Learning to Be The Church Virtually

Learning to Be The Church Virtually

Let me just start by saying: I know this is hard. And frustrating. And exhausting.

For the vast majority of our churches, providing worship or otherwise "being the church" online has always been at best a side gig. For most, it's been a "someday, maybe."

But someday is suddenly here, through no choice of our own. In what for most of us is the first time in the very long histories of our congregations, we can't congregate in person, in one physical space. We've got to learn - fast - how to minister virtually.

Your Conference staff is scrambling to help. We're sharing what we know, finding resources, asking questions, convening conversations. And we're learning from you. (Take our survey here.)

The first thing we have learned is that you CAN do this. We witnessed that on Sunday. Hundreds of our churches were online, ministering to their flocks. Some leaders gathered a few key people in their sanctuaries and broadcast worship live. Some pastors sat in front of their computers to preach and offer prayers. They did it on Facebook Live and Zoom and YouTube and for many of them, it was a first. It was something they had never done before.

They did it.

You did it.

Maybe there were glitches. Maybe the quality wasn't what you might have hoped it would be. But you did it, with almost no time to prepare and plan.  From here, it will only get better. As we learn and help one another and figure this thing out, it will get better. And easier.

Other things we've learned:
  • The Zoom video conferencing service provides one of the simplest ways to connect with folks. It's free for up to 100 people to be in a meeting up to 40 minutes at a time; or $15 a month for longer meetings. A leader can sit in front of their computer - with a webcam and a built-in mic or a headset - and talk to anyone who has Internet access and the link. People with webcams can "attend" virtually and see and hear each other. Those without webcams can still see and listen and talk, and those without computers can even call in on the telephone.

    One church pastor said at her church, after virtual worship on Sunday, they invited people to "bring-your-own-coffee coffee hour." They used Zoom's breakout room feature to divide people up into smaller groups, where they could stay online and chat with one another. They loved it.

    Zoom gives an option to stream to Facebook Live, which allows for a wider audience with folks who don't have the Zoom link.

    Zoom has a VERY good help center here with video tutorials as well as instructions with screenshots to help you and your congregation get up to speed.

    We have now posted a Quick Guide to using Zoom that includes a printable PDF you can share with folks in your congregation.
  • The second simple tool that is working for churches is Facebook Live. Simply set up a smart phone or iPad to point at the worship leader (don't have a tripod? At least one pastor I saw used masking tape), and you can send your signal right to your church's Facebook page. And NO, people do NOT need to have a Facebook account to watch. As long as you are using Facebook Live on a public page (not your personal profile), anyone with a link to that page can watch. So just email the link out ahead of time, and let folks know what time to tune in. Facebook will also give you the option of saving a recording to your page when you're done, so people can watch later.
  • If you are more ambitious and want multiple cameras, or can have a camera connected to a computer, other streaming options include YouTube, Vimeo Livestream and dacast.  We're researching more on options and applications and tools, and will continue to update that information here.
These are just the basics - a place to start. A couple of other tips:
  • If you're planning to use music in your live stream, don't forget about copyright. There are inexpensive streaming licenses available - one company is even temporarily offering free licenses. Learn more here.
  • Old fashioned works too. Try a phone/ email/ text tree to connect folks in your congregation, particularly the most vulnerable. "Virtual' church doesn't have to mean high tech. Phones still work for talking.
  • Consider emailing out or posting a bulletin to help people follow along with what you are doing online, and post transcripts of sermons and prayers whenever possible. This is particularly important to the hearing impaired.
Join us online tonight at 5:30 PM for a conversation on online worship where we'll share more ideas and insights. Information is here..

Keep watching our Coronavirus website as we will continue to add resources.

And remember - this will get easier.  And when this whole thing is over, we'll realize that we've done a good thing here. We've broken out of our physical spaces and gone out into the virtual world to do ministry. Maybe we'll realize that technology gives us a way to reach people we've never reached before. To reach former members who have moved away. Seniors who can't make it to church. Everyday folk who are too sick or too busy or too intimidated by "church" to come through our doors.

And that has to be a good thing, right?


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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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