Building a community experience online
Translating your church's warm welcome in corporate worship to digital spaces can seem like apples and oranges; and in many ways, they are different. However, by thinking about virtual community as an extension of your existing community, you might be surprised by just how similar they are.
Whether you are offering a full Eucharist, Morning Prayer, or some combination of these and other offerings from the BCP, we encourage you to think about how other aspects of your corporate worship service manifest themselves in a virtual environment – and recognize that you are likely to have first time guests participating.
We have organized this checklist by walking through the experience of a newcomer visiting your virtual church and experiencing the liturgy. What kinds of new opportunities does virtual church offer to welcome and build community?
- If you're getting started with livestreaming, read this article on the technical details by our Social Media Specialist.
- Ensure that any Zoom meetings you host take security measures agains "ZoomBombers."
- Focus the camera primarily on the Officiant/Celebrant/Reader, not the whole church. Try to avoid showing an empty nave. The speaker’s face needs to be the focus of attention. This helps provide intimacy through the camera and helps hold the attention of those watching. It also allows expressions and gestures to add context to the spoken word
- Speak into the camera. Even if you are in the nave and speaking from the altar, pulpit, or lectern, resist the habit and temptation to speak as if the congregation is present. You want to connect with those participating online – to speak to them you must speak into the camera.
- Make sure the microphone is adequately and clearing capturing the speaker’s voice
- If recorded music is used either for background or hymn signing, be sure the equipment can project a clear sound that can then be picked up by the microphone – but it does not necessarily have to be right next to it.
- Have the stream live and appropriate music playing about 5 minutes prior to the beginning so the those arriving early have a contemplative environment.
- Even if you do not have an opening greeting in your normal style, it is helpful to do so in the virtual worship. Be sure to acknowledge both the members of the congregation and welcome those who are with you for the first time. (It is best to assume there are guests – which is also a good reminder to the congregation.)
- You may wish to give a brief explanation of the service and how they can follow along, e.g. Prayer Book, Bulletin on the website, bcponline.org, etc.
- Don’t pass up the opportunity for a homily following the Gospel reading. We don’t want to miss time for formation and to share with newcomers.
- Consider how you might fashion a virtual Peace for your worshipers. Start with a spoken Peace to the participants and invite them to exchange with those present with them.
- Then invite a time of quite reflection during which they think of and name those with whom they want to share the Peace even though they are not present.
- You may wish to invite them to reach out during the week ahead and check in with those they name.
- Begin with a Welcome – particularly thanking those who are joining you for the first time. Have a Call to Action for first time guests, e.g. ask them to share their contact information with you (give them an e-mail address) so that you can reach out and connect. Let them know you look forward to meeting them in person when we are back together in the church building.
- As you find additional ways to connect with your congregation and begin to provide additional virtual offerings during the week, share these during the Announcements. Remember that you are also speaking to guests, so some things such Noonday Prayer, Compline, etc. may require a brief explanation.
- Provide an e-mail address and invite people to submit prayers and to share any pastoral or special needs they have – especially if they need help coping with the current reality. If you don’t have one already, you may consider inviting a small group to form a Prayer Team who can receive the requests and pray for them during the week
- Share plans, celebrations, and other news that maintains community and connection.
- Take time to provide context to the offertory for first time guests (again, assume they are present).
- Explain that it is important for the church to remain strong during this time so that we can respond to needs when it is over.
- Remind the congregation that we still have ongoing mission and ministry, and bills to pay.
- Thank those who already fulfill their gifts through automatic payments and invite those who contribute in the offering plate to consider sending a check – or give online if you have that set up. Show the church address and website on the camera following the offertory sentences – even if you need to place a printed card in front of the camera.
- Let them know you and your leadership are working on establishing alternate ways to give online if you don’t have it in place.
- Watch this seven-minute video by Jim Sheppard of Generis on how to invite people to continue and/or begin their generosity:
- Finally, prior to the Offertory Sentences, invite them to take time to think about the ways they are blessed and being blessed even in this challenging time.
- Provide a time of silent reflection or some soft music.
- In light of the current environment, what creative ways can we be sent out “to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord”?