The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 highlights the need for worship alternatives like livestreaming. “There’s cause for prayer and bereavement care,” Jeremy Smith wrote recently, “but also [the need] for preparation [among] faith communities to continue to function amidst public health concerns — and indeed assist in the effort to contain this virus’ spread.”
This article was fast-tracked to walk you through the planning needed to serve members stuck at home (by choice or necessity) and quickly take your worship online. NOTE: Livestreaming your services — even during emergencies — must adhere to copyright protection law. An additional license for streaming is required from CCLI or OneLicense. During the COVID-19 emergency, OneLicense is offering their basic and streaming package for free through April 15, 2020. Look to Ask The UMC for new details about how United Methodist churches can stream legally. Find places to worship online.
Whether launching an online worship for the first time or taking livestream services to the next level, there are five first thoughts to consider:
- the platform
- relational connection
- the offering
Social streaming platforms
Choose from among the big names:
Each of the social platforms offers its own enhanced benefits for streaming live events. Some features are more helpful for churches familiar with livestreaming, such as custom branding to monetization through ads.
First, consider the place where most of your members already are: Facebook.
The platform offers the tools most churches need to host a vibrant online worship service. With a built-in audience of 1.66 billion, Facebook is the most accessible platform for reaching your members and community.
Anyone with a smartphone and the Facebook app can click “live” and be broadcasting in seconds (literally). For those more advanced, consider hosting the livestream using the Facebook Pages app and shooting the video through your laptop.
Making a relational connection
Most of your virtual congregation will be former visitors or current members familiar with your church, its routines and members. Missing from virtual services are the relational connections: Being greeted as people walk through the doors, chatting with others in the pew, gathering outside after the service to talk with friends and speaking with staff about questions.
Unsurprisingly, all of that is possible online. Livestreaming platforms (including Facebook) offer a live chat option so viewers can comment during the stream or contact staff afterward. Chat features can make your livestream a more relationally active experience. Before your first broadcast, it’s important to become familiar with all of the chat features and settings of your chosen platform.
Assign a member to host and monitor the chat during the livestream. Their job is to help online worshippers experience the relational element of the service through:
- greeting people by name as they join the stream
- addressing comments, prayer requests or technical difficulties during the service
- connecting people to appropriate staff for questions
- posting instructions about giving (read on!)
Collecting the offering in a virtual service
Online giving apps and platforms abound for churches. The world’s biggest online payment platform, Paypal is an easy and quick solution. Creating a form for people to donate is baked into the platform. There are church-oriented solutions (Tithe.ly and PushPay) that offer enhanced services, like recurring payments at flexible frequency, text giving and others.
Focus on audio first
The adage in broadcasting is that people will forgive bad video but not poor audio. If the people who take the time to log on to your virtual worship can’t understand what’s being said or hear the music, they’ll log off and find another option.
Yet, you don’t have to have a professional-grade studio to meet the audio needs for online worship. In fact, a smartphone will do — both for beginners and experts. Place the smartphone next to a speaker located near the pulpit. Using a smartphone with an upgraded microphone is possible through the Shure mv-88, which plugs into the charging port and offers cleaner sound.
Most churches already use sound mixers and microphones. Connect a smartphone directly to a mixer with a Shure MVi device. If you use a laptop as your microphone, connect with the mixer using a simple audio interface like the Behringer Xenyx.
Great video is the icing on the livestream cake
Audio is primary but people expect to see what’s happening, too. With the incredible improvements in smartphone camera quality, it’s difficult to beat them. For most churches, a current smartphone is all you need.
However, don’t prop the phone against a hymnal stack in the balcony. Such a static, far away shot is less interesting to viewers. Invest in an inexpensive tripod. Locate a volunteer with the tripod-mounted smartphone close to the front of the church. Ask the videographer to pan left and right to follow the main actions of the service.
If you have a better video camera with a zoom lens, plug it into your laptop (or desktop) and use Facebook’s web tool to create the livestream.
Whether it’s a smartphone set by a speaker or a professional camera in the back of the room, creating effective online worship is within reach for almost everyone.
When health issues (or even bad weather) arise, the church community can still come together. You don’t have to forgo the fellowship, worship and opportunity for your people to give when it’s unsafe to host services or Bible study. Taking time to prepare now and learning about readily available technology can help you survive the displacement and minister to the people affected. To start quickly, look no further than the smartphone in your pocket.
Jeremy Steele is the teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, 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.