Establishing Parity Between Digital and In-Person Worship

Establishing Parity Between Digital and In-Person Worship

Is it possible to create parity between worshipers who participate digitally versus being in-person?  This is a key question for a few reasons.  Firstly, some people are not prepared to come back into our physical worship spaces because of the Delta variant and other potential variants of the coronavirus.  Secondly, over the last year or two of services in the digital space, many of our churches have gained members and friends who don’t live nearby and couldn’t participate in person on a regular basis even if they wanted to.  And thirdly, so much of life has moved, and continues to move, into the digital space. People’s spiritual lives are doing that, too.  Some may regret that fact or even resist it, but nothing can stop that.  We need to recognize and respond faithfully to this reality. If churches intend to continue to offer hybrid services (engaging worshipers simultaneously in-person and digitally), then there are several practices that can help the digital participants become more involved spiritually and emotionally in the service. 

Good camera work is key, and best practices include keeping most shots close-up and tightly framed, moving from camera to camera (in multi-camera settings) to maintain interest, and avoiding balcony shots from above. Worship leaders need to give the camera attention just as they give the in-person worshipers attention. Likewise, the audio needs to be clear and intelligible. Proper mic usage is essential. Just because those in the physical space can make out what a worship leader is saying doesn’t mean that those online can hear if the worship leader fails to use the microphone as it is designed. The sound going out to the stream needs to be adjusted as necessary. In short, our churches need to pay heed to the video and audio quality of their streaming if they intend for worshipers to feel engaged as participants instead of mere observers.  (Find more resources related to technical considerations on the Digital Ministry page.)

Worship leaders also should be aware that many digital participants will choose to participate asynchronously, meaning that they will join in at a time of their choosing. If folks can binge on their favorite Netflix programs at the time of their choosing, what makes the church any different?  They are likely to engage with your community of faith the same way. This means the content of what is said needs to be relevant whenever and wherever the digital participant is. Keep announcements that are timebound and place-bound for another setting. They don’t work well in a stream that exists online forever.

Finally, consider that perhaps the characteristics of an engaging in-person worship experience and an engaging digital worship experience will not be the same. It might be better for both types of worshipers to separate the experiences. For example, social media favors short-form content.  An hour-long worship service rarely works well on platforms designed for short-form video. The average YouTube video is about 10 minutes long and the other platforms favor even shorter video. Ask yourself this question: When was the last time you spent engaging with secular-based content on Facebook for an hour? Have you thought about hosting a 5-10 minute YouTube worship experience? What about a 60-second TikTok reflection on scripture? Perhaps a time of guided meditation or a 30-second Instagram Reels prayer for the day?  Parity doesn’t have to mean that everybody… everywhere… at every time must have the same experience.  Parity between digital and in-person worshipers means that we engage with digital participants in a way that reflects the digital platform we are using to connect with people. To paraphrase our denomination, parity means that no matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey or in the world, that you are welcome here. 


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Eric M. Elley

Eric Elley provides consultant services to Conference churches that need assistance defining and creating a digital presence. Eric can: Recommend hardware and software solutions for digital ministry that fit within your church's budget and technical...

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