• The Rev Ken Howard

Keeping Congregations Connected: What we learned from our experiment with online worship

By the Rev. Ken Howard

Beyond Online Worship is a blog series on strategies and tools for doing and being church in the face of the current pandemic. Click here for the previous post

In our previous post we talked about how a faithful response to the current pandemic involves more than simply live streaming worship services (congregations do not live by worship alone), but involves finding creative and experimental ways to do and be all the things that churches (and other faith communities) are supposed to be and do, and especially how we exercise our “burden of care” to our neighbors and neighborhoods. And that our responses may ultimately lead to our congregations and the communities they serve surviving and thriving together. 

Subsequent posts will deal with each of those things in turn. But let’s start with what we learned from our recent experiment with online worship (last Sunday), in cooperation with Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, which reached 51 people on Zoom and 900+ on Facebook Live.

So what did we learn?

Online worship is not enough. Not bad for a first try, but after literally patting ourselves on the back (because COVID kept us from patting each other's backs) for a few minutes after the second of the two services ended, what we learned was that, while online worship was necessary, it was not sufficient, and there were so many other things we needed to figure out how to do and be while social distancing. And that realization led to this blog series.

Use a variety of “channels” to get the word out. Don’t just use Facebook, but Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. But do not forget that not everybody is as “tech-savvy” as you are. Make sure you use email, phone trees, and maybe even postcards (to the neighborhood), and encourage parishioners to tell their friends, since their church may not be doing this.

Zoom or Facebook Live? The answer is “Yes.” After some discussion we came to the conclusion that some people like the interactivity of responsive prayer in real time, but that others people want to just hang out in the virtual pew, be digitally “fed” their spiritual food, and maintain relative anonymity. Both are valid choices. Zoom provides the former and Facebook Live the latter. In the midst of the Latino service, we began to realize that maintaining anonymity was important, even for those who wanted the interactivity of the Zoom session, and they took the extra precaution of covering their laptop cameras. Zoom’s interactive capacity is 100, Facebook Live is unlimited but one way, Google Hangouts is interactive with a capacity of 250, but with fewer controls. GoToMeeting also offers interactivity, but I find Zoom to be somewhat more user-friendly.(Discounted Zoom Pro accounts are now available through TechSoup.org).

click here to read more of this blog post

Watch for future posts in this series, which may include

  • Tools and strategies for hosting online fellowship.

  • Tools and strategies for facilitating online bible study and formation.

  • Tools and strategies congregations can use to locate and reach populations most vulnerable to COVID19. 

  • Tools and strategies by which judicatories can resource their congregations 

  • Tools and strategies for giving opportunities for giving by mobile phone or online.

  • Things people can do to create a sense of community with their own neighbors and neighborhoods.

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