Many Texas Annual Conference Churches Move to Online Worship
By Lindsay Peyton and Brant Mills - En Español
Even though the coronavirus pandemic has forced many churches to close their doors, members still seek the comfort of prayer, music and fellowship. Through social media, congregations can continue to provide services – while enabling members to maintain safety and social distance to protect their health.
Michael Vaughn, Director of Music Ministry at A&M UMC in College Station, said there are a number of ways to adjust with grace and creativity, while still staying as consistent as possible.
“Don't make big changes,” he said. “Worship is one thing we can keep consistent right now. Feedback we've received shows that online services keep people comfortable with what they're used to.”
A&M UMC has already proved the interest congregants have in livestreaming. Last week, the sermon had around 600 unique viewers - 500 more than usual.
“A lot more people are doing it for first time, and we're doing online self check-ins,” Vaughn said. “People are commenting and thumbs-upping, instead of handshakes and high fives.”
That shows that members are staying safe and healthy, while still connecting, which is of utmost importance in an uncertain time.
Here is some advice from Vaughn and others in the Texas Annual Conference about transitioning to services online:
- Make sure everyone is involved – even when digital worship can feel like a new frontier. A&M UMC contacts all members who check-in online, by using a digital form. That way, they can stay connected and better serve the needs of their congregation. To help seniors and others who are not technically-driven or who might be confused about how to get online, staff are reaching out through letters and phone calls to help.
- Stay as much the same as possible. One way to help online worship still feel like a regular service is to maintain the usual time and format, Vaugh explained.
- Don’t forget the power of song. Vaughn still conducts hymns, even though no one is in the room physically. DeAndre Johnson, Pastor of Music and Worship Life at Christ UMC Sugar Land, has discontinued the choir but still brings a couple of musicians for online worship.
“We were intentional about choosing songs that almost everyone would be familiar with and be able to sing without needing words as a means of comfort and assurance,” Johnson said.
He explained that singing together is an ideal way to join in faith. He recommends finding a way to display lyrics in a livestream service or to share them in an email or website so everyone can sing together.
- Consider the view. Johnson said that for the digital service, the church created an intimate shot of the pulpit. He dressed the table for Sunday, arranged the flowers and made sure the baptismal fount was in view. The pastor explained that visually representing worship is important. For example, he thinks a tight shot of whoever is leading works best. There should also be symbols of sacramental life on the table, anything meaningful in the sanctuary should be included in the camera frame.
Johnson said this reminds congregants they are still connected to the place where they have met with God before. “I would greatly encourage everyone to move in that direction, if they haven't already,” he said. “It’s about being with people in what they'll associate as a sacred space.”
Lighting is another technical consideration when setting up a video shot. For example, when too bright, natural light can be blinding. When a scene is too dark, viewers will not be able to see the details. Too many colors or sharp shadows can be distracting. A light source, placed in close proximity to the subject at about 45 degrees often is the best solution. Make sure the background is clear, and no windows are directly in the shot. By taking short videos as samples, churches can test lighting and the background to make sure it is just right.
- Keep your eye on the time. Johnson said that at Christ UMC, the sermon is kept short. “It's a different feel and experience at home,” he said. “There are more distractions. At the church we’re able to curate the space, but we felt the need to keep it brief so congregants can stay focused on worship.”
Simplify your worship. Some of the best and most authentic worship in history has been short and sweet.
- Maintain reverence. Dr. Sterling Allen, Director of Music and Worship Arts at Good Shepherd UMC in Cypress, said that worship should keep its holy feel, even when it is online. “We need to have an atmosphere of intimacy with God, where we can join with the person next to us or across the world, where we’re all doing same thing at same time -- worshiping God,” he said.
Keeping a spirit of heavenward-directed worship, helps individuals feel more connected. Allen explained that even when services are online, the result should not be a feeling of solitary worship or of simply watching a sermon. “We have to make sure whatever we do in online worship creates a sense of community -- and relevance and inspiration,’ he added.
- Consider the audience. At Good Shepherd UMC, the services that at church were separated according to age group are now presented as one unified sermon online. Allen said that requires the service to be relatable to all age levels.
“We have combined worship styles into one style, which converges liturgical elements that have carried us since the time of Christ with more casual and contemporary setting and approach,” he said.
- Don’t be afraid to jump in – even if your church has not gone digital before. People are at home and looking for ways to connect. They will be grateful to join with their congregation. Don’t be embarrassed to use what you have and make the most of existing tools.
Even an iPhone or an iPad can be used as tools. By using a tripod or taping a camera to a music stand, it will remain stable. Turn the camera to horizontal, and change settings to 1080p at 30 fps. Tap the subject to focus and check the exposure before you begin.
Try enhancing audio with external microphones. An inexpensive mic, when used correctly, can make a big difference. Remember that right now people are more forgiving. If it doesn't go well one week, make it better next week. Just don’t delay.
- Pre-record your service until you have it down. You can try earlier in the week and perform test runs until you get the kinks worked out. Sunday shouldn't be the first time to try taping your service.
One tip is to speak directly to the camera, not the whole room. It might feel awkward to the person speaking, but it will create a more personal experience for online viewers.
Also, ask another person to film the video on the tripod to make sure everything is working. Plug the iPad or iPhone into a computer and use the program Image Capture to transfer the footage to a hard drive. WeTransfer (wetransfer.com) is free and can send file up to 2GB.
- Don’t forget the rules. Copyright is an important consideration when streaming. Currently, a lot of licensing services are waving requirements, but take time to honor those laws and licenses.
If churches don't have licenses, they can use public domain hymns and post lyrics as resources online. Check out the free version of the Methodist Hymnal App to find available music that can be posted. Hymnary.org is another great resource for hymns.
Use CCLI and onelicense.com for displaying lyrics and streaming songs. There are currently discounts to churches for this service.
- Share your service. Don’t forget to post your services to social media as well as on your website. This is also a great time to share other resources with your congregation. For example, post a link to a favorite YouTube by another pastor or a Spotify playlist of devotional music. There are resources at umcdiscipleship.org, as well as daily liturgies for families at commonprayer.net. Bishop Jones is also offering a weekly worship service from his home on Sundays at facebook.com/txumc/.
- If your church is not livestreaming or doing Facebook lives yet and would like assistance, please send an email to email@example.com We have a list of helpful resources for Texas Annual Conference churches to get you started.