Thanks to COVID-19, people from around the world found new ways to participate in congregational church worship. Some have worshiped over the phone. Others have worshiped via video conferencing. Some have worshiped in church parking lots. Others have attended socially distanced indoor services. All have experienced church in new ways.
COVID-19’s disruption of traditional religious practices has been hard for many, and the economic impact of this disruption will force many churches to close their doors. Other churches whose finances are sufficient will close because of resistance to the most challenging task: change. Every congregation should develop or redevelop a strategic plan that includes virtual congregational worship plans if those plans do not already exist. These virtual worship plans should consist of Sunday school, Bible study, prayer meeting, and every other service the church host over the phone, online, or video conferencing.
Change is Gonna Come
Change is an inevitable part of any organization, and the congregational church is no exception. Throughout American history, invisible churches, field churches, brush arbor churches, under the oak churches, dressed to the nines churches, blue vein churches, BET on Sunday morning churches, and megachurches became a part of the congregational church story. Now, we can add socially distanced churches and virtual worship to the story. The new iteration of the congregational church makes the church service accessible, but thoughtful planning is essential to ensure that the virtual service is welcoming and practical.
Six Best Practices for Virtual Congregational Worship
Throughout 2020, I watched hundreds of hours of virtual services on Facebook and YouTube. Sometimes I make my presence known by actively participating in virtual service and typing in a chatbox. Other times I enter a virtual space, watch the service, and quietly leave. I found many virtual worship practices that I enjoy, and based on my observations, below are six best practices that make virtual congregational worship enjoyable for me.
1. Start With The Hook
I enjoy logging on to virtual service and knowing what the service is about as soon as the video starts. Two of my favorite virtual services open with a prayer, then the message is shared, and finally, a closing prayer. I tune in to these services weekly. They also put the title of the message and scripture in the post description, so before users click the video, they know the topic for the service. With virtual church, evangelism happens with the click of a button or the sharing of a post, so the message and purpose of the service should be clear as soon users see the post and start the video.
2. Keep Time in Mind
Every minute of a virtual church service should be meaningful and impactful. Some traditional worship practices such as announcements, long welcomes, and even calls to worship aren’t always conducive to virtual service. If pertinent information needs sharing, then share it on social media pages, the website, via emails, or newsletters. If information must be shared doing the virtual service, save it for the end. I enjoy watching services that are no longer than one hour. The ones I stream the most are thirty to forty-five minutes.
3. Stream with Good Tools
Many churches cannot afford expensive cameras or lighting, but the great news is that a smartphone with a good camera is sufficient to stream a virtual service. To kick up the smartphone streaming, add a ring light or a lavalier. Some of my favorite virtual churches stream their services from the minister’s home with a cellphone. It is so disappointing to log on to a service, and the sound quality is awful, or the video is unclear. Most of the services I’ve seen with low video quality take place inside a church and the camera is too far from the participants. While we are social distancing, we don’t have to have socially distanced cameras. Move the camera closer.
4. Keep it Simple
I’ve tried to connect with a virtual congregation but found it difficult to do so. Virtual church school, virtual Bible study, virtual worship service, and other digital events hosted by the same church were all hosted in different places. There should be consistency in how to access a church’s virtual ministry. There should not be Instagram for Bible study, Facebook for church service, Zoom for church school, or dial in for prayer service. Virtual churches should host all of their congregational services in the same place.
5. Know Your Audience
A part of virtual worship should include knowing your audience. One way churches can better understand their audience and their audience’s engagement is by using analytics tools. Another way is to ask the audience questions and have them answer in a chatbox. Surveys are also an excellent option to understand the audience. Many churches are unaware of how their members engage in virtual worship services and are not meeting their audience’s needs. When churches know their audiences, they can stream their virtual service when their audience engages the most. They can also understand who their ministry attracts and prepare content relevant to their virtual audience.
6. Make Asks
I’ve attended several online services where there is no ask for a donation, a social media follow, a newsletter sign up, or anything else. A lot of preparation goes into hosting a virtual service; the least attendees can do besides watching is supporting the ministry based on an ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and want. Virtual churches can make the request in the chatbox or at the end of the service.
These are just a few best practices that make my online virtual worship experiences ideal. If you have any more ideas to share, drop them in the chat below.