Tips for Integrating Online and In Person Participation in Worship

After setting up your sanctuary for livestreaming sound and video many congregations want to do more to integrate the online and in person participation. Maybe you want to continue to have online guests share sermons or Zoom participants be worship associates. Or you want to continue using the many wonderful music videos and have the in-person participants and online participants listen and watch together. Or maybe you want to have online participants be able to share their joy or sorrow in their own voice.

Setting Up Your Zoom Device

Start by setting up your Zoom laptop or tablet for livestreaming from your sanctuary. Along with sending sound to the Zoom participants, you need to be able to capture sound from them.

You will need to be able to have sound enter your computer’s input to go to Zoom and have your computer’s output from Zoom go to the sanctuary without creating any reverb (that annoying echo that can happen with Zoom.).

Using the Computer’s Headset Jack

Close up of 4 pole TRRS plug with 3 black bands

Your laptop or tablet may have an ⅛” bi-directional aux audio port that accepts a headset with a microphone. You can use an adaptor cable with a 4 Pole TRRS male plug (count 3 black bands) on one end and two 3-pole TRS female connectors (one will be marked with a microphone icon, and the other with a headphones icon).

  • Connect the end with the headphones icon to an input source on the soundboard.
  • Connect the end with the microphone icon to an output source on the soundboard. (Use an auxiliary output for maximum flexibility.)

For these connections you will need either a ¼” aux stereo port (like you plug into a guitar) or an XLR adaptor (like you plug into a microphone) . (You will need to use another adaptor -- make sure they are stereo and not mono adapters.)

Using the Computer’s USB Output

For a more reliable and trouble-free option, consider using a USB Audio Interface. All computers have a USB output option. Tablets and lightweight laptops may need an adaptor (aka “dongle” for Apple devices).

Assess the input and output options on your sound mixing board to determine the model of USB Audio Interface that works best for you. (There are too many combinations to describe each one.) The documentation from the manufacturer of the interface will guide you in the set up.

Using a Combination of Headset and USB Output

If your laptop has an audio jack and your mixing board has a USB port for sound output you may be able to use both of these. Use the USB port from the mixing board to get sound from the mixing board to Zoom. And use a stereo audio cable (count 2 black bands) from your laptop’s audio port to get sound from Zoom participants to the in-person mixing board.

Setting Up Your Sound Mixing Board

Schematic showing how to get sound from Zoom to a sound mixer

Because of the complexity of sharing sound both out to Zoom and from Zoom to the room, you’ll want to use a sound mixing board. You already use the mixing board to set the levels of sound for your in-person participants and will want to do the same with sound coming from online.

If available, use the auxiliary output on your congregation’s sound board for the input to the laptop running Zoom. This way you can set different sound levels for your online participants. For instance you may want to have a microphone at the piano for the online participants but not amplify it for those in the sanctuary.

Sharing Sound from the Sanctuary to Zoom

On the Zoom computer (the computer that is being used in the sanctuary to stream the service), keep the sound setting on Zoom unmuted. This will share the sound from the soundboard to your Zoom participants.

As in other uses of Zoom, you will want your settings to provide the least amount of disruption:

  • The easiest setting is to have people automatically muted when they join the Zoom and cannot unmute themselves.
  • If you want to allow early arrivals to chat amongst themselves, let them unmute -- but forcibly mute everyone when the service starts and don’t allow unmuting. Having an online “usher” with co-host privileges can be helpful.
  • Anyone who has a speaking role can be made a co-host so they can unmute themselves -- but you probably knew that.

Sharing Sound from Zoom Participants

  • To share sound from Zoom participants, mute yourself on the Zoom computer to prevent possible feedback from the sanctuary to Zoom.
  • Allow the online speaker to unmute themselves (or use the “Spotlight” function) and using the controls on the soundboard adjust the volume as necessary so those in the sanctuary can hear the person online.
  • Be prepared to adjust the volume every time for every online speaker: the setting for the first speaker may prove too loud for the second speaker. This is not “set-and-forget.”

Sharing Video or Music from the Laptop

  • As you would for a fully online service, mute yourself on Zoom, share the video choosing “share sound”.
  • The sound from the video will play both to the Zoom participants and on your computer, through the audio output and to the congregation.
  • Control the volume for in person participants on the soundboard.
  • Pro Tip: Use the “Video” choice under the Share Screen’s “Advanced” tab to handle the sound sharing and video optimizing automatically.

Projecting Video Showing the Zoom Participants

For best results, use a second computer connected to Zoom and a projector to share slides, or to show off-site speakers or participants.

  • It can be helpful to label this Zoom connection as “projector.”
  • Do not connect this computer to the audio on Zoom. (Do not click on “Join with Computer Audio” button when you log on. Close that dialogue box by clicking on the X in the upper right corner.)
  • When the host computer shares a video or spotlights an online participant it will show on this projector.
  • You can choose to show “gallery view” in Zoom at other times so in-person participants can see the online participants for a sense of connection.
  • Most projectors have a remote with a “video mute” setting or a sliding lens cover when you do not want the Zoom view visible.

If you don’t have the option of a second computer, you will have more things to consider. Connecting the host computer to a projector is more complicated to manage and is more likely to show unnecessary visuals to the congregation.

  • If you connect using a VGA cable (not available on most computers) you won’t need to tweak your sound settings.
  • If you connect using an HDMI cable, you’ll need to work on your sound settings so your projector doesn’t try to be your speaker.

Either way, you may notice that the audio from the person speaking is not exactly in sync with the person’s projected video. It is a limitation of Zoom, so don’t worry about it or try to “fix” it.

More Connection -- More Imperfection -- More Grace

Anyone who has been doing tech support for Zoom events knows the importance of controlling who is able to unmute and anticipating who is speaking when. Each congregation has developed their own procedures and norms for this during online worship from experience and practice.

Integrating the online and in-person experiences isn’t easy. Sharing sound back and forth from online to in-person, and from in-person to online will make this even more complicated.

The authenticity, community connection, and ability to hear from speakers far away makes this complication worthwhile, but congregations need to be prepared for this to be imperfect. This could mean asking an online speaker to begin again, accidental Zoom unmuting shared with the sanctuary, or sound feedback.

You will need to develop new procedures such as having online participants share their joys and sorrows first and then having the in-person participants do the same. Perfection never has been the goal. Living with imperfection is a spiritual practice of patience and grace. Connecting with each other in deeper and inclusive ways helps us become richer faith communities.

About the Authors

George Carvill

George Carvill lives in Brattleboro, Vermont and manages the website for the All Souls UU Church in Brattleboro, VT. He is retired after a career of working with companies creating software for publications firms including project management and quality assurance.

Evin Carvill Ziemer

Evin serves the Central East Region in the areas of Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Intercultural Competency work and as Primary Contact for congregations in upstate and central New York. Evin holds a Masters of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton...

Renee Ruchotzke

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

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