Friday, May 8, 2020

Online/Remote Worship Is Here to Stay

As we’re already seeing, once Safe At Home orders are rescinded, it doesn’t mean a return to what once was.  Restaurants, shops, music venues, theaters, and places of worship will continue to be affected by social distancing measures and limits to the number of people on premise.

This means churches will continue streaming worship services and pre-recorded services to provide for those unable or unwilling to attend physical worship services.  It’s possible that some will prefer this new way of “doing church” and welcome being able to watch live or recorded services at their convenience. It seems new habits are being formed.  In the world of music, a recent survey found that 74% of music fans plan to continue watching live streams from musicians even as the live-show circuit resumes.   

How long before sanctuaries open? Many are watching public health guidance for how to handle worship and other congregational gatherings in the next few months.  As we are already seeing, federal, state, and local authorities are staging or phasing reopenings based on improving COVID-19 metrics.

Forward-looking worship leaders wanting to plan ahead will want to check their own state’s opening plans, as well as information shared by regional church leadership.
Whether you like it or not, there's no stopping it!

In my own region, the Wisconsin Council of Churches has offered specific guidance for the months ahead, drawing from Wisconsin’s reopening guidelines. You can find the Council’s very helpful  document, “Returning to Church” here:

In a nutshell, the Wisconsin Council of Churches recommends to its churches that online worship continues well into the future. Even when public worship can resume, social distancing and attendance limits will keep some people at home.  Others may simply prefer online worship, now that they’re used to it, and still other higher risk individuals (defined as people over 60, and those with underlying conditions) will be advised to continue to shelter at home (and experience worship remotely) until an all-clear is sounded.

This means churches will want to plan for online/remote worship for a long time forward.  In case you haven’t done this yet, you might consider getting a proper license for streaming worship.  There are several companies who offer these licenses, and the streaming video license is often simply added to the music license your church already holds.  

A Podcast/Streaming license permits both pre-recorded content and live-streamed content to be posted to your website, YouTube, Facebook, Zoom, Vimeo, Instagram, and other similar online platforms.  Check with the company whose license you already have for music, or simply search for church streaming licenses. One License and CCLI are examples of two licensing companies who work with churches.

The good news is that you’re probably getting quite good at screen-based, online worship!  If it’s still a struggle, consider these improvements:

--enlist others to help out by reading, submitting photographs, offering live music
--get people up and moving with physical responses to prayers and songs

--keep it visually interesting: offer full-screen visuals that keep your theme or main message in front of people

--don’t forget to promote different ways of giving, and do your usual offering rituals of song/prayer/ and thanksgiving

--check your denomination’s growing worship resource library for videos/music/imagery

--make sure you have your proper licenses and display your license number on screen

--keep the service time short: many are finding they just can’t process so much on-screen information

-- focus your theme and message: remember something as short (and focused) as a 30-second commercial can be interesting, memorable, stimulating, amusing, and persuasive. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Show and Tell In Worship

After 7-8 weeks of offering church services online, many churches have settled into routines, typically changing little from their usual in-sanctuary church service.  What this means is that people sit and listen (churches are primarily auditory spaces: see my article on this here). In a visual culture where people are also used to watching fast-paced images in advertising, films, and television shows, just seeing one person talking isn’t going to grab their full attention. Showing what you're talking about goes a long way towards helping your viewers understand the heart of your messaging.

One great irony of worship in the time of Covid-19 is that churches have now turned to screens to broadcast their services, and yet some have missed the point that a screen is meant to show something more than one or more people talking to a camera. When the screens that people use each day are rich in visual content, we in the church need to pay attention to that, and try to figure out ways to visually enhance your viewers' experience.

Finding ways to keep people visually involved can be challenging. Sure, we are seeing one another if we’re using Zoom and other visual tech, and we’re seeing the worship leaders and the backdrop they’ve selected (the worship sanctuary, maybe a home office) but there are ways to add more visuals to worship.  

One way, with Zoom, is to Share the Screen and put up a PowerPoint or Google Slides program that not only shows the words to prayers and hymns, but also integrates visual
Green arrow=Share Screen
arts.  Some churches are doing a fine job asking church members to submit photographs during the week that can be shown during worship, or asking children to draw pictures that can be uploaded and added to the slides.  Other churches are adding original video or online video to the slide set to illustrate messages.  

For those churches using their sanctuary for video worship, and who already have a screen and projector in place, the leadership could position themselves near those screens and project the imagery and lyrics that would ordinarily be used in their service. Many churches are doing this effectively.

One caution is that while churches may enjoy a worship exemption in US Copyright law around the proper use of copyrighted material, these protections do not automatically extend to your broadcasting these materials over the Internet, radio, or television. Until there is further guidance on this matter, you’re better off using materials that you know are in the public domain, are original to you and your members, or have been already cleared through some of the online sources you may be using.

A key question for worship leaders planning to upload their services to visual platforms is this: how can we SHOW what we're talking about? Sometimes this means we set aside our natural bias to TALK about something in church, and instead find a picture, a video, a film clip, or a drawing to show the point you want to get across.

This will increase your viewers' comprehension of your message, enhance their memory of what you're doing, and stimulate their response.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Couch Potato Church in the Zoom Era

Back in the 1970’s someone (maybe a cartoonist) used the phrase “couch potato” to refer to those watching long hours of television while sitting on couches or easy chairs, maybe eating potato chips, and possibly turning their bodies into a potato shape for the lack of exercise! 

The phrase came to me again on a recent Sunday as I sat on my couch and watched a Zoom-based worship service. Since I could also see other participants sitting on couches and chairs, I realized, I’m a couch potato in a couch potato church service!

Like many who have been “safer at home” for these past 50 days, I have done a lot of sitting.  I also know I need to get up and move around more frequently. After participating in several recent Zoom-based worship services, one thing I’ve come to notice is I can’t just sit on my couch for more than 20-30 minutes without needing to stand up.  Sure, there is lots of sitting in a typical in-sanctuary service, but even then those who are able are invited to stand for singing, praying, and greeting each other.   

With sympathy to all those who are scrambling to adapt their church services and ministries to these days of Covid-19, I’d gently suggest worship leaders ask people to stand during the livestream (or recorded) service, even in the comfort of their own home. 

Stand to pray together, stand to sing a hymn or song, stand to do some sort of unison action (maybe an echo pantomime where the leader calls out a phrase and demonstrates an action, which then the rest say and do).  

Of course, with video church seen at home, the participants have the freedom to get up or not, but I think worship leaders could find ways to keep people more physically involved in worship. 

It’s just a small detail that has been overlooked in the effort to provide worship experiences in this strange time.  I hope worship leaders will find a way to bring standing/sitting/even kneeling back into at-home screen-based worship.

Post Script: I shared my thoughts about "couch potato church" with the pastor of the church I've been attending, and in this morning's service he invited us to stand four times during the one hour service: during a short prayer/doxology at the start of the service, for a short song he taught with hand motions, as a stretch time before the sermon/message, and at the end of the service to repeat the short song and hand motions learned earlier. These were simple ways to get the Zoom congregation up and moving and to be more physically engaged.