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.

Ali K.C. Bell

  • 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.