As the pandemic has continued to ebb and restrictions lessen, churches have been returning to in-person worship services. But at the same time, church leaders throughout the country are also encountering a new reality: hybrid worship.
While many people are ready to come back to an in-person experience, many others are choosing to continue worshipping online. This development, like the move to exclusively online worship, brings with it unique challenges that church leaders need to resolve in order to best serve the needs of the congregation.
Two options, equal priority
It could be easy to deprioritize online worship when people begin returning to the pews, but for most churches, the online audience will very likely continue to be as large (or larger) than the in-person audience. That means it is essential to not lose focus on the quality of the online experience.
After your first in-person service, be sure to not only review how the in-person worship went but also how the experience was online. Since a lot of your leaders will be present at the in-person service, it will be important to be intentional about getting feedback from your online viewers.
Audio is key
There is an adage in broadcasting that people can forgive mediocre video, but they cannot forgive bad audio.
You may have spent a good bit of time trying to improve the audio for your live stream, but as you return to in-person gatherings, this area will require even more attention. At the most basic level, you might be able to take the microphone you’ve been using and place it near a speaker you use for the sound in your sanctuary. However, for most churches, that will not produce the results you want.
To take it up a notch, you will want to create a unique sound mix for your online worshippers. To do this, you can use the “AUX” output from your sound board to create a unique audio mix for online viewers.
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The key is to mix that with as little sound as possible coming out of the speakers in the room so that all you are hearing is what the livestream audience hears. That means doing a little rehearsal with those involved while you create a mix that sounds good.
In any setup besides putting a mic in front of a speaker, you will also want to add a mic that picks up the sound of people singing and the sound of the organ, both of which are often not running through the sound board. That mic will not go through the main speakers, but only in the livestream.
If you have some money in your budget to spend and would like to get a much more professional sound on the livestream, you will want to find a nearby room where you can’t hear what’s going on in the sanctuary and run a second mix from a second sound board in there.
You can get started with this method with just a couple hundred dollars by using a piece of hardware known as a splitter snake, which takes all the inputs that run into your sound board and splits them so that two sound boards receive the same inputs. If you don’t have an extra board, Behringer makes several affordable options that are getting great reviews for their quality.
Keep the video close
Before the pandemic, many churches that were live streaming had a camera set up in the back of the sanctuary. The thought was that that was the best way to catch all the action. Many have since learned to set up cameras closer so that people can see the faces of the people who are singing, reading and preaching.
As you move back to in-person services, it’s important to keep the video close. This means that cameras will most likely need to be mounted in conspicuous places. You may want to purchase smaller cameras that will be less intrusive. The wireless Mevo camera is a good option since it is about the size of two decks of cards and can be mounted to the side of one of your pews with a monopod.
Consider a multi-camera setup
If your worship service takes place in a large area, it could be difficult to maintain close-up shots of everything that is happening. To help with that, you’ll need to add a simple video switcher, such as the ATEM mini and a couple of cameras.
If you need an easier interface, you can use multiple Mevo cameras with their Multicam app on any smart phone and switch between the cameras without the need for wires running from the cameras to a switcher.
Don’t forget your online host
It is important to have a person who is present with your online audience, someone to greet your parishioners, answer questions, troubleshoot technical issues and put up links to your online giving and prayer request forms at the appropriate moment. Doing this well will make a huge difference in the overall experience.
Returning to in-person gatherings is a gift, but church leaders need to remember that the live stream is here to stay, and it is especially important in this transitional season as people continue to have varying levels of comfort with in-person gatherings.
With a little thought and a couple of pieces of tech, you can make both experiences bring worship to life for everyone, wherever they attend.
Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book, All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.