As I write this, we have one Sunday of online worship under our belts and a week to reflect on how it went – and no idea yet how long we’ll be doing this. I’d like to share some of my thoughts, as an active lay person who’s also a technology geek, on how online worship can be made easier on those who are producing it, and more accessible to those who participate in it – both members and visitors.
Here are some suggestions:
Make your online worship instructions easy to find. Create a separate landing page on your church’s website where you post all the necessary information, and then make sure that page is included in the main menu, or some other prominent place on your website “above the fold.” Don’t make visitors have to hunt to find it! You should also link to it from your regular Worship Schedule page and post it on your church’s Facebook page periodically throughout the week.
If live streaming, go where the internet signal is strongest. You may discover that the Wi-Fi signal in your sanctuary is too weak to support a live stream (blame old buildings and thick stone walls) or your church may not have Wi-Fi at all. If that’s a problem for you, consider streaming from another location with good internet access. If it’s just one person doing Morning Prayer or Compline, it might be easier to live stream from home.
Don’t stress yourself out by trying to force your online worship to reproduce every detail of your live worship. You’re already doing a lot just getting the service online; we lay folks understand if you need to simplify things a bit. For example, instead of live streaming our usual Holy Eucharist with choir, my church live streamed Morning Prayer with our priest, our deacon, one lay person and Taizé chants sung a cappella. It was different, but lovely, and I felt spiritually nourished.
Don’t feel pressured to provide “professional” quality audio and video. “Good enough” audio and video are fine – people just need to be able to hear the service reasonably well and see what’s going on reasonably clearly. It’s a good idea to do a test beforehand to check sound quality and lighting. Some other actions you can take to produce a “good enough” video or live stream are:
- If recording with a phone or tablet, position it horizontally, not vertically.
- To avoid camera shake and produce a steady image, use a tripod if available, or prop up your device on something stable.
- If possible, have a “Technology Verger” off-camera to handle the technical aspects of recording or streaming the service, so the officiant can focus on the liturgy without distraction.
If there are multiple worship participants on camera, they should maintain physical distance from each other. Even if you’re confident no one is infected, you still should model distancing for your viewers.
Now I’m going to focus on the two technologies most used by our churches to produce worship online: Facebook Live and Zoom meetings.
This is by far the easiest way to live stream. You will find many guides online, but here are some tips specific to churches:
It’s best to go live from your church’s Facebook page instead of a personal Facebook profile.
So that people who aren’t Facebook members can view your Facebook page and live streams, go to Page Settings / General and set both Country Restrictions and Age Restrictions to "Page is visible to everyone." (They just won't be able to leave comments.)
If you haven’t already, set up a short, user-friendly URL for your page. When you first create a Facebook page, its address (the URL) is very long with a randomly generated number – clumsy to share and impossible to remember. Once your page has at least 25 followers, you can set up a custom URL. (For example, the diocesan Facebook page uses facebook.com/dionewark.) To do this, go to Page Settings / Page Info and fill in the Username field. Your page’s URL will now be facebook.com/[username].
Publicize when you plan to go live and encourage people to “like” your church’s Facebook page so that they will be notified automatically when the service starts.
Share the direct link to your Facebook Live broadcast on your church’s website. This can be done right after the live stream starts, from anywhere, by anyone with the ability to edit your church website – for example, your church webmaster sitting at home. You can also post the link to the video after the live stream is over. To get the direct link, opposite-click on the video and then select “Show video URL.”
Some churches are using Zoom meetings for worship, while others are following their live streamed worship with a “virtual coffee hour” via Zoom meeting. Because Zoom is two-way communication instead of one-way broadcasting, and you may be joined by visitors you don’t know well (or at all), here are two precautions to keep in mind:
Don’t post Zoom meeting credentials publicly on your website or Facebook page – that’s an invitation to internet trolls. (See How to prevent ‘Zoombombing’ from disrupting virtual services, ENS.) Instead, publish an email address for people to contact to obtain credentials. If you have a private email list for your parish, you can use it to send the credentials to known parishioners.
Go to zoom.us/profile/setting and consider changing these settings as follows:
- Disable Join before host (so someone can’t cause problems before the host gets there).
- Enable Mute participants upon entry (so you don’t end up with the Tower of Babel).
- Disable Play sound when participants join or leave (it’s just annoying).
- Disable File transfer (it could be a virus).
- Set Screen sharing / Who can share? to Host Only (don’t let your service get hijacked).
- Disable Display end-of-meeting experience feedback survey (again, annoying).
- Disable Allow removed participants to rejoin (in case a visitor turns out to be a troll your Technology Verger has to remove).
(Look at the other settings, too – depending on your situation, you may want to make other adjustments.)
Finally, Zoom meetings can be recorded, so if you’re using Zoom for online worship, you may want to record it and post the video on your church’s Facebook page and/or YouTube channel so others can view it later.
I am updating Resources for online worship as I discover and vet resources I think may be helpful, so check it out too.
If you have questions about your online worship efforts, contact me at email@example.com. I’ll do my best to help you get answers.