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Online Worship in a Pandemic World

Posted In Church Leadership

In a short period of time, our entire way of life has been turned upside down. Churches large and small have scrambled to figure out how to do some semblance of a service online.

Worship has been a challenge, as well as an opportunity. How do we make it interactive and engaging? What really ministers to people right now? As the co-pastor and worship leader at Saints Community Church (Assemblies of God) in New Orleans, I’ve carefully considered these questions.

As soon as we found out we couldn’t even bring a group of 10 people together to do a live recording of the service, we reached out to Ryan Wakefield from Church Marketing University. He has helped us navigate this uncharted territory and given us simple ways to connect with our congregation that have proven invaluable. We’ve also made a few observations of our own that have impacted the way we are doing worship.

Here are five suggestions for creating an online worship experience while your church is sheltering at home:

1. Relax. This is new for everyone. From late-night comedians to news commentators, people are alone, at home, filming themselves with an iPhone. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve excellence. While we don’t want it to be distractingly bad, there’s an understanding right now that it’s not church as usual. It’s not life as usual.

To carry on like normal kind of feels disingenuous. It’s important to adjust our online ministry for what everyone is going through — life alone, together online.

2. Keep it simple. Typically on Sunday morning, we have a choir of 25, six people on mics, and a full band. That’s impossible right now. For Sunday morning online services, we’ve gone to one keyboard and a cajon, sometimes adding an acoustic.

I stay away from songs that require vocal parts and just sing simple, acoustic versions. This allows for minimal rehearsal. During the week, I do a series of worship and prayer times alone at the piano, and that’s been just as meaningful and effective.

3. Use what you have. It’s been interesting to see how size is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage right now. Smaller congregations are able to do a simple setup and utilize the network of close relationships. Larger churches have the equipment and team to do a beautiful online service.

What has been a disadvantage is if churches struggle to change quickly. I’ve noticed that newer, small church plants sometimes flex more easily than larger, established churches. And agile, larger churches are faring better than small congregations who can only do what they’ve always done.

Jesus is able to touch the hearts of people right where they are.

We made the decision to prerecord our service rather than try to pull it off live. That alleviated the pressure to do it perfect in real time.

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars right now, but a few pieces of extra equipment or video software can be helpful. Much of this can be done through inexpensive video apps on an iPhone.

ProPresenter can display words during the video of worship, but that does require a more extensive setup with a computer and cameras. Utilize what works for your church right now, and don’t try to take on more than you can realistically accomplish.

4. Mix it up. Probably the biggest mistake I’ve seen with worship in online services is doing a regular 20- to 30-minute set, followed by a full message. Since people are at home, after a few minutes they get up and start cleaning the kitchen or reading on their phone.

The most important tip Wakefield gave us was to do six-minute sections: one song, followed by one point of a message, followed by another song, followed by Communion, and so on. It was a hard adjustment for me as a worship leader. But watching it from home, I realized how much it helped our congregation stay engaged.

With our stripped-down setup, it was too difficult for us to display the words, so we have asked questions throughout the online service for people to answer in the Facebook comments. Interaction isn’t about asking people to sing at the top of their lungs alone at home; it can be comments, likes and hearts.

In each of our online video services, we’ve had over 1,000 comments during the service. That has been my favorite part of the entire experience.

5. Focus on what matters. All of our norms have been stripped away — not only in church, but in every area of life. It’s a moment where people have too much time to think about hard realities.

Right now, production doesn’t matter like it normally does. Our content doesn’t even matter that much. What matters is relationships and the genuine presence of God.

People want to know someone cares that they’re still alive, even if no one has seen them in person for three weeks. People are hurting. They are afraid and angry. Some are grieving. There’s no point in me trying to whip up some kind of awkward energy alone in front of a camera. I have to bring something genuine to worship, or it will fall flat.

Worship like you do when you’re alone with Jesus. It’s different than being in a room with people. It has to come from the overflow of the heart. Sing songs of healing. Play prophetically. Let the anointing break the yoke of bondage. That’s what the world and the Church are crying out for right now.

Jesus is able to touch the hearts of people right where they are. If we will just give Him the opportunity, Jesus will accomplish His purposes through our fervent prayer and worship in this unprecedented time.