How Your Church Can Enhance Its Online Worship Experience

The future of worship in churches will inevitably look different going forward. (Unsplash)

One of the most significant shifts for churches during COVID-19 has been the inability to worship together in person. As churches begin to consider meeting in person, while maintaining online worship experiences, many leaders are developing strategies for their musicians and vocalists to play together in person and online.

We spoke with a panel of top worship leaders who shared what they've learned during this season to help provide insight and wisdom for navigating the future of worship experiences at your church. The panel included:

Ryan Romeo, pastor of creative arts at Living Streams Church, artist, speaker, co-founder of the OUTCRY worship tour and author of the Outcry book.

Tavarious Linzer, worship pastor, New Hope Church, recording artist and CEO.

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Lizi Bailey, worship leader, Faith Bridge.

—Charles A. Brown, director of music and arts, First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.

—Aric Harding, music pastor, Clear Creek Community Church.

Worship Moving Forward: What's New?

As we move forward and many churches begin to have in-person worship services, there are many strategies, intentional moments and precautions worship leaders are navigating and planning for. Here are a few the panel discussed:

—Take time to increase streaming capacity and the quality of livestreaming. It's common for engagement to grow when services are visually appealing and engaging. Since the trend of online worship is here to stay, investing in this aspect of your setup is a worthwhile effort.

—Share and communicate safety precautions that are in place from the stage. Whether it's wearing masks or gloves, practicing social distancing, instructional signage or cleaning efforts, it's comforting for members to know safety is a priority for the leaders in their church.

—It will be common for pastors, vocalists and musicians to sanitize their microphones and packs between uses as a new safety precaution.

—Develop innovative ways to connect with people online. One church reimagined its stage design by creating a "living room" onstage. This helps make people feel more connected to the worship experience and reminds them that they're not alone in their at-home experience. Another creative idea was holding online coffee breaks after service to encourage members to connect.

—Be intentional about creating touch points throughout the worship experience, and look at the camera to engage with the audience. Especially during social distancing, people are craving connection. Looking into the camera helps your audience feel seen. Also have leaders stop between songs to talk about their experiences and use prayer to bring people into the worship experience more deeply.

—Create a space for small groups to meet in their homes with a handful of people as a way to encourage community among the congregation. Many are thinking of this as a similar experience to the Acts 2 church model.

—Cultivate the culture of healthy spiritual fellowship among the members on the worship team. This helps members feel cared for and supported while also making sure they are not growing weary while serving. It also presents an opportunity for worship pastors to truly pastor their team by reassuring them that God is still in the middle of the chaos. Worship leaders have a unique commonality that should be fostered and encouraged to grow. Church attendees can sense a healthy culture and will be encouraged by witnessing strong leadership connections.

—While transitioning to in-person worship services, leaders are finding that there are some church members who are nervous to return. As leaders, this provides a new opportunity and continuous responsibility to encourage them wherever possible.

—Celebrate the small things like being present. Sometimes, showing up is half of the battle, so those who are making it a point to gather for worship or tuning into services should be encouraged to continue doing so.

Implementing Creative Worship Events

During this season of social distancing, worship teams have come up with unique ways to offer experiences to their communities. Here are some of the trends and ideas we've heard:

—Host nights of worship, outdoors or drive-in style, to maintain social distancing. This has been successful for many churches as people are desperate for community worship.

—Take time to reenvision how worship leaders deliver their music to an online audience. Many churches are taking this opportunity to change their stage design. While some churches are showing their empty churches on camera to remind people that everyone is at home and not alone in that reality, others are making more intimate settings such as the living room example mentioned earlier. For some, it also means incorporating more innovative lighting to create an engaging backdrop.

—Since services have not been happening in a live setting for most churches, many have been navigating technical issues and maintenance. Church leaders are learning together through this new challenge, gaining a new appreciation of the time and effort technology takes; some churches are considering hiring or training people for this role.

—Many worship events are also screening attendees by taking their temperatures and having people fill out questionnaires to minimize risk.

—Although safety precautions are in place at many churches, most worship leaders have seen the evident hunger for church members to gather as they worship Jesus together. Ministry leaders have the new responsibility of balancing the opinions of those eager to return and those who still have a fear of being in public. Our panel agreed that this season is an opportunity to unite people by embracing different viewpoints and loving each person.

Technology Wins and Fails

With a lot of software available now, there are many different ways for worship pastors to effectively produce creative worship videos to share online. Many have attempted the effort of having multiple people record videos and have a producer splice them to form one video.

Although it was a creative idea, piecing the videos together from video and audio clips was a lot to process and took more time than it was worth. It also didn't show itself to be sustainable and practical over an extended period of time.

A creative project one church attempted was a visual "church project" that was recorded via Zoom and edited it with videos and photos. The biggest challenge for this was the lack of software that fully addresses latency issues. Therefore, they prerecorded the vocals and recorded the videos without singing live.

Viewership Numbers and Engagement Trends

Some churches have seen a drastic increase in viewers and engagement since having online services over time. We discussed that this increase is at least partially due to the opportunity for people to engage with services on social media on Sunday and throughout the week. Social media presents an opportunity for people to rewatch services, share links with family and friends and see who else is watching, offering a small form of community. Our panelists have also found that when pastors and leaders ask their audience to participate with comments or likes, engagement soars.

On the other hand, some churches are seeing a decrease in viewers. This has motivated some leaders to discover new ways to be innovative by providing more engaging and dynamic services. How churches choose to deliver their worship services online plays a major role in their viewership and engagement outcomes.

Even though there are challenges presented with social media and online services, they have presented a unique opportunity for members to tune into their preferred services from wherever they are and for new people to come to Christ by seeing church messages on their feed.

Advice for Worship Leaders From Worship Leaders

—Take time to intentionally connect with the viewers. This can be done by creating designated touch points by looking directly into the camera so viewers truly feel seen, connected and included. Also, speak about personal topics when appropriate to show vulnerability.

—Create moments for people to accept Jesus into their heart even in their own homes. Despite things being different, there are many people who are desperate and hungry for the hope and truth of Christ right now. Many churches are experiencing a spike in those desiring to be saved.

—Embrace the uncomfortable nature of an online church. It's these uncomfortable moments that provide worship leaders with the opportunity to be challenged to do something different, new and innovative. God is in this crisis and is still glorified despite the differences we're experiencing.

—Acknowledge and nurture your online viewers with online services. Some churches are beginning to explore the idea and option of having a full-time online campus pastor who can lead and steward the online church community well. This may be a whole new way to draw people to the gospel.

—Engagement opportunities are limitless online. It's worth it to be intentional about designating staff or volunteers who can engage with people in the comments sections of online services. This provides a great opportunity for leaders to connect with people at a level that may not have been present before.

As we continue to adjust to the constant changes we're experiencing, the common theme for worship leaders is the importance of finding innovative and creative ways to engage with their church community. The future of worship is going to have the same mission, but it will inevitably look different and be delivered differently. Being intentional about finding ways to keep your community engaged, encouraged and safe is the priority for worship leaders as we move forward.

Sarah Robins is the vice president of sales and client relations at Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.

To view the worship panel's full discussion, click here.

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