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 (YouTube) 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.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .