I’ve been granted a mini-sabbatical for the month of May, and I’m taking this opportunity to visit several churches. It’s delightful to be able to worship with friends and strangers from afar and I’m deeply encouraged by the creativity and community vitality I see all around the internet.
First and foremost, if you are a pastor or otherwise involved with creating worship experiences during this time of physical distancing, please receive my gratitude and affirmation: Thank you for helping God’s people stay connected to each other and to the Divine. Most of us are doing what we can do in the best way we know how to do it; and that is good.
For those thinking about how to improve on what is already good—and especially for those considering how to use this opportunity to invite new people into our church communities, I want to offer some thoughts from a visitor’s perspective. OK, it’s really more advice than thoughts. It’s just that advice sounds kind of critical, and I don’t mean to be critical, only helpful. So please take what’s helpful and ignore the rest.
I started writing this with the intention of sharing all my thoughts in one magical post, but quickly realized that this will need to be a series of posts. I can’t vouch for how magical it will all be, but let’s start with some tips for
Getting People to your Virtual Worship:
1. The home page of the church web site should feature all the information people need to join you in worship that week. This should be the first thing people see when they go to yourawesomechurchname.org. (It’s also helpful if information about in-person worship is removed or at least clearly marked as not relevant in these trying, unprecedented, difficult times.)
2. If your church has a Facebook page, consider pinning a post with worship information to the top of your feed. (Note that you can “pin to top” on FB pages, but not in FB groups.)
3. Provide your active church participants with an easy way to invite their friends: an email they can forward, a Facebook invitation or post to share, a link to text or Tweet, a visual invitation for Instagram, maybe even stuff for the What’s Chat Snap thingys I know nothing about.
4. On your website, Facebook page, and invitations, include (or link to) ALL the information. Share more information than you think people need. So much information that you feel like you are being ridiculous and annoying.
–How do you worship? Worship live on Zoom? Live-streamed? Pre-recorded and posted? A DIY service on the web site or emailed out? Some combination or something totally different?
–How do people join?
- How can people get the Zoom link and password? (Make this process as simple and unintimidating as possible.) Are there people available to help others connect to Zoom?
- What are the links to live-streamed worship—and is it on YouTube, Facebook, your website . . . ? If it’s on multiple platforms, which platform is the most active in terms of participant comments during the service?
- Where can people find your most recent worship video or DIY service? Direct links are more helpful than links to a web site where people then have to hunt around for what they want.
–When do you worship? Remember to include what time zone you are in. Also let people know if your Zoom or live-streamed services are posted somewhere for people to view afterwards.
—What should people expect? Especially let people know if their participation will be invited in some way. Will there be discussion? Breakout rooms? Do people gather early and/or stay after to chat? Will they have an opportunity to share prayer requests?
–How should people prepare? Will they need a Bible or a hymnal? Do you email out or post the order of worship ahead of time—and if so, how can they get a copy? Will they need food and beverage for communion? A candle to light?
—Who should people contact with questions? “Contact” forms on websites are OK, but sometimes it’s nice to have a name and email address so you don’t feel like you’re sending a message out into the void.
I hope at least some of my advicey thoughts are helpful as you seek to invite and include people in your version of worship at a distance. Feel free to share your own thoughts below. And if you have specific questions for a virtual church visitor, let me know!
You can read about some cool things churches are doing to welcome and gather people into worship in the second post in this series.