Worship While Sheltering In Place
I’ve written before about pastoring a church a few miles from the Seattle area COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, and how we adapted our worship to a live-stream in just three days. But the situation keeps changing, and we have to change our methods quickly as well.
This past week, the governors of several states have issued “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. Some have religious exemptions (like New York, as of this writing) that allow local churches to continue to livestream from their houses of worship. Others like Washington State explicitly ban any spiritual gathering.
No matter the particulars of the local laws, I firmly believe churches should be modeling public health behavior right now. If they take these restrictions seriously and show others why they are important, then they are offering a public service to their communities. That means do not go to church and live-stream from the church building during a public health lockdown.
But spiritual health is as important as physical health, so churches must continue to offer spiritual nourishment in the form of worship and directed study. How can they do that when they can’t get into their common house of worship?
The following is how to offer worship services, created entirely at home, and streamed smoothly on Sunday mornings (or your usual worship time) to keep your members in the habit of regular worship until they meet together again.
Worship from home is literally Biblical
In the early days of church, there was not one temple or synagogue where the followers of The Way (the followers of Jesus) gathered. They gathered in house churches, private residences where they worshipped God. But how did they know how to worship? What instruction could they share with their people?
The New Testament letters of Paul were these sources of instruction, letters written to specific communities and sent to those communities. And how were the letters sent to them? Earlier this week in a “How to do the Church online” webinar by Rev. Jim Keat of Riverside Church in New York City, he had this great quote:
Paul used the Roman road system to send mail. The Internet is just a faster version of that now.
We are living into the early Christian method right now: use the avenues available to communicate the Gospel. Paul used letters and Roman roads, and you can use your crafted liturgies, prayers, messages, and music…and the Internet. It’s the same message, distributed just like the early church. Just a bit faster
Worship from Home options
Worship services from various homes can be either live-streamed to social media platforms, or pre-recorded and premiered “live” to social media platforms.
- Live-streaming usually involves one person on Zoom connecting with the worship leaders who offer spoken word, music, or other worship elements from their smartphones or devices in their homes, and the Zoom operator gets to choose who is on the livestream at what time (a song leader switches to a liturgist, switches to a pastor, etc.).
- Pre-recording involves each worship leader recording their content under optimal conditions at home and sending the video file to a Compiler who edits the various files together into one big movie file (this person will need video editing skills, amateurs are fine). The compiler uses YouTube and Facebook’s features to have a pre-recorded video file be released at a particular time, with “live” features built in.
My church is using the #2 pre-recorded and premiered “live” approach. But we will walk through both options below.
Easiest but Riskiest setup: Live-stream Worship over Zoom to Facebook Live
It is surprisingly easy to have all the worship leaders do their parts from their own homes due to videoconferencing software like Zoom, which allows multiple people to video chat but only be “on screen” one at a time.
Many pastors in COVID-19 lockdowns have said they are planning on streaming from home via Zoom to Facebook Live (which is an option for Zoom users). They can use the “Spotlight Participant” feature to show different participants at different times of worship: the Scripture reader, the worship leader singing, the preacher, the worship leader again, etc. People would appreciate the live quality and forgive any live errors, just as they would on a typical Sunday. After testing out the setup and making sure the feeds are working, it can easily reach the people through Facebook Live.
Will it work? Yes. But there’s incredible risk here that is fully beyond your control: residential internet bandwidth is incredibly variable!
The biggest obstacle for streaming from home is that residential internet is much more laggy and variable because you share the stream with so many other houses. If a leader lags out or is out of sync, it will remove the “live” feeling from the worship experience and annoy the congregant. Even if you tried it from church, commercial internet is (often) faster and more reliable than residential internet, so you may have a false sense of security. Finally, the Zoom admin will also need to be paying attention to the audio feed, and may not be able to do the switching and the live audio editing at the same time.
For some communities, live Zoom worship may be the best option because it is technically easy to do, even if the quality is variable, getting to see familiar people lead in familiar ways is a comfort in times of change and upheaval. I hope churches choose this setup rather than not worship at all, but there is a better way.
Harder but more reliable option: Pre-recorded Worship that is Premiered “Live!”
The second option is to have all the worship elements pre-recorded in people’s homes, then compiled together into a single video file (or series of video files) that is released “live.”
Each week, the spoken word leaders will pick the day with the best lighting and audio environment, record their content looking at the camera as much as possible, and then email them to the Compiler. The earlier the Compiler has them, the happier they are! Likewise, the musicians will record the music (or select the music from archives) and send them to the Compiler.
Finally, sometime that week, the Compiler takes all the video files, equalizes the audio, and then splices them together into one video file (or a series of files on a playlist) ready to upload or stream.
It can take a LOT of videos, but if you think about it, each person is only responsible for a few videos a week. Here’s the first few elements of my church worship flow:
- Prelude (Recorded by Pianist)
- Call to worship (Recorded by worship leader)
- Opening Hymn (Pre-recorded by choir or recorded by music leaders)
- Welcome and Announcements (Recorded by Pastor)
- Anthem (Pre-recorded by choir or recorded by music leaders)
- Call to Confession and Prayers of the People (Recorded by Worship Leader)
You get the idea. The total videos each week for me is: Pastor (5) Music Leaders (6) Pianist (2) Readers (2) Worship Leader (3). Yeah, I know. My worship service will have at least 18 movie files to splice together and equalize the audio.
It’ll be a lot of work for the Compiler, but it’ll be worth it to be able to replicate the worship service people know from home. Yes, you can adapt down to fewer cuts or videos, and my church might do that over time, and you can add fancy stuff like title slides or transitions (wipes or fades) to move between elements.
The Big Reveal: How to stream pre-recorded content “live” on YouTube and Facebook
I really wanted to do “live” so that people are interacting on social media during the service and they feel connected to each other. It turns out that both major streaming services allow you to use pre-recorded content and “premiere” it at a particular time. That allows you to give the “live” feel (and you can be involved in it too!) but you have everything done by Friday and can be fully present on Sunday.
Here’s a website that describes Facebook’s Premiere and Watch Party process and features.
Likewise, Youtube has a similar process:
If those links don’t answer your questions, search on Google or YouTube for how to use them effectively.
Supplies & Setups for either option
Finally, here’s the supplies and setup you need whether you are a spoken word leader, a music leader, or the Compiler.
Pastors and Church members offering spoken word leadership (sermons, liturgies, prayers, scripture readings) will need:
- Smartphones to take video.
- Headphones with microphones, or microphones that connect to a smartphone.
- A place with a window behind the camera for best natural lighting.
- Their content to read or recite.
Church musicians offering instrumental or sung leadership (prelude, postlude, hymns, special music) will need:
- Equipment to record or livestream the sound. Often the easiest choice is through the church system, recorded or outputted to a digital file. Washington allows “artists to record for streaming purposes” so perhaps your state also has an exemption to allow you to record at church if you can get there safely. But professional or enthusiast musicians likely have their own recording equipment at home.
- Cloud storage or smartphone to send the files to the Compiler.
Compiler or volunteer(s) weaving it all together will need:
- If live-streaming: a Zoom Pro or higher account that is controlling the livestream feed.
- If pre-recording: a movie editing program (iOS and Mac devices have iMovie for free) to splice together the film clips. My favorite app on my iPad is LumaFusion, by the way.
- An audio editing program or a DAW (digital audio workstation like the software with a Focusrite Scarlett) that can edit and equalize the audio.
- Church account access on Youtube and Facebook.
Your worship needs may be different. But the same basic principles apply: good audio, good video, have a plan, hold the phone in the horizontal position, and send the files to the Compiler or live-streamer.
There are, of course, plenty of paid solutions out there that can make all of the above easier…for a price. I’m a fan of rolling your own, but if you want more direction and ease of use, ECamm Live has Windows and Mac software for $12-$20 a month.
Finally, you can roll a more involved setup if you have more technical expertise. We are using an ATEM Mini (video) and a Focusrite Scarlett (Audio) to retreat/record to Open Broadcasting Software (detailed in a previous post). But use the tech you are familiar with!
COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and your community may be going through a spiritual or emotional crisis as a result. But the above hopefully gives your worship leadership the confidence to continue to offer Balms in Gilead and spiritual nourishment in music, spoken word, and whatever else your community has.
My final advice: try to keep the worship as close to “typical” as possible…Knowing what to expect in the worship flow is comforting in times of transition and fear. While online allows us to be really creative (and we should be—here’s 10 ideas by a United Methodist pastor in the Seattle area), sometimes just offering people your friendly face and a familiar setup is worth the extra effort.
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