed in one Sunday morning. That has grown now to live.commontable.online that hosts regular Bible studies, worship services, and a Celebrate Recovery meeting, all online.
“If most of your people are on Facebook,” Trawick said, “go there. Zoom might be a way to introduce more people to your church, too. There are so many options. Go with the best way to reach your audience.”
The third key takeaway: copyright.
A strong word of caution was given by the panelists on the issue of copyright. Facebook uses algorithms, said Brown, that flags posted content, especially music and images. If you don’t have copyright permission to use the content, Facebook will flag your page and, if you keep it up, will send you to Facebook “jail.” And that, said Brown, “is not a place you want to be.”
Several resources for copyright concerns are available. The BWC has posted a page of information here.
The fourth key takeaway: online giving is now a must.
With worshippers no longer able to physically gather in the church building, how does the church stay financially afloat? That question loomed large during the webinar.
“Online giving has to be easy and accessible,” said Williams. “Make sure it’s a secure way to give.”
The pastor suggested that embedding a one-click link to your church’s website or broadcast platform is critical to gives people the chance to share their offering. “Look at it from the viewers’ point of view,” Williams said. “Just make it easy.”
Using a “text to give” function is also helpful, said Bishop, adding that it is another way to “decrease barriers” to participation in the life of the church. He said his church uses Kindrid, but there are many other platforms that do the same thing. As with other online giving tools, a small fee is taken out by the company for each transaction, so it pays to shop around for the best deal. In addition, churches can also ask givers to pay a little extra to cover those fees.
The fifth key takeaway: just do it.
“We have to begin to ask, ‘What is that unique way that God wants to use this particular ministry to touch people’s lives,” asked the Rev. Rodney Smothers at the end of the webinar. He serves as the BWC’s Director of Leadership and Congregational Development. “Remember, you don’t start with perfection. Be realistic.”
He also reminded participants that worship, no matter how it’s done, needs to be invitational as well as inspirational.
“There are people who support ministries around the world that never set foot in the door,” Smothers said. “The Gospel is supposed to be anchored in an invitation to a relationship, not just supporting our particular brand.”
Online worship, in a nutshell, Smothers said, is a new evangelistic approach.
“Our ultimate task is to make disciples of Christ,” he said. “And that’s not a simple task. We’re trying to introduce people to a relationship that is so contagious that they want to come alongside and say, ‘Hey. I don’t know what you got, but I want some of that.’”
The Worship Without the Walls webinar was recorded and is available here.
More online worship resources, along with several other resources, are available on the BWC website at https://www.bwcumc.org/article/coronavirus-resources/