A Guide to Streaming Sunday Services, Meetings, and Classes

graphic with dozens of human avatars in a network

Today's technology gives our congregations many options to connect our members and friends! Even though nothing can compare to face-to-face human interaction, there are many situations where we can use the internet to connect our people:

  • Online evening meetings so that parents with younger children and elders who avoid driving at night can participate.
  • Faith Development courses as webinars during the week where people would have long commutes to church.
  • Live-streaming Sunday services or other events for the travelers, snow-birds and others who can't physically make it to church.
  • Storytimes and other interactive programs for families with small children.
  • Hangouts or small group ministry using a web conferencing service.
  • Alternate ways of using technology for worship during inclement weather, quarantine or other situations where no one can get to the church building but we need community more than ever.

This e-book is a work-in-progress to help your leaders navigate technology and share ideas to help your congregation keep your people connected! This means we are publishing pages even if they are incomplete, and will update them with new information and your suggestions. 

For specific information for  also ​Modifying Sunday Morning for Pandemics.

Streaming Sunday Services - Technical Tips

Laptop with rainbow wave graphic flowing through the screen

Which technology you choose for streaming video depends on your budget, how much you want viewers to be able to participate, and how much help you will be able to give congregants who are having trouble participating.

Budget: You can stream from a phone or tablet, using a streaming app and a service that works with it. YouTube won’t allow streaming from mobile devices unless your YouTube account has at least 1,000 subscribers, so Facebook Live and Zoom are options. YouTube Live and Facebook Live are free, while Zoom requires a paid account.

Participation: Congregants can post comments on the Facebook page during the service, including virtual joys and concerns. YouTube Live can also include comments. For fuller participation, use Zoom, which enables participants to type in the chat box, “raise their hands” to speak, and gather in smaller breakout rooms and enables the meeting organizer to mute and unmute people.

Difficulty in Participating: YouTube Live doesn’t require an account, and you can easily embed the YouTube video in a page on your congregation’s website. Facebook Live is visible if the stream is on a public page to anyone able to log in via their browser.. Facebook Live streams in a private group requires participants to have a Facebook account and be a member of the group.  Zoom requires participants to download, install, and run a Zoom app on their computer, phone, or tablet, which can be a barrier to non-technical folks.

Online Streaming Platforms

Find an online platform that meets your streaming needs. Some platforms can also be used for online meetings.

  • Facebook Live: The easiest free way to stream a live worship service is to use a phone or tablet, Wi-Fi, and Facebook Live, which is the simplest streaming system to use. (Viewers need to be able to use Facebook.)
  • YouTube Live: Another doable way to stream a live worship service is to use a laptop, webcam, WI-Fi, and YouTube Live, which is also easy to use and free. 
  • Zoom is the most popular platform among UUA staff, affiliated organizations, and many UU congregations. Fees start at $15/month. There are many extra features such as screen share (including videos with sound), breakout rooms for small group discussions, and a chat feature. It is flexible enough to be used for live worship services or online-only services where the service leaders can be in different locations. ​The Northlake UU Congregation in Kirkland, WA has an excellent write-up on how to stream services using Zoom.

Other platforms:

  • Vimeo: Similar to YouTube, but more expensive
  • Jitsi: Free open source conferencing, similar to Zoom
  • Skype Meeting BroadcastOffers automatic closed captioning. Free version is limited to 50 participants. Must have a Pro account for larger groups.
  • Boxcast: More expensive paid service that caters to churches.

Checklist for Streaming Preparation

  1. Determine how you'll do stream, as outlined above.
  2. Run a test sometime during the week, with your “Videocaster(s)” running the device(s) that is streaming and the “Tech Usher” in another room, or in the sanctuary with over-the-ears headphones so they can hear only the sound from their device. 
  3. On Sunday, start the stream at least 15 minutes before the service starts, so that people can get connected and solve any issues in time. Play music or a video or just show the congregation coming into the sanctuary, so that sound and video are streaming.
  4. Have the Tech Usher ready to answer questions about what's going on, especially if some parts of the service aren't clearly visible on the video. They can cut-and-paste the lyrics to hymns into the chat so that people can sing along. 

Hardware Setup Options

For all temporary setups, you may need an extension cord and a plug strip. Be sure to prevent tripping hazards by using floor cable covers, such as covering the extension cord with carpet (in a pinch), using gaffers tape, or purchasing durable rubber cable covers that are widely available. 

Diagram showing how to set up a smart phone for streaming

Streaming with a Smart Phone or Tablet

  1. Position the camera/tablet so that the speaker fills the frame and the device can pick up the sound.
  2. Set up the camera/tablet so that it is connected to the streaming platform app. Make sure there is enough battery power to last for the whole service, or plug it into a power supply.
  3. Connect the camera/tablet to the camera tripod using a mount that clamps the device securely and has a standard tripod screw to connect it to the tripod.
  4. Camera tripod. Another option is a small adustable tripod that will clamp to the back of a pew or chair. Look for ​GorillaPod® or UBeesize® for examples.
  5. Use password-protected high-speed internet that is not open to the public to conserve bandwidth.
  6. Make sure your at-home users have all of the information and equipment that they need.
Diagram of how to set up a webcam and laptop for streaming

Streaming with a Webcam (with mic) and Laptop

  1. Position the webcam so that the speaker fills the frame and the device can pick up the sound.
  2. Set up the webcam and plug the webcam into a power supply.
  3. Connect the camera/tablet to the camera directly to the tripod or by using a mount that clamps the device securely and has a standard tripod screw to connect it to the tripod.
  4. Connect the webcam to the laptop using a USB cable
  5. Connect the laptop to the streaming platform app. Make sure there is enough battery power to last for the whole service, or plug it into a power supply.
  6. Use password-protected high-speed internet that is not open to the public to conserve bandwidth.
  7. Make sure your at-home users have all of the information and equipment that they need.

Higher Quality Complex Setups Using Soundboards and Video Cameras

If you are going to livestream regularly, your congregation may want to invest in permanent equipment that provides higher quality broadcasts and recordings. Check with nearby larger congregations or local audio specialists who can assist you.

Northland UU Church in Kirkland, Washington created an online worship service in response to the local outbreak of COVID-19 and posted the details of what they did on a March 2020 blog post.

There are also many tutorials available online.

Worship Planning for Online Services

In a gathering lit by red lights, the word COMMUNITY appears on the wall as many arms wave in the air.

Many congregations record or stream their in-person services so that people can participate even if they can't be there in person. Some use low tech video with one person in front of the camera in order to record and/or stream the sermon and similar Sunday service elements.​ Others have cameras positioned and sound captured so that a more complete experience can be provided with all of the service elements. (Be sure copyright laws are being followed!)

During an emergency, such as inclement weather or a pandemic, you may need cancel in-person services altogether. In this case you may consider an all-online worship service. 

Here are some tips and considerations to help you bring your own creativity into creating an online experience that will help keep your community connected during especially difficult times.

Communicate the Online Location

If you are scrambling to put together a worship service, it may be easy to overlook the need to communicate how and when members and friends will be able to log in. Send out extra emails, create and post a Facebook event and even use a phone tree to call members who aren't on social media.

Conserve Your Energy

If you have two or more services, you may wish to just hold one at the later time.

Record the service for those who miss the live version.

Know the Copyright Rules

If you read a poem, read an excerpt from a book, sing a hymn, have the choir perform, or play a CD in your worship space, for your worshiping congregation, you are exempt from the normal prohibitions in the copyright laws against public performances. But when you record or stream a service the rules change drastically.

Learn the Limits of the Technology

  • Getting good sound is tricky. Using the mic on a phone, tablet or webcam will pick up ambient noise and will distort easily. Pulling sound from your soundboard into your stream is a better option.
  • Singing hymns or any music together does not work due to lag inherent in video technology. Make sure all participants are muted if you want them to sing along.
  • Lip-reading is difficult online. Use close-captioning for spoken elements.

Learn from Others

The Church of the Larger Fellowship has been offering online worship for years. Using the Zoom platform, people from all over the world check in using the chat function as each lights their chalice. There is often a pre-recorded meditation and a live homily.

Northland UU Church in Kirkland, Washington created an online worship service in response to the local outbreak of COVID-19 and posted the details of what they did on a March 2020 blog post.

Make It Worshipful

Using a platform's chat box or breakout rooms can help people connect in a time of social isolation. 

Use images or stock video for times of meditation. There are inexpensive subscriptions like Videoblocks.

The UUA Worship Lab has many tips for planning worship.

Practice Presence

  • During the event (streamed worship, meeting, webinar) maximize the application and close all others so you are not tempted to multi-task. 
  • The worship leader(s) can develop a practice of presence by developing an intention and embodiment of connection to those who are on the other side.

Don't Forget the Offering

Even if your people aren't in the building, the bills still need to be paid! Make sure there is a part of the service where people can donate using an online service

Guidelines for Using UUA-Copyrighted Materials in Online Worship

A pile of hymnals, Serving with Grace and a Chalice

Are you wondering what UUA publications you can use when streaming or posting recordings of your worship service?

WorshipWeb

Our curated list of original worship materials contains gifts of creativity from UUs all over the world, including prayers, stories, images, music, and lots of other inspiring material under Creative Commons usage guidelines.

Print Publications

The UUA and Skinner House have several current hymnals, meditation manuals and other resources for worship with varying copyright restrictions that are noted in the publications. See the Guidelines below for details on how to navigate copyrights for those publications.

A Quick Reference Guide

The WorshipWeb and Skinner House teams have assembled this handy list of all of the Hymns and Readings from UUA hymnals that be used in broadcast UU worship without special permission.

Detailed Copyright Information

Below you'll find links to spreadsheets that may be useful when you are researching particular pieces. Like any resource of this magnitude, there are opportunities for errors and changes. Please contact​ publications@uua.org with any changes or questions.

Guidelines

For general guidelines about using copyrighted material in worship, whether in-person or online, please see Copyright Issues Related to Worship. If you need permission to use the content in person, you will need permission to use it online. But it is also true that some uses that are legal without permission in a physical worship space are not legal without permission online. This can present extra challenges for planning virtual worship.

We offer the following guidelines as a resource to help worship planners select UUA content for worship that does not require explicit permission.

The UUA authorizes use of content in worship services, both in-person and virtual, under the following circumstances:

  1. The desired content is from a UUA publication. ​(UUA publications include print books and ebooks published under the Skinner House and UUA imprints, including hymnbooks, and UUA pamphlets.)
  2. The UUA publication includes NO notice of:
    • permission to reprint the desired content in the UUA publication (Example: "Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation."), and
    • copyright to the desired content belonging to anyone other than the UUA or the publication’s author(s). (Example: "429 From Oblique Prayers by Denise Levertov. Copyright © 1989 by Denise Levertov.")

Please check the copyright page, pages of the desired content, and backmatter of the publication for such notices.

  1. The content is intended for temporary use, such as in a livestreamed worship service or in an order of service for a worship service on a specific date, or is included in a broadcast Unitarian Universalist service that will be archived online (such as on YouTube or a podcast) and accessible by other UU congregations.
  2. The content is to be presented without adaptation. (If you are planning to use an adaptation, please contact publications@uua.org and provide the adaptation or a description of the specific changes. We will either respond directly if we hold the copyright or try to put you in touch with the copyright holder.)

If all of these criteria apply, worship planners may assume that their intended use of the content is either fair use under US copyright law or authorized by the Unitarian Universalist Association in accordance with its contracts with the UUA publication’s author(s).

If the desired content was reprinted with permission of a copyright holder other than the UUA publication’s author, we may be able to help you find the copyright holder’s contact information. Please contact​ publications@uua.org.

Streaming to Facebook Live

Vintage movie camera with Facebook logo and the word "live" on a decal

The easiest way to stream a worship service is to use a phone or tablet, Wi-Fi, and Facebook Live, which is the simplest streaming system to use. (YouTube is also simple, but they now require that your YouTube channel have at least 1,000 subscribers to be allowed to stream from a mobile device.) 

You will need:

  • A phone (or tablet with Wi-Fi) with the Facebook app logged in to an account that is an administrator of your congregation’s public Facebook page 

  • External battery or extension cord, so the phone doesn’t run out of battery while streaming

  • A tripod mount for your phone and a tripod of some sort (full-size or little table-top one) so no one has to hold the phone for the entire service

  • A second phone, tablet, or computer for a “tech usher” to use to monitor the Facebook page and answer questions from people online

Run a test before your first Sunday service, with your “Videocaster” running the phone or tablet that is streaming and the “tech usher” in another room, or in the sanctuary with over-the-ears headphones so they can hear only the sound from their device.

Diagram showing how to set up a smart phone for streaming

For hardware setup details, see Streaming Sunday Services - Technical Tips.

Streaming to YouTube Live

YouTube logo inset in filmstrip frames

One fairly easy way to stream a worship service is to use a laptop computer, a webcam, Wi-Fi, and YouTube Live.

Pros:

  • Free
  • You don't need an account to view a YouTube Livestream
  • The recording can be available for later viewing.

Cons:

  • You cannot stream from a mobile device (e.g cell phone or tablet) unless you have 1000 subscribers.
  • You can only use materials for which you have the copyright.​

You will need:

  • Any computer with a built-in or separate webcam (the “Videocaster” computer); a separate webcam is better because the built-in webcam faces the user, and it’ll be hard to start and stop streaming without getting into the picture

  • A second computer, tablet, or phone for the “Tech Usher,” who will monitor the stream and chat with folks online during the service

  • Extension cord, so the computer doesn’t run out of battery while streaming

  • A table or stand where the computer can be positioned to face the front of the sanctuary

You’ll need at least two people: a Videocaster at the Videocaster computer, starting and stopping the streaming, and a Tech Usher at the Tech Usher computer, tablet, or phone, monitoring the stream, answering questions from the folks online, pasting hymn lyrics into the chat, etc.

Using YouTube Live

YouTube Live is one of the simplest streaming systems to use. Log in to YouTube; your congregation may already have a Google account, which comes with a YouTube account. You can schedule events ahead of time and publicize the web addresses. You can also embed the player in your website. You can also add additional people (Google IDs) as administrators on your congregation’s YouTube account, so they can stream from their devices.

Setting Up a YouTube Event

Here’s how to create a YouTube event you plan to stream. YouTube is in the midst of switching over to a new system, so what you see may be different from what’s described here. You can do these steps from any computer.

  1. You Tube Studio on a computer and log in with the congregation’s YouTube account. Or from any YouTube page, click the account icon in the upper right corner of the web page and choose YouTube Studio. This is the YouTube Studio Dashboard.

  2. Click the Create button or icon near the upper right corner of the page and choose Go Live.

  3. Choose Webcam from the options along the top. Allow your browser to use your microphone and webcam.

  4. Fill in the information about the event you are going to stream. 

  5. Set Schedule For Later to be selected and enter the date and time of the service.

  6. Click Next (you might need to scroll down to see this button). It’ll take a photo to use as the thumbnail for the video, but you can replace that with your congregation’s logo. 

  7. Click Done to create a YouTube event with a web address (URL) that you can send out to your congregation -- it’s where the video will be once you go live. You return to the YouTube Studio Dashboard. You see all the events you have scheduled.

  8. To get the address of the YouTube page where the video will be displayed, move your mouse over the event, click the three-dot icon to the right of the event name, and choose Get Sharable Link. It is copied to your computer’s clipboard.

You’ll use the computer with the webcam (the Videocaster computer) to stream the service. You’ll use the second laptop, tablet, or phone to monitor the stream and communicate with viewers.

Testing Your Setup

Follow these steps to set up and test your streaming:

  1. Create a YouTube Live event as described above.

  2. Arrange for someone -- the Tech Usher -- on phone, tablet, or computer to watch from another room for the test.

  3. Sign into the congregation’s account from the Videocaster computer.

  4. Set up the webcam so it points to the chancel or lectern where speakers will be during the service.

  5. In your browser, go to the YouTube Studio and click the event you created.

  6. Choose Go Live. the stream will start.

  7. Go through the motions of a service, including speaking from each place where parts of the service will happen. You can move the webcam to pan from place to place, but do it slowly -- don’t give your viewer whiplash.

  8. Check with the Tech Usher that everything looks good. 

  9. Click End Stream at the end of the test. You can return to the YouTube Studio page or edit the information about your video.

  10. Choose Edit Video, click the three-dots icon in the upper right of the page, and choose Delete to delete the video of your test.

Diagram of how to set up a webcam and laptop for streaming

For hardware setup details, see Streaming Sunday Services - Technical Tips.

Streaming with Zoom

Zoom graphic

Zoom is an affordable paid service that has both streaming and meeting capabilities. It is used by the UUA, its affiliates and many member congregations.​ At minimum, you will need a laptop computer, a webcam, Wi-Fi, and a Zoom account.

Participants will need the Zoom link and to download the free Zoom software to access the livestream.

Pros:

  • Free to participants
  • Many extra features:
    • Share screen
    • Share video (including sound)
    • Chat function
    • Breakout rooms
  • Excellent tech support
  • The recording can be available for later viewing

Cons:

  • You can only use materials for which you have the copyright.​

Customization:

Setting Up Zoom

Zoom has an excellent support section that will guide you.​

Zoom also has new beginner tutorials, demos, and training sessions.

Download the meeting client from Zoom's website (this page has different versions for different platforms).

Keep Out Trolls!

You want people to be able to find the link to your Sunday Service. Unfortunately, bad actors have been "Zoom Bombing" church services with profanity, nudity and pornography. Be sure to adjust your settings so this doesn't happen to you! Here are additional instructions.

Breakout Rooms

Many congregations are using the breakout room function to "greet a neighbor" at the beginning and for fellowship after the service.

  • Sign in to the Zoom web portal as an administrator with the privilege to edit account settings.
  • Click Account Management > Account Settings.
  • Scroll down to the Breakout Room option on the Meeting tab and verify that the setting is enabled.
  • If the setting is disabled, click the toggle to enable it. If a verification dialog displays, choose Turn On to verify the change.
  • (Optional) Click the checkbox to allow meeting hosts to pre-assign participants to breakout rooms.
  • (Optional) If you want to make this setting mandatory for all users in your account, click the lock icon, and then click Lock to confirm the setting.

Additional Resources

Foothills Unitarian in Fort Collins Colorado offers helpful instructions for participants.

Northland UU Church in Kirkland, Washington created an online worship service in response to the local outbreak of COVID-19 and posted the details of what they did on a March 2020 blog post.

Peter Bowden's Webinar Online Zoom Worship? Zoom Meeting versus Webinar (12:37)

Enriching Online Worship

Pastor Sarah's Tips on Church Zoom Etiquette (Facebook video)

Webinar Videos for Leaders:

How to Do Small Group Online Gatherings - MidAmerica Region - Phil Lund and Sharon Dittmar

Virtual Gatherings for Small Congregations - MidAmerica Region

Digital Giving - MidAmerica Region - Sharon Dittmar

Host A Virtual Game Night - MidAmerica Region - Phil Lund

How to Do Congregational Meetings on Zoom - Lisa Presley

Virtual Circle Process - Nancy Combs-Morgan and Phil Lund

Diagram of how to set up a webcam and laptop for streaming

For hardware setup details, see Streaming Sunday Services - Technical Tips.

Zoom Demonstration

This is an 8 minute video that shows participants how to login to zoom and what the different symbols on the screen are. You can read the transcript.

Holding Online Meetings - Technical Considerations

Graphic showing a network of people on laptops and smart phones

Family obligations, health concerns, commuting time, inclement weather...these are all reasons that you may want to offer online meetings, faith development courses, small group ministry, or other creative ways of helping to keep your community connected.

Online Meeting and Webinar Platforms

Meeting and Webinar services have improved greatly since the late 2000s when they first became available. Here are a few options and their qualities:

  • Zoom is one of the most popular services, used by the UUA, UUMA and other affiliates. 
    • You can join using computer or any mobile device
    • You can call in on a regular phone (long distance charges apply)
    • There is a Free version that has many features, but limits you to 40 minute meetings. Pro versions start at $15/month.
    • 300 participants, with the ability to see up to 49 videos on the screen.
    • Robust host controls, chat function, breakout rooms, whiteboarding, screen sharing (including audio/video), hand-raising
    • You can record meetings
    • Can also be used to Stream Sunday Services
  • Skype is owned by Microsoft. There does not seem to be a business version available
    • Free
    • 50 participants
    • Screen sharing, messaging
    • Instant subtitles (closed captioning)
    • Call recording

Depending on the size of your meeting, you have lots of options. The UUA uses ZoomSkype, and Google Hangouts for online meetings. Some services provide toll-free numbers for the audio, some provide regular phone numbers, and some use the Internet for audio.

  • GoToMeeting This is a platform that many business use because of the capacity (up to 3000 participants) and extra features. There are only paid versions.

Equipment Needed

  • Everyone needs a device, which can be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or even smartphone. They also need a high-speed Internet connection (wired or Wi-Fi) or at least a 4G Cellular service..
  • People who want to be seen on camera need a webcam. Tablets and smart phones include cameras, as do most laptops. USB cameras can be added to older computers.
  • People speaking need a headset with a microphone. Webcams and most laptops have a built-in microphone, but the sound will be better, and you’ll avoid feedback and room noise, by using a headset or ear buds that include both a microphone and headphones. 
  • Video Conference Rooms or other spaces where you hold in-person meetings work well with a flat screen television, computer and conference cam.

Planning for an Online Meeting or Webinar

  1. Sign Up for a Service: Choose an online meeting or videoconferencing service. Sign up a few weeks ahead so you have to time to try everything out. Some services provide a free trial.
  2. Test Everything:  Get your computers, webcams, and headsets together and try a dry run. Invite a few friends or colleagues to be your audience. Frequently, you’ll find out that you need to download presenter software, or update the software you downloaded earlier. It’s also important to get your hardware (and the hardware of all presenters) working with the service you are using. Also, get familiar with the controls for muting and unmuting people, sharing and unsharing the screen, and other features you plan to use.
  3. Send Invitations: Invite your participants. Some services allow you to schedule a meeting and send invitations with links. For others, you’ll need to craft an email with links or instructions.Some services require your participants to download an app, so warn them to allow time to do so before the meeting or webinar starts. Be sure to specify the time zone when you indicate the time; people may be hours ahead of or behind you.
  4. Get Ready: Well before the meeting or webinar starts, do one more sound and video check with your presenters and helpers. Close other programs on your computer so notifications don’t pop up during the meeting to distract you. Make sure you have your presentation or other visuals ready. If you’ll be on video, check the lighting. Webcams are completely unforgiving about too much or too little light. Get close enough to the webcam that your face takes up most of the vertical space in the window, and point a light at your face if needed. Put something dark and neutral behind you and put your computer and webcam on a steady surface directly in front of you.
  5. Start the Meeting: Start recording, if you want to record. (You can always edit smalltalk from the beginning of the video.) If people are new to the platform, do a mini-tutorial about how to use the chat box, etc. Be sure to introduce all speakers and stick to the agenda. Have an assistant mute folks who aren't speaking and monitor the chat box in case people are having trouble hearing or want to ask questions. 
  6. Following Up: After the meeting or webinar, send out a thank-you email and include minutes, handouts, or copies of presentations. Sending an evaluation will help you with constructive feedback.

Holding Online Meetings - Human Considerations

silhouettes of children in front of a globe covered by a network

Because hospitality is important to human relationships, learning how to host in online spaces is essential. People come with different levels of experience and comfort, and may have online habits (surfing, multi-tasking) that could distract from connection. Here are some tips to help host an online space that can help build connections. 

Understand Your Needs

Different kinds of meetings will need different platforms and features. Is it a one-on-one, a group, an information session or a spiritual experience? 

Know Your Technology

  • Get your computers, webcams, and headsets together and try a dry run with a friend or two. Practice muting and unmuting people, sharing and unsharing the screen, showing video (including sound) and other features you plan to use.
  • Test your internet service to make sure you have enough bandwidth for video and audio.
  • Sign on early to do one more sound and video check with your presenters and helpers. Close other programs on your computer so notifications don’t pop up during the meeting to distract you. Make sure you have your presentation or other visuals ready.
  • Use a headset with a microphone. This will greatly improve the sound quality for your participants

Set Up Your Space

  • Check the lighting. Webcams are completely unforgiving about too much or too little light. Don't be in front of a window.
  • Get close enough to the webcam that your face takes up most of the vertical space in the window, and point a light at your face if needed. If you are using a tablet or phone, position it so that your face is not at a strange angle.
  • Your background should be as neutral as possible. Darker complexions show up better with darker backgrounds. Sometimes backlight will improve the look of your video.

Companion Those Who Need It

  • Offer help to those who aren't tech-saavy. This would be a great opportunity for intergenational interaction. 
  • Crowdsource old laptops or cell phones for those who can't afford the equipment.
  • For shut-ins or nursing homes, send someone with all of the needed technology and host a small group viewing party.
  • (During pandemics, be sure to practice good hygiene during any in-person interactions.)

Practice Presence

  • During the event (streamed worship, meeting, webinar) maximize the application and close all others so you are not tempted to multi-task.
  • The worship leader(s) can develop a practice of presence by developing an intention and embodiment of connection to those who are on the other side.

Camera tips for Online meetings

Helpful Practices for Virtual Meetings (2012)

This older video still has some helpful tips!

Accessibility Considerations for Streaming Services and Online Meetings

Icon for hearing disability

Online meetings and streaming worship don't work well for everyone. Here are some tips and tools to make your online programs more accessible. Suggestions that we can add to this page are encouraged!

Closed Captioning for Video

The Hearing Loss Association of America has recommendations for Closed Captioning and CART – Communication Access Realtime Translation. Here are some possible resources for providing captioning for live video and/or adding captions to recorded video:

Otter: It can caption Zoom cloud recordings automatically. With their app you can start transcribing live and share the link to the live transcription. Captions would be a separate window. Can also transcribe recordings. This pdf has step by step instructions for creating the live transcription and closed captions that can be added to posted videos in post production.

Android: Some Android phones offer users Live Captioning.

Amara: A free tool for crowdsourcing captioning and transcription.

Caption Associates: Offers live transcription

Online Video Conferencing 

Google Meet includes integrated real-time captioning (not 100% accurate) in its advanced settings. The captions are not recorded.

Online Instruction

Mapping Access, has created this resource on how to make online courses accessible.

Congregations "Buddy up" for Online Worship

spider web with drops of water on it

Rev. Darcey Laine’ serves two of our small congregations. Because of her idea, congregations across upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania have started “buddying up.” If you’re a smaller congregation, consider if this might work for you and reach out to a larger congregation near you who is streaming services. If you’re a larger congregation, consider reaching out to the smaller congregations near you.

This is an existential crisis for some of our smaller congregations, especially those with no staff or just supply preaching. While the ministers are receiving an ocean of support and advice, some of our lay led congregations are not as strongly connected to the web of support. Here’s my thought—instead of just saying “no services” or “there’s lots of services out there, go find one” it might help if small churches all “attended together” a specific service offered by, well, us. 

  • Easy level: the small church lists the online service information for your service in their church bulletin and encourages folks to attend together. You provide said information to the congregational contact, and for extra credit say “we are delighted to be joined by folks from ___ congregation this morning” in your welcome.
  • Intermediate: providing break out groups by congregation at some point during, before or after the service, offering technical assistance 
  • Advanced: some collaborate aspect to worship, perhaps the chalice lighting is offered by the president of the visiting congregation? 

Some examples:

  • This coming Sunday, the Cortland congregation is attending May Memorial in Syracuse NY. Athens, PA is attending First Unitarian Ithaca, NY. The congregations will list these in their regular newsletter weekly worship calendar.
  • The next week, I am leading a Multi congregation zoom service for Athens, PA Cortland, NY, and have invited other family-sized congregations to join us.

If you feel inspired by this, reach out to your neighbors. If you don't have their contact information, reach out to regional staff for assistance. 

 

Covid-19 Pandemic Resources

A woman wearing headphones sits at a laptop, gesturing with both hands at someone (not visible) on the screen.

Sometimes circumstances call for special material—and the current pandemic is one such circumstance. We're grateful to the people here who have written and shared worship resources for worship in the time of Covid-19.

Enriching Online Worship

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities are choosing to livestream their worship services during the pandemic so that members can connect to their faith community at a familiar time.

Creating online worship—whether it's live or recorded—involves a series of learning curves, which means nothing will be perfect, and mistakes will be made. (Forgive yourself!) How do we create online worship that's engaging, sensory-rich, and deeply meaningful?

This webinar was recorded on March 25, 2020.

Enriching Online Worship webinar

Dr. Marcia McFee and Rev. Erika Hewitt discuss how to bring the fullness of our congregational relationships alive in online worship services. The webinar chat is available here, and the webinar transcript is available here.

Webinar Milestones

Here are a some of the benchmarks in this 95-minute conversation:

  • 00:30    Dr. Marcia McFee invites participants to populate a word cloud via Mentimeter.
  • 14:15    Rev. Erika Hewitt invites participants to light a chalice, perhaps using the WorshipWeb app's chalice function.
  • 18:05  Erika introduces Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh (tech host) and Dr. Marcia McFee
  • 24:30    Marcia explains why she believes that even recorded worship services should "air" at their usual time
  • 25:30    Erika offers a non-religious testimony of why our people might value imperfect, low-tech worship with their own religious communities rather than leave to find more polished, high-tech worship somewhere else.
  • 30:00    Marcia describes why "B roll" video of our worship sites can be meaningful
  • 36:00    Marcia shows & discusses examples from online worship services she's attended
  • 46:20    Marcia addresses concerns about privacy for pastoral concerns during online worship
  • 50:00    Erika highlights a source for Covid-related worship material that's now been moved to WorshipLab.
  • 1:03:00  Marcia talks about mirror neurons, and how powerfully they can function during online worship experiences.
  • 1:06:30  Marcia offers some preaching/reading tips, and then explains why it's important to tell a story instead of writing and reading a story.
  • 1:14:00  Marcia describes one way to make symbols and stories more interactive.
  • 1:25:00  Erika and Marcia talk about music in online worship, and maintaining its quality for online participants
  • 1:30:00  Marcia talks about pastors and worship leaders bringing their vulnerability to worship, and then explains what she means by "metaphoraging."
  • 1:33:00  Erika asks participants to join in a closing reading.

Explaining to Children About The Need for Virtual Church

Helen Rose smiles, carrying the post of a rainbow flag over her shoulder.

Here is a sample script to explain to the children why you are doing church online instead of in person. Listen and watch Helen Rose deliver this message.

 

Hey friends!
I’m Helen. I’m the Director of Religious Exploration at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and I have some news to share with you about what’s going on at church right now.

So first, we’re going to light our chalice, just like we do in RE class. I’m going to put the words on the screen, and you can say them with me if you want to.

“Love is the spirit of this congregation
And service is its ministry
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace
To seek the truth in love
And to help one another.”

Ok, now let’s all take a big breath together. Can you do that?
(Big breath.)

That was really good. Let’s practice again. This time, we’re going to breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and breathe out for four counts. If that’s too long for you, you can go at your own pace.
(Few rounds of square breathing.)

Good job. That always helps me feel grounded when there’s a lot going on.
Some of you have probably heard that there’s a lot going on right now.

There’s an illness going around called COVID-19, or Coronavirus. It can make people sick and it’s contagious, which means it spreads quickly.

Because this illness is going around and can spread so quickly, we've made the decision to close church for a while, so there will be no church or RE in person for now. It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one, and I'd like to tell you why.

Even though this is different and maybe even a little bit scary, it is a really amazing opportunity to practice our UU values.
We’re going to talk specifically about our first and seventh principles:

“We respect the inherent worth and dignity of all beings/Each person is important.”

“Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part/We care for Earth’s lifeboat.”

When we say each person is important, we also mean that everyone deserves to be safe and have what they need. Everyone deserves to have that, no matter who they are, where they’re from, what they believe, or where they are on their journey.

This illness can affect anyone, but it’s most likely to seriously impact people who are older or already have medical conditions. So even though some of us who are younger and healthier aren’t likely to get seriously sick, our friends who are more likely to get seriously sick deserve to be as safe as possible.

That means that all of us, even those of us who are less likely to get sick, need to be very careful about washing our hands and spending as much time as we can away from public and crowds. And I know that’s hard and not really fun. It isn’t necessarily because we’re worried about getting sick ourselves, but because we want to decrease the chances of carrying the illness to someone who could get very sick.

Those people deserve to be safe and well, and it’s up to us to remember that each person is important, and honoring that right now means that we have to change the way we do some things.

And that brings us to our seventh principle.
Because we live in an interdependent web of existence, (interdependent means we all depend on each other) it is up to all of us to do what we can to make sure our vulnerable friends are safe. We all have to do our part to hold the web together, and each and every part matters. We all depend on one another every day, and this situation is a big reminder of that.

And I know that isn’t necessarily fair. All of the adults in your life – your parents and caregivers, your teachers, your RE guides, your church staff, and beyond – recognize that asking you all to change your routines and sit in the uncertainty of this is not fair and not fun for you. It’s ok to feel like that, or to feel worried or even angry. We understand, and we’re going to love and support you as we all do our parts to help our communities.

Remember what Mr. Rogers said about when he saw scary things happening when he was younger:
“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

We all have a chance to be the helpers now, and your grownups are going to keep helping you, too.

We’re going to do RE online at UUCT until church is open again. This will include as much of our regular routine as possible – we’ll do our chalice lighting, chime, and do a joys and concerns check in, because I want to hear your joys and concerns. We’ll be doing this and an online story time this Sunday afternoon, and I’ll be sending your parents and caregivers a newsletter with some at-home RE activities for you all to try together.

This is how we’re going to start, and I’m going to send some more updates soon. In the meantime, your parents and caregivers all have my cell phone number and email address. They are welcome to email or text me at any time, and with their permission, kids and youth can email me as long as a parent or caregiver is copied on the email.
So let’s try some big breaths again. I’m going to count while you breathe.
(Few rounds of square breathing.)

You did great, and I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to see all of your little faces on my computer screen on Sunday afternoon for RE, and I’m looking forward to when we can all be together in person again.

We’re going to do our chalice extinguishing now. The words are on your screen. They come from one of my favorite spiritual practices, Kundalini yoga, and were originally written by an Irish musician named Mike Heron.

“May the longtime sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on”

Blessed be, amen, shalom, and may it be so. I’ll talk to you all soon.

 

Learnings about Worship Online

Dozens of flames on a black background

The Church of the Larger Fellowship minister Rev. Meg Riley asked past and present learning fellows and staff to share the top things they about doing online worship and church. Here are the highlights!

Lynn Ungar

  • Make it intimate. Have the camera close, and look straight into it.

  • Don't try to read a script while pretending you aren't--unless you have teleprompter software, it won't work. 

  • Short and personal is better than long and intellectual.

Joanna Fontaine Crawford

  • The whole purpose is connection and structure worship around that goal. Have online joys/sorrows, have a reflection question after the sermon, etc. Worship is the vehicle, not the endpoint.
  • Make everything quicker. Attention span is different online. Do a 5 minute homily not a 20 minute sermon. 
  • Assign people as “chaplains”. People will surprise you how deep, vulnerable, and self-disclosing they will be online. If you’re preaching and have “chat” enabled, have someone there whose sole job is to respond lovingly. 

Elizabeth Bukey

  • Up your own vulnerability level, as the medium adds emotional distance.
  • Smile more than seems normal.
  • People are desperate to connect and can and will do so if we only make space.

Mandy Goheen

  • Tell stories
  • Smile even when the news is bad
  • Take the chance to make make big mistakes because we are all human and always in BETA

Tim Atkins

  • Have a dedicated person doing tech support. Have another dedicated person moderating and encouraging the chat. The new ushers in your church are your tech support team!
  • If you are inviting all to share, people call on the next person to speak. Waiting for folks to speak around in a natural circle usually won’t work.
  • Don’t try to exactly replicate what you already do. It won’t work. Think of it like this - when you’re learning a foreign language an important moment is when you start to “think” in that language instead of translating. That goes the same for online worship - translating will work ok but you need to get to the point of “thinking” online and designing it from the beginning as an online service.

Jen Johnson 

  • Adding visuals/imagery to a short homily deepens the message, giving it more dimension and meaning. This works better for pre-recorded homilies.

Kari Kopnick

  • Background, lighting, camera position and what you wear matter. Check and practice.
  • Smile at least a little so you don't look morose
  • It is absolutely possible to have deep, meaningful connection in small group ministry using an online format.

Antonia Bell-Delgado

  • Don’t be afraid to talk. Think of it as a pastoral care visit with a homily in the middle. It sounds hard but it gets easier.
  • Accent your message with short clear visuals that highlight what you mean. 
  • Expect people to interact in the chat while you are preaching. It’s great. Go with it. You have been given the gift of instant feedback on the service. Adjust while in course.
  • Less is more. Leave time for engagement.

Kimberley Debus

  • Be present and authentic. Try to show people instead of just telling them.
  • Also - having things for people to see while listening - this is where motion videos and b-roll (background images and videos) helps.

Cassandra Hartley

  • Incorporate simple rituals that allow people to participate if you're having live chat during the service (for example, people can type in "lighting my chalice" during the chalice lighting video or "singing along" during a hymn video). 
  • If possible, make the service (without live chat) available on YouTube so that it can easily be shared on multiple social media accounts. (Think carefully about whether to allow comments on the YouTube​ link and if so, who will moderate them.)
  • And think about all the other ways an online format can help you connect all week. For example, there are many inspiring YouTube​ channels that offer videos to use in place of traditional readings, reflective questions/prompts can be shared on social media so that congregants can share their own thoughts or pictures (again, with close moderation). So can supplement a shorter service with social media resources sprinkled throughout the week (i.e. a link to a favorite poem, website, blogpost, etc. related to the topic)

Terri Burnor 

  • I think this question also has nuance if we're talking specifically about temporary moves to online worship in light of coronavirus. Needs are similar, but also different. Seeing the sanctuary they are familiar with. Focusing on ritual, spiritual practices, connection and care.
  • Advanced production value (I don't mean basic audio/video quality) feels far less important.
  • Have their beloved music director/pianist play the piano for them. Point the camera out the window that they know so well for a time of meditation. Do silly virtual high-fives and hugs to help them remember how much they love greeting each other. Spend far more time in the first few weeks with stripped down, simple, familiar elements that give them grounding and connection.

Hannah Franco-Isaacs

  • Please turn off participants video and check your auto-correct to avoid making embarrassing mistakes!
  • When you’re doing so much online, it’s important to take some screen-free time (writing, reflection, whatever) even in a zoom world so we don’t forget we are all, in fact, 3D.
  • There are some things that actually won’t work. It is much easier to miss cues and you can’t always feel the energy shift like you could in a regular room so it can harder and take longer to process hard things.

Lori Stone

  • Ritual can still happen online. Invite people to have a tactile experience. Invite people to light a candle, prepare a warm beverage.
  • Invite people to have paper and a pen handy for journaling.
  • Invite people to remove their hands from the keyboard during meditation / reflection.
  • Invite people to breathe.

Susan Maginn 

  • I have one big idea. Share it from your heart and keep it short.

Meg Riley

  • Sound is way more important than video. People will stay for bad video and good sound but leave immediately if the sound is bad.
  • You need to have someone designated for tech glitches, including a phone number people can call if they can't get on. There will be tech glitches.
  • The point of every single service is connection and engagement.

Making Time for Community Connection

Cup of coffee next to a laptop computer

Our people need to feel connected to each other. When we're in person on Sunday morning that happens in many informal ways. How might we use technology to re-create some of that connection during times of social distancing?

One advantage that web conferencing software offers is the ability to have folx who are attending be on video, just audio, or to call in using a land line. This creates opportunities during the Sunday morning experience to have congregants connect to one another.

Zoom in particular has the ability to create breakout rooms, chat, raise hands, and a host can control microphones & video.  The meeting host can either choose what breakout rooms people will go to, or can let Zoom choose randomly.

Getting the Word Out

It's important to communicate this new way of connecting on Sunday morning. Publish the Sunday Morning links in your weekly enews. You may also wish to post the links on your website and Facebook page.  To help people arrive on time consider resending this information about 30 minutes before start time, and let people know how this will be done.

We'll email the connection link again at 9:00 AM Sunday.

Pastoral Sharing

Small congregations who have a practice of sharing their pastoral needs verbally may want to use the "hand raise" function to be unmuted so that they can share.

Larger congregations may want to have folx post their pastoral needs in the chat. This can be saved for follow-up by the pastoral care team.  These could also be sent privately.

Welcome and Greeting (i.e. Passing the Peace)

Send participants into breakout rooms in small groups (3-4) to say hello and briefly connect. Figure 1 minute per person.

Here's some fun language you might use to introduce the idea:

Do you all know how flue powder works at Hogwarts? Zoom has something that works like flue powder. We are going to magically send you all into breakout rooms so you can spend a few minutes saying hello and seeing how each other is doing. 

Reflection on the Message

Breakout rooms could also be used after the message (e.g. sermon, homily). Offer a couple of questions for reflection via chat. Have them appoint a time-keeper and a scribe. Figure 3 minutes per person. 

"Coffee Hour"

After the service, leave the chat open for folks to connect.

You can also use the breakout room function to put folx into a small group for conversation -- again using the random function.

Disruptive Participants

The Zoom host can mute attendee microphones so that dogs and doorbells don't interrupt service. Zoom also allow you to remove any participants and prevent them from rejoining. You can also lock a Zoom session so that no new people can join.

Researching Copyright for Live Streaming

person holding a laptop with web pages flyign out

If you read a poem, read an excerpt from a book, sing a hymn, have the choir perform, or play a CD in your worship space, for your worshiping congregation, you are exempt from the normal prohibitions in the copyright laws against public performances. But when you record or stream a service the rules change drastically.

  • For UUA Resources, learn how to tell what you can use in virtual worship, and what will need additional permission.
  • We have a curated list of all of the Hymns and Readings that may be used in broadcast UU worship without special permission 
  • The Association for UU Music Ministries has a crowd-sourced list of works that have temporary permissions granted by composers, etc. for live streaming during the COVID-19 social distancing protocol.
  • Rev. Mathew Johnson and the UU Church of Rockford, IL have compiled a spreadsheet with copyright information they have researched for both the Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey UUA hymnals.
  • See Copyright Issues Related to Worship for more information.
  • One option is to purchase a WorshipCast license from Christian Copyright Solution. A yearly fee covers singing and performing in church, and there is an additional cost for live streaming. This covers most music publishers, including ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, although it doesn't cover everything. Be sure to check whether it covers the music you plan to use in your service.
  • This is also an opportunity to encourage your members to write original pieces for worship.

Additional Resources from outside the UUA:

Running Congregational Meetings Online Using Zoom: A Sample Procedure Manual

First Unitarian Church of Toronto, looking up at the front stained glass window with sunburst peeking from behind the building

So…  You’ve run some Zoom meetings where a few folks chatted away, enjoying each other’s video and audio.  Perhaps you’ve ventured into larger scale production and are conducting Sunday Services via Zoom.  But what if you’re called on to stage a full congregational meeting, with formal debate on motions followed by auditable voting?

Kalvin Drake of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto created a robust instruction manual or running congregational meetings via Zoom (link below) and has made it available to other congregations. See below for the contents.

For reference, the above document refers to a companion document:


Running Congregational Meetings with Zoom

Purpose of this Document    3

Planning Considerations    4

The Meeting Process    7

Meeting Roles, Responsibilities & Tips    15

Notes on Features    23

Configuring Zoom to Support your Meeting    24

The purpose of this document is to help you:

 

  • Plan and prepare for the meeting

  • Identify the various roles and responsibilities to be fulfilled in order to ensure a successful meeting; and

  • Configure Zoom to best support the meeting process.

Simple Online Sunday Morning

glass jars with candles

As we live into this time of physical distancing and online Sunday morning, remember there’s no need for anything complex. Go simple. People need connection more than anything else. You can do this with everyone at home on Zoom, Facebook Live, or even a conference call. Use what you're comfortable with. Expect glitches and be gentle with yourself.

Rev. Lynn Ungar, who has been doing online ministry with the Church of the Larger Fellowship for years, writes:

"People are incredibly kind and forgiving. We have had all kinds of times when the technology failed, when we had to ask people log out and come back in, when things started late because something wasn't working. Technology goes haywire a lot. People have always been very generous of spirit about it. Also, when you are leading worship from your house, things happen. I would prefer that my dog not bark while I am praying, but, you know, it happens. And people not only are sweet about it, I think they appreciate the intimacy of our stumbling through the best we can. Strive for connection rather than perfection."

Some Tech Tips for Your First Sunday

  • Using Zoom

  • Create a Zoom drop-in time beforehand so people can test and figure out the technology
  • Mute everyone’s microphones when they’re not talking. (The host can do this in the attendees section.)

  • Have a phone number someone can call if they’re having difficulty

  • Send people an instruction sheet ahead of time

  • People can use a smart phone or computer to access via video, or they can call in by phone, even by landline. Encourage them to use video if they can as this is much more connective and allows them to use the chat feature.

  • Rev. Darcy Baxter uses humor to share learning from experience to reassure you about being on camera!

Some Elements of a Simple Online Service

  • Provide some music through a video, recording, or having someone play an instrument or sing. (Pay attention to copyright).

    • Before sharing your screen, be sure to check the box: "Share Computer Sound" 

    • People can sing along with their mics muted. Singing together does not work because of the lag!

  • Opening words and a reading

  • Do joys and concerns. First concerns, then joys. People can unmute to speak if your group is small. For larger groups, use the chat feature.

  • Lead a meditation

  • If you include a homily, keep it personal and short.

  • You can do breakout rooms for reflection. If you recruit facilitators ahead of time they’ll be prepared to help everyone speak in turn. 

  • Close with music and a benediction

  • You can do coffee hour chat afterwards. The breakout room function could be used for larger groups. 

Prioritize

  • Intimacy and connection over glitz

  • Quality sound over video

  • Being present and caring for each other. It helps to have someone in responding pastorally in the chat.

Using Facebook Live

Facebook Live allows you to stream video and audio from one location.

  • This works well for telling a story, sharing a homily, or performing music. So you can do a service similar to how you usually do and people can watch from home.

  • It is less interactive than zoom, but people can participate in the stream by commenting. Have someone paying attention and responding to the comments. 

  • The video is automatically saved afterwards and people can watch later.

Using a Conference Call Service

If you have enough people without computers or phones that can access zoom, you might want to use a conference call service to connect. For a small congregation, this might be your Sunday morning experience. For a larger congregation, you can have one of your drop in small group ministries happen over conference call.

Tips

  • A small group ministry or small service on conference call might start with opening words, chalice lighting (have everyone light a chalice where they are), check in or joys and concerns, a guided meditation, a reading, sharing on a topic, and closing words

  • Have people mute their phones when they’re not speaking

  • For sharing times, call on one person at a time. It’s hard on a conference call of more than four people for people to figure out how to naturally “jump” into conversation without visual clues.

Other Options to Keep It Simple

  • Encourage your members to attend the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s online services

  • Share a recorded sermon or other congregation’s service in advance of your online gathering and spend your time together connecting and then sharing around that topic.

  • Keep Sunday simple and use some of that time and energy to create drop-in times to chat on zoom and/or short spiritual grounding times through the week to help isolation.

  • Some congregations are collaborating by rotating services between them. For example if three congregations collaborate, Church A streams week 1, Fellowship B streams week 2, and Society C streams week 3.  Also, congregations can collaborate by having the same story for all ages or music and altering the sermon etc. Be creative. You are limited by what you can imagine.  The more shared resources the better.

More Resources

Sustaining Connection in a Coronavirus World

Learn what congregations and other groups are doing to maintain real connection virtually in times such as these. Guests include the Revs Mykal Slack, Jessica Star Rockers and Suzanne Fast. We will also be joined by Aaron Payson and Madelyn Campbell from the UU Trauma Response Ministry.

Rev. Meg Riley, Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera, and Rev Michael Tino host this live Unitarian Universalist talk show discussing today's topics from an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural perspective.

The VUU streams live on Facebook (or sometimes on YouTube) every Thursday at 11 am ET.

Production support for this episode is provided by Lori Stone.

The VUU is brought to you by the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

Technical Guidance on Virtual Voting for Online Congregational Meetings

laptop with a hand coming out with a "thumbs up"

Perhaps it’s time for the congregation’s annual meeting. Perhaps you are needing an all-congregational vote on a time-sensitive matter, like calling a minister, and the Coronavirus Pandemic means you can’t gather in person. Be sure to read our guidance on the legalities of holding congregational meetings virtually. We still need to ensure each member gets to cast a vote and is able to practice our fifth principle. To that end, you may want to mail out a paper ballot to those who do not have internet access or own a smart phone/tablet.

Larry Stritof, Manager of App Development at our UUA, shares these options on how we can do congregational voting online:

  • Vote by filling out a form. Consider keeping congregational votes as simple as possible by using a form builder like Wufoo or JotForm to create a form to collect the responses. You want something that will allow you to set it so that the users completing the form will get an email with their submission as a way being transparent about what was recorded.
  • Vote by voice. The host can unmute all participants. The moderator will call for all "Ayes," Nays," and "Abstentions." A determination will be made whether it's too close to call for a count. If so, you can either go with the other options listed here, or go through the roll and unmute each person to tally their vote. This method may also be used for participants calling in who don't have access to the Zoom poll or raising hand function below as well. I would not recommend this for anything larger than a small or mid-sized congregation.  
  • Vote with a poll in Zoom. This can work, but it’s tricky. First, you’d need every participant to have a registered account and not just the standard “guest” account if you want to be able to download or audit the poll results. Second, if you have more than one member in a household, you’ll need to find a way for each member to vote. (This can be handled by running an in-meeting Zoom poll with multiple “questions,” the questions being the same, but for different persons in the household. It then involves adding the answers to those questions together). Here’s a guide to polling in Zoom. Here's how they did it at a recent MidAmerica Regional Assembly.
  • Vote with hand-raising or "reactions button" in Zoom. There is a button to virtually raise one’s hand while in a zoom meeting. You could call for yeas or nays this way. It would also require multiple rounds for multi-member households unless you found a way for additional voters to call in to the Zoom meeting on phones and raise their hands with *9.
  • Vote anonymously. If anonymous voting is needed, consider election systems like Simply Voting or Election Buddy. These systems are designed to be secure and auditable by the individual voters. This of course comes at a price. You can also vote anonymously in Zoom using the in-meeting polling feature (see above about offering multiple rounds). Zoom’s hand-raising feature is not anonymous.
  • Set things up so you can audit results. To ensure there is no voter fraud (purposeful or accidental), you can do a few things to audit the results. One is to collect an email address or other data point that is going to be unique to the individuals. After you close the voting, audit the results looking for duplicates, submissions from people you don't know or are not authorized to vote, and check to see if the total number of votes is in line with your list of active voting members. You can also do this by password protecting your meeting whether it’s video or phone call. 
  • Make your meeting accessible. There may be accessibility issues for some users who don’t use email, have an older computer that cannot do a video conference, or live with disabilities that make this work difficult. My recommendation is to work with the individuals and find ways you can let their voice be heard. This could include allowing the individual to email their vote to the group counting them; setting up a conference line; or run Otter.ai for a live transcript of the conversation.  
  • Reduce interference by unknown third parties. It’s a terrible security policy, but there is “Security through obscurity” with these setups, meaning you are unlikely going to have interference from unknown third parties since only insiders and members will know what system and process you are using for your vote. Don’t post details of your voting process and meeting information online for the public to see. You may want to set up a waiting room and have participants type in their full name to make sure they are voting members. Think of it as a sign-in table before the annual meeting is held.  Also, make sure you set up the meeting to turn off the “screen share” option for everyone except your scheduled presenters. During the pandemic some unknown third parties have disrupted online worship services by sharing their screens.
  • Make it 100% virtual or 100% in-person. Hybrid meetings like the UUA’s annual General Assembly are very complex to run, and require staffing and support beyond what most congregations are able to offer. 

At the end of the day, if voting is reduced to having to count every ballot because it's close to 50/50, then the congregation is probably too polarized to move forward. I would recommend tabling the motion until you can further process the question at hand.

Zoom Polling for Congregational Meetings

Zoom graphic

For our recent annual meeting, we utilized the Zoom polling feature to conduct the votes on the business. It worked well (once we sorted through some of the following complications), and it provided fast returns on the questions.

What was essential was being able to trust our people to know whether they should vote or not. The method we used does not work if you cannot trust your people to know whether or not to vote—but there are other ways to do that should you like (see below). Although we had over 230 connections during the business, we received only about 100 votes on any questions, proof to us that people were self-regulating.

Zoom only allows one response to any “poll,” however, you can have several “questions” under each of the polls. We used these questions to allow for additional voters in each situation. Each of the questions must be answered in order to submit the response to the poll/complete the vote, so we added the “not applicable” for persons 2 and 3 as options. Any people who are not voting can simply close out that window. (Sometimes, it’s necessary to close the window on individual computers, not just the host doing that, so it’s good to let people know.)

For example, here’s one of the questions we used during the meeting:

         Poll: Approving the Rules of Procedure

                  Question 1: Person One: I approve the proposed Rules of Procedure

                           Possible answers: Yes; No

                  Question 2: Person Two: I approve the proposed Rules of Procedure

                           Possible answers: Yes; No; Not Applicable

                  Question 3: Person Three: I approve the proposed Rules of Procedure

                           Possible answers: Yes; No; Not Applicable

We instructed people that if they were alone in their viewing, they still had to answer questions 2 and 3, using the “not applicable” option; then they could submit their poll.

We then added up the responses to the “yes” votes from persons 1, 2 and 3, and the “no” votes from persons 1, 2, and 3. That provided us with the results. We were able to show the results to the people through Zoom in order for them to be able to verify the results were as stated.

For those using a Chromebook, (rather than a Chrome browser), they were unable to see the polls, and so we invited them to vote using the Chat function. Similarly, if you have people who have only called in (no video connection, no Zoom app on their phones), they would have to vote by unmuting and giving a verbal answer. We were able to make these adaptations on the fly, and now know better for the future.

The Poll feature must be activated on the account that you’re using—(settings page at zoom.us). Polls can be created in advance. This must be done while signed into the Zoom account at zoom.us. You go to “Meetings” setting, and open the meeting; you will be able to find a place where you can add polls (the location moves around as Zoom modifies their product).

During the meeting, any co-host can launch, close, and show the results of the poll, but during the meeting, only the person who logged in as the initial host can add polls during the meeting. Clicking on the Poll option, you’ll find an option to add polls; this takes you to your account through the website (at zoom.us), and allows you to create the polls.

We ran into a small problem that we sorted out during the meeting. We had a high number of co-hosts in the meeting (for other reasons), and we discovered that if they touched their computers during the voting, the poll closed, and we had to restart it. Once we realized that we all had to have our hands off our devices, the subsequent votes went well. We also created a practice poll so that we could walk people through it. For us, we used the question about whether people could hear the meeting (as recommended be asked by the UUA counsel in the advice on legal virtual meetings) and had people test out the polling feature.

I would strongly suggest that you practice the polling process prior to the meeting so that you are familiar with how this works.

Polls are apparently saved in the “reports” section of your Zoom meeting details. (I have not personally verified this). We also took screen shots of the shared results so that we could have those for our meeting minutes.

There are features in Zoom that allow you to track who voted in which way, and those require registration and tracking email addresses. We chose not to do this, but this feature can be researched at Zoom.us.

Other options for voting:

-Raising Hands. You can ask people to raise their hands to vote for a question. This did not work well for us, as with over 200 participants, it would have been hard to scan the audience to see who has their hand up. The “lower all hands” option for the host/co-hosts would have been employed at the end of the vote. This option, if it’s viable for your size, allows you to scan the pictures to see if the appropriate people are voting. However, it also allows people to vote on both sides of an issue, either inadvertently or intentionally. It also only allows one vote per computer.

-Using the Chat. If your congregation has a smaller number of people, you can ask people to vote through the Chat feature, by putting in their name (the one on the membership rolls, as the display name might be different), and then putting in their vote. This does allow multiple votes per screen, and does allow you the option of being able to check that the people who are voting are eligible to do so.

-Outside polling systems: This allows you to make sure that only those who are eligible to vote receive the links to the voting. These require that people access an additional browser to be able to vote. These poll results can also be shown through screen sharing option in Zoom by the meeting organizers. One thing that’s important is to make sure that the questions are short, or otherwise it may be difficult to read the small print. This option works well for polling the audience during an in-person meeting, provided that everyone has access to a smart device.

WEBINAR VIDEO "Congregational Meetings on Zoom."