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Faith Leaders Resources 10min read

How Your Church Can Elevate Its Worship Online

worship online

How we worship has been fundamentally transformed. Hybrid worship, meaning online and in person, now provides congregants with greater access to and choices of places of worship.

For pastors and faith leaders, one of the key takeaways for 2022 is this: Hybrid worship is here to stay.

Hybrid ministry existed before 2020, of course. However, in the last two years, it became more of a grand experiment to test the innovation and resilience of churches challenged with not being able to gather in our buildings as a congregation.

But now, hybrid worship must be permanent. Going backward is not an option. During the last two years, your church or place of worship most likely made investments in your digital strategy and technology.

You also likely built ministry teams to operate new social and streaming platforms. Given these investments in your digital ministry, sidelining your gains should be a non-starter.

Yes, we are excited and are so happy to see our members and supporters come back into the building. Gathering in person for worship is a time-honored tradition that will hopefully never be disrupted again as it has been during the last couple of years.

But what about those worshippers you’ve gained online? What about those who could have connected with any ministry in the world online, yet chose to connect with yours?

Online worship creates access and choices

Givelify’s annual Giving in Faith report features several key findings, including 71% of congregants attended their churches and places of worship virtually (45%) or in a hybrid format (26%) in 2021.

Further, 59% of worshippers believe that online attendance is acceptable for belonging to a church.

Now is the time to double down on the online audience you have gained during the last couple of years. You may never see them in the building. They may not live in your state or even in the U.S., but they still may consider your place of worship as their home church.

How to elevate your church’s worship online

Almost all of the places of worship that participated in the Giving in Faith survey said they intend to continue offering online worship services. So, how do churches elevate their worship online? What are some of the characteristics the best online churches have in common?

As the Director of Ministry Operations and Outreach for Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Calverton, Maryland, I regularly network with ministry leaders at other churches. Of those who are committed to enhancing their worship online, I have found that they emphasize two things: clear focus and clear preparation.

Although many pastors and faith leaders have embraced worship online, it still may look different at many churches and places of worship. As you may know, live streaming your worship services is any method of streaming video of your services on the internet.

Yet live streaming covers the spectrum of someone simply holding up their mobile phone and broadcasting the services on social media, and it can range to advanced 4K multicamera setups.

Clear focus

Whatever your circumstance, you need clear focus and simultaneous attention on two audiences: in-person and online worshippers.

You may consider your in-person worshippers your primary audience. They are the people who are right in front of you. They most likely include those who worshipped with you before the pandemic. Some of them are new to the congregation. And for others, this might be their first time participating in live worship in months. Others might already have been attending more consistently.

As for your online worshippers, 1 in 5 plan to attend multiple places of worship, according to the 2022 Giving in Faith report. That means your online worshippers might be new and have never experienced worship with you before. Some of them might be part of your faith community who are traveling and unable to attend in person.

At Kingdom Fellowship, we have several who worship with us and fall into both groups. We even have some people who attend virtually with us consistently yet live out of the state and, in some instances, live outside of the U.S.

A clear focus on both of your church’s audiences is important because each person, whether they are in worship in the building or joining online, still needs your thoughtful focus and attention.

To accomplish this, there are a few components you must add or develop. Here are three tips to elevate your online worship experience:

#1: Create an online tech team

The top priority of this team is to ensure that audio and video are of the best quality you can produce. Making sure you have the best equipment and software is a financial commitment in some ways. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. Some enhancements, like graphic design software, are free.

Constantly monitoring the audio levels and video quality during your worship service is important. The person who does this doesn’t even have to be in the building. They just need access to whoever is on site and can make audio and video adjustments as needed.

For instance, an online viewer may comment in the chat that they cannot hear a certain microphone, or they can’t hear the worship celebration at all.

Whoever monitors the chat or the stream can quickly communicate with the right person in the building to correct this. The same is true if the video stream has an issue. Someone from this online tech team can address the issue because they’re focusing on it.

#2: Engage in the chat

One of the biggest differences between attending a worship service and watching one on a live stream is, unsurprisingly, the feeling of connection.

Online worshippers should feel connected to your church or place of worship even without setting foot inside the door. It’s easy for live streamers to start feeling like spectators rather than members of your congregation.

One way to alleviate this is to designate a person who’s in the service to facilitate live chat, which allows for real-time social interaction.

The goal here is to create an online worship experience where you are intentionally interacting with those online in the chat and even those who might be watching the chat but not posting any comments.

#3: Make eye contact

It’s also important to have those in front of the camera in the building make eye contact with your online worshippers. Plentiful eye contact through the camera with those streaming your worship service will help them feel less like spectators.

Sometimes at my church, we have to remind some of the team to look at the camera to engage those online with words like, “We’re so glad you joined us in person and online.”

Phrases like this make a real difference! To make sure the online worship experience is engaging, we must have a clear focus at all times on both audiences – those who are in front of us and those who are joining us virtually.

Clear preparation

As a result of focusing on those worshiping online since 2020, our team at Kingdom Fellowship has now developed a full rehearsal day. I know many ministries cannot do a full rehearsal, but each ministry can do some level of preparation with the team serving on Sunday before Sunday.

We rehearse on Thursday evenings. For a few hours, all team members involved in worship that upcoming Sunday attend a rehearsal to make sure we are prepared. This has proven to be a benefit to our Sunday morning worship experience.

This rehearsal includes everyone involved with audio and video. It also includes the worship teams and anyone who will be holding a microphone, as well as anyone doing videography and recording anyone with a microphone on that Sunday.

Our Senior Pastor attends these rehearsals so he can see and experience what will happen on Sunday. He also provides feedback on what he sees.

We also use this time of preparation to look at those virtual elements – like camera angles, the graphics that go on the screen, and the sermon notes that worshippers can assess. Each person’s role is important.

Every team member speaks about their area and how it impacts the whole service – from those who are singing during the worship experience to those who are behind the camera.

There have been several times that we ran into issues on Thursday night that we were able to address and correct before Sunday morning. This rehearsal has also given us the opportunity to experiment with elements and see how they work before Sunday.

A “test kitchen” for worship online

Having a preparation day allows us to have a kind of “test kitchen” for Sunday morning. In the food world, a test kitchen allows chefs to research, test, and develop recipes. In the faith world, this concept allows us to test out various elements of worship before Sunday.

For those pastors and faith leaders who want to institute a rehearsal day, but may not have the resources to do a full rehearsal, I suggest starting with focusing on the most important elements that contribute to Sunday.

You can test the worship songs that will be sung and the videos that will be used. You can ask those who will be part of those elements to come in and work their areas during this time.

Everyone involved in worship won’t need to attend the rehearsal. You also won’t need to look at every aspect of Sunday worship. But you can start with just pieces to help the worship experience to be more impactful.

You and your in-person and online congregation will see the difference this rehearsal time will make on Sunday mornings!

Choose a digital giving platform

Not only is worship now digital, but so is giving. The last two years have helped many churches and places of worship realize not only the usefulness but also the need to have effective online and mobile app giving solutions for your congregation.

According to Giving in Faith, 92% of givers intend to make religious donations to their places of worship digitally. Further, 21% of religious donors intend to give to multiple places of worship, according to the report’s church giving statistics.

Just like hybrid worship, online and app giving aren’t fads nor are they going away. In fact, the adoption of digital fundraising increased during the pandemic to 99% for those who participated in the survey.

With the Givelify mobile giving app, the giving experience is specifically optimized for faith donors. Its mobile fundraising app has the features your congregation needs to share their generosity with you instantly and securely from anywhere, at any time.

It doesn’t matter where they are in the world, which is an ideal feature for online worshippers.

Focus and prepare

As a pastor or faith leader, you may focus and prepare for Sunday worship in different ways. However, the goal is that we all recognize the need to consistently make our online worship experience better.

Why? Because worship online is still oftentimes the first way people engage with our churches. It’s also the way more and more people are choosing to attend worship.

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About the Author

Russell St. Bernard is the director for ministry operations at Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Maryland, and the founder of After the Music Stops, a full-service youth ministry company as well as founder of Ministry Pivot, a company dedicated to assisting leaders and churches seize opportunities for growth.

Russell St. Bernard