As we ease out of lockdown, many congregations are considering how best blend the best of physical and virtual gatherings. In Lockdown, many housebound worshippers have suddenly enjoyed parity with those who are able to access church buildings; many too have reported larger congregations as church becomes more accessible. There is therefore a keen desire to somehow maintain that accessibility while also returning to physically meeting together as safely as possible. We expect an era of invention and discovery as different approaches are experimented. There will be many variations adapted to the needs and capacities of different parishes/benefices and deaneries.
There are a multitude of tools available to you to help you connect with your congregation and the wider community of your parish. The focus is around providing access to worship, being part of the community and supporting those who could do with a bit more help.
You may already be digitally savvy as a church and have lots of these capabilities, if not we have collected a few free tools below for you to consider.
Services and church gatherings
Live streaming options are available to reach your congregation with encouraging messages and sermons, which are helpful in times of not meeting, so you can keep sharing what you feel God is saying for your church. Here are some tips:
- Your content could include slightly reduced sermon, news for the church and prayer for all those watching (which might include those without faith, who would appreciate the prayer at this time).
- Use a smartphone or computer to run this from your home.
- Tell people how to join. Send an email, post on your Facebook group/page, share across other social media and phone people to let them know when and how to access the service. You can also use social media as a way to invite people to join you who are not part of your church, but might be finding these time worrying and would find a connection to church and prayer helpful. Smaller congregations are using video-conferencing apps like Zoom. It is worth reading and sharing the good advice from our colleagues in Worcester Diocese.
- Add your event/service(s) to your AChurchNearYou.com page, making sure to add the 'live stream' tag.
Find those already tagged here.
Streaming a service isn't just a reaction to the covid lockdowns, though these have certainly accelerated the use of online technology by churches. They very much enable many to take part in worship who are otherwise excluded, including the housebound, the sick, carers - read more here and enables others to take part in morning prayer or midweek services in busy schedules without the time required to travel or organise childcare. Streaming of morning prayer from Lichfield Cathedral has increased attendance tenfold compared to pre-pandemic numbers
What to stream?
There are similarites and differences when leading worship online compared to when gathered in a building - different ways to make contact with the congregation, read engagement and so on, in a parallel way to the difference between a story told in a theatre or on film.
- How to Livestream Your Church Service: A Practical Guide [Gospel Coalition | Article] includes some useful background to help consider what to stream not just how to do it.
- And this link is a fantastic 4.5 minute guide to making the best of leading / preaching / teaching and ministering through a webcam rather than a pulpit.
How to stream?
Copyright is something of a particular worry to conscientious leaders, and there has been a lot of confusion about what can and can't be done on different platforms:
- Copyright Licensing explained for livestream worship [ ResoundWorship | article]. This is the clearest guide to copyright and online worship we've yet read.
- Songs in the public domain - [CCLI | list] - link
There are so many options at different levels of cost and complexity - here are some useful link:
- How to stream your Church service on Facebook Live - [CBN | article] - is a useful primer on the main routes to providing on line worship
- YouTube Live Tutorial
- Facebook Live Tutorial and another from one of the diocese's IT partners here (you may need to log in or create a Dropbox account to access it).
- Instagram Live Tutorial (from 27'22") - just like Facebook Live, enables viewers to comment and respond
There are lots of paid for services that offer other functionality
- A beginner’s guide to going live with your service or event for free [Church of England | article] - link
- The most affordable live streaming cameras for churches [ProChurchTools | Podcast] - link
- Recording, streaming and podcasting your services [CCLI | Article] - link
- Church Tech UK is a helpful Facebook group for people grappling with the issues of streaming services (and much more)
- Lichfield Cathedral has begun streaming three times a day and settled on a flexible mid-priced solution that they found relatively easy for staff who are not natural geeks to get to grips with: Canon Andrew Stead has written a manual for staff and volunteers who have to use the Switcher Studio system which he's kindly shared - do note that while the intro is generic, some of the later instruction is specific to the particular existing facilities in the cathedral.
Not so related to streaming, but very pertinent at the moment, 'How to use AChurchNearYou during social distancing'). We're hoping to hear if they will be repeating some of the sessions soon.
And Tom Pearson of the CofE's Life Events Diary team has passed on a useful link about using video conference software safely.
Tips for using video in general:
- Our basic guide for those having to stream or film themselves.
- Some general tips about filming which are equally applicable for preparing and streaming online worship from former Lichfield-Diocese comms officer (via Blackbrun Diocese)
- 'Making videos' a great video about making videos from Manchester Diocese.
However, as Fr John Stather at Tunstall says, there are significant numbers of people who don't or won't have a Facebook account, particularly among the oldest segments of our congregations. This has driven his decision to persevere with the slightly trickier OBS software alongside a simple webcam in order to be able to stream to Christ Church Tunstall's website using YouTube - it requires no account or login to be accessible.
And one final thought: sound plays (more than) 50% of the substance in most of our liturgy - in the words of our liturgy, lyrics of our hymns and acoustics of our buildings. It is worth making the effort to incorporate a sound feed from a PA desk or obtain a separate quality microphone to put at the lectern.
Please email our diocesan Creative Media Producer Simon Jones for help and advice.
Thanks to Dioceses of Guildford & Blackburn, Tom Pearson and others for highlighting some of these resources