I’ve “attended” several synagogue and church worship services over the last weeks and must report my disappointment. That’s a nice way of saying that most really stink. Live streaming a regular worship service just doesn’t work.
Remember that as soon as you put something on a screen, the viewer compares it to everything else they see on their screens. I’m not suggesting you need a full multicamera production, but sticking a laptop in front of the sanctuary does not cut it.
There are lots of churches which offer well done, live services online. Many are megachurches that do this weekly. You don’t have to match the professional productions of megachurches, but think about raising your standards of excellence.
Some things to keep in mind:
Is your sanctuary the best place to hold an online worship service? If it’s a large cavernous space, probably not since you’ll likely have audio and lighting issues.
Can people hear everything well? The microphone in a laptop or webcam isn’t adequate, especially if it’s not within 3-5 feet from the worship leader. Purchase a simple, inexpensive, USB microphone and move it close to your presenter. Better yet, get several lavalier type mics and a small mixer that feeds your computer.
Is the video clear and well lit? Even cheap, high definition webcams are better than most stock cameras in laptops (not necessarily true for some smart phones). And they’re inexpensive. A separate camera allows you to position the camera where it sees the best not where the computer sits best.
If you’re using one camera as a catch-all, keep the view tight. Have worship leaders stand close together. Most sanctuaries are too dark for video and lit to focus on certain spots that aren’t optimal for video casting.
Don’t ask people to download worship documents beforehand, include them in the experience. This is tougher to do since you’ll need a way to split the screen. If that’s not an option, an alternative is showing just the text during singing and responsive readings. Not only is it easier to view but helps break up the visuals and monotony.
If your worship service is boring it will be more boring on video. Consider modifying your normal service. Most importantly, make it shorter, focused and familiar. Remember, your audience is sitting in front of a computer or holding their phones. People want the familiar and the comfortable.
Form a team to help. That team may be two people, and that may be enough. Have someone else (not your worship leader) run the computer and handle technical issues.
Rehearse! Even if it’s 30 minutes before you go live, practice! You will find things you didn’t think about. Nothing kills the moment worse than congregants watching you mess around trying to fix stuff. Oh, and by the way, start on time!
Resources You Can Use
Here’s a great list of online church resources from PRC-Practical Resources for Churches.
Using a cell phone and Facebook for livestreaming, check out https://thecrg.org/resources/introduction-to-live-streaming
A guide to using Facebook Live can be found here: https://www.thecrg.org/resources/how-to-use-facebook-live-the-ultimate-guide
This article first appeared at https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/virtual-worship/
During the rapidly evolving pandemic, please know that your congregation is not alone. We offer this short list of resources that you might continue your work faithfully and safely.
Looking for different resources? Get information that meets your needs by connecting with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click Chat with an Expert at the bottom of this page.
Resource List for Online Church
This succinct guide quickly connects leaders to information on a variety of topics: COVID-19 processes and checklists, streaming software and equipment, faith formation, online giving and recorded webinars.
The Episcopal Church provides guidelines for compassionate Christians, instructions for live streaming and mass messaging, plus creative worship and faith formation resources.
Coronavirus Resources for the Church
This Wheaton College resource center offers a congregational planning manual (also available in Spanish), a free weekly webinar to prepare congregations for the coronavirus, a free online summit starting March 26, as well as tip sheets and links to top resources.
How to Lead Calmly in a Global Outbreak
In this article, experienced pastors George Mason and Mark Wingfield provide a pep-talk for faith leaders to lead calmly in a time of crisis.
Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus
In this article, the chief medical officer at AARP offers advice for common COVID questions and how to support elderly loved ones.
Virtual Shabbat Box
Create a virtual shabbat with short meditations and readings. Instead of a physical group gathering, engage the senses through rituals that heal the body, mind, and spirit.
Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers official information for emergency planning and action steps, verified information about the virus, cleaning and disinfecting practices, and important organizational practices.
Three Big Communication Mistakes Organizations are Making During the COVID-19 Crisis
Communications leader Kem Meyer offers advice to organizations about communications during the pandemic.
Many congregations are looking for resources to help them talk about racism. White congregations want to prepare for dialogue with their multi-cultural neighbors. They want to learn more about the historical roots of racism and how it has become ingrained through social and economic structures.
Among the many fine books available, there is one curriculum that stands out as practical, accessible, and free. White Privilege: Let’s Talk – a Resource for Transformational Dialogue is a free, downloadable curriculum from the United Church of Christ.
It is designed to engage participants in “safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold” conversations on race. The curriculum contains background reading, webinars, and a conversation guide.
To get a feel for the material, it may be helpful to watch one of the five accompanying webinars, such as Whiteness as the Norm. For congregations who want to delve more deeply into racial issues impacting communities of faith, take a look at https://thecrg.org/search/results?query=race.
As a consultant with the Center for Congregations, I travel a good bit. Sometimes I spend several hours in the car on a given day. While it’s nice to listen to music or enjoy the silence, it can also be nice to continue learning during the extra time. Thank you, podcasts!
Many don’t realize that podcasts are not just about entertainment. There is a great variety of valuable educational content and subject matter out there, ranging from practical to spiritual. Podcasts can be beneficial not just for you but for helping those in your congregation learn.
And did I mention that podcasts themselves are free? The term “subscribe” can be a bit misleading, but this just means that you are giving permission for the podcast to send you new episodes. It doesn’t require you to pay for it.
For Apple mobile device users, simply download the podcast app. For Android users, there are many possibilities: some free, some requiring a subscription. If you prefer to listen from a computer, a number of podcasts also have the audio available on its website.
If you haven’t yet delved into the world of podcasts, I encourage you to check it out. Here are some recommendations to get you started.
Thinkorange Podcast – “ideas and conversations to help you influence the next generation”
Youth Culture Matters from The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU) – “helping parents, youth workers, educators pastors and others understand and reach today’s youth culture”
Download Youth Ministry (DYM) – “a collection of shows to help you win in youth ministry”
Culture and context:
On Being with Krista Tippett – this podcast seeks to have conversations about the questions of meaning in our current context
Sermon Brainwave by Working Preacher – geared towards helping pastors interpret and preach the weekly lectionary
The Harvard Business Review defines innovation as “the difficult discipline of newness.” What new thing is forming in your congregation? The congregation I attended last Sunday is starting a Friday night dinner, which will end with communion. In explaining the gathering, the pastor said “We don’t have to wait for Sunday to break bread together.”
My colleague Kara Faris and I have learned about the difficult discipline of newness from 12 innovative congregations. Stories from leaders of these congregations are in the book Divergent Church.
We learned of six practices evident in various configurations among these congregations. By practices, we mean universal human activities that take on unique and often new shape in these innovative congregations.
The congregations told remarkable stories that featured creative expressions of these six practices:
- Shaping Community
- Artistic Expression
- Breaking Bread
- Community Engagement
If you were given full license to innovate regarding a practice, which practice would you choose and what would the innovation look like?
If you are interested in reading the book Divergent Church email me at email@example.com and I will send you a copy.
By the way, the congregation starting the Friday night gathering is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Innovation is not dependent on a congregation being shiny and new.
Websites are the “front door” for congregations, and having a web presence is no longer optional. Visitors often search for a new church home online. Savvy congregations even use their websites to gather information from people.
Investing the right resources in a website can help your congregation attract new visitors and better interact with members. Ask yourself these questions before jumping into your website project.
- What is our budget?
- What are our goals for the website? Examples: To share information, gather new information, reach new people, interaction, advertise, etc.
- Who will maintain the site and can they devote enough time to this work?
- Based on who will be maintaining the site, what type of training do we need?
Considering those questions will help you find the right web-solution for your congregation.
How would you describe a thriving congregation? Perhaps a thriving congregation has young people attending worship. Another thriving congregation might manage conflict well.
At the Center for Congregations in Indiana, we interact with all kinds of flourishing congregations. Here’s what we’re learning from faith communities that thrive.
- Focus on congregational assets rather than problems. Reframe observations as a positive question “What is going well?”
- Learn to do new things. This encourages intentional growth as a community. See the book How Your Congregation Learns.
- Help your people to live life well. Connect teachings, worship, and faith convictions to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.
As part of our work, we captured the stories of 12 innovative, thriving congregations around the United States. Below are some of their common practices.
Intentional Practices of Innovative Congregations
For more information, see the book Divergent Church.
On the surface, thriving may look like growing worship attendance or conflict management. By considering the strategies and practices listed above, your congregation can take new steps to thrive.
For further discussion
Brainstorm strategies or practices that happen within thriving congregations.
The new Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey is in the works. The survey officially launches next year, and FACT is in the process of finalizing participants now. Faith groups and denominations will survey their congregations early next year. Take a look at the list of groups that have agreed to participate and ensure that your group is represented. If your religious body or denomination isn’t listed, you can contact FACT at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about partnership opportunities.
FACT is an interfaith research organization that provides key information on a range of subjects relating to congregational life in America. Previous FACT surveys resulted in relevant findings about conflict, outreach, young adults, spiritual vitality and more.
The goal for this new report is to survey 20,000 congregations in 2020.
Most people can carry a casual conversation with a young adult. If that seems like a challenge in your congregation, check out the first part of this blog Relationships: A Millennial Perspective.
How about discussing values and faith beliefs with that younger generation? It’s accurate to say “times have changed.” In many parts of the United States, it’s no longer assumed that people go to worship every week. This makes conversations about faith challenging –but not impossible.
As a congregational consultant and millennial, here’s what I think you should know about millennials and faith.
We value spirituality and group connection. Contrary to statistics declaring the decline of religion in America, millennials do care about spirituality. It just looks different. Consider the Harvard Divinity study How We Gather. Thriving millennial movements like Crossfit and The Dinner Party draw upon common elements: community, personal and social transformation, purpose finding, creativity and accountability.
Action step: Evaluate which of those elements your congregation does well. Practice talking about those benefits and invite potential newcomers.
Value us through hospitality. I appreciate worship services that allow casual clothes and free coffee. It’s not about the cool leader in jeans or the best local brew. It’s about inviting us to come as we are. If it’s between wearing jeans and not showing up, it’s better to have us show up in jeans.
Action step: Take time to evaluate the new visitor experience. This list of 50 Ways to Welcome New People will help. While staying true to your congregation’s culture, eliminate unnecessary discomfort for visitors.
We are likely to question faith and require a safe space to do that. Rather than accepting doctrine or marketing, young adults prioritize exploration and personal experiences to determine their beliefs. This allows for rich, yet messy, thinking. Author of The New Copernicans Dr. John Seel explains this well. I highly recommend checking out his book.
Action step: Practice active listening and humility to prioritize relationships. This is especially important when the other person doesn’t share your beliefs. Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk will help you brush up on conversation skills. Once you build a trusting space, it becomes easier to dialogue about faith.
The purpose of youth ministry is to foster the personal development of faith, theology and relationships for young people ages 6th-12th grades. This usually happens through a variety of lessons, games, resources and relationships. But how do you know if your youth group is hitting the mark?
The Center for Congregations has worked with more than 60 congregations to create vibrant youth ministries. Here’s what we discovered about the most successful congregations.
Effective Youth Ministries
• Devote financial and human resources as a priority to nurture young people.
• Equip youth to use their faith as a lens for making life plans and decision-making.
• Incorporate young people into congregational leadership and the planning process.
These larger goals will likely take time and decisions from your leadership. Below are small ways to strengthen your youth ministry.
Small Changes, Big Impact
You can make subtle changes to integrate youth into the fabric of your congregation. Recruit adult volunteers to connect with the youth and build intergenerational relationships. Allow the youth to step into meaningful and appropriate roles of responsibility. That could be mowing the lawn, assisting in worship or serving in the nursery. Small changes over time will help youth ministry become a natural part of your culture.
Many elements make you the person you are. You are shaped by your race, your geographic location, and your genetic structure. Your personality is formed by your family, your friends, and the choices you make along the way. You are influenced by education, social affiliations and friendships.
All of us are formed by the company we keep. The company we keep includes the congregation you attend. Whether you are aware of it or not, the activities of your congregation create certain thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make you who you are. In this way, your congregation has formative power.
I was reminded of the importance of being part of a religious community when a clergy person described a project happening in his congregation. He told me about a booklet being produced by the staff called Rule of Life. The Rule of Life is a guidebook outlining what it means to be part of the congregation.
The pastor says, “We want to encourage people to live a certain way of life.” Part of the guidebook is written as a catechism with answers to be learned and recited. Other parts of the guide describe specific practices in which one participates as a member of the congregation: at noon every day we are going to pray this Psalm.
If you read Psalm 23 every day, that Psalm is going to become part of who you are. The virtue of trust represented in the lines of the Psalm will more likely become part of your heart, mind and soul.
What elements are most formative in a congregation?
Of course, it depends on the particular congregation. I have observed and experienced the following activities having a positive impact on adherents:
- Testimony, telling the story of their lives
- Religious practices, particularly worship, prayer, singing, study of scripture, and rites of passages or sacraments
- Reflection on practice: not just doing things but thinking about their impact with others
- Relationships including across generations
- Liminal experiences: pilgrimages, mission trips, cross-cultural experiences, spiritual retreats
Here is an exercise to consider doing with a congregational board, team or class.
Remember a time when a congregational experience formed or reinforced a positive attribute in you. Write down the experience. Take turns sharing the stories out loud. Listeners are invited to ask open, curious questions to enhance group reflection. What themes are evident? What further growth might the congregation support?
Center for Congregations CRG Director Aaron Spiegel spoke with Gerardo Martí about his recent CRG guest blog post. Gerardo is a professor, researcher and author of Latino Protestants in America. Below are highlights of their conversation.
Aaron: What are the primary motivators for American Latinos moving from Catholicism to Protestantism?
Gerardo: Roman Catholic observers have long been aware of what has been labeled “the defection” of Latinos away from Catholicism to Protestantism. It isn’t new. The esteemed Catholic sociologist Andrew M. Greely documented mass defections in the late 1980s. When pressed for an explanation, he speculated that the appeal for Latinos switching to evangelicalism was based in their upward economic mobility: Protestant churches were potent symbols of middle-class respectability. Current research is not willing to posit such massive changes to a single determining factor like this.
It is also important to note that more recent immigrants from Central and South America arrive into the United States already Protestant. That means more Protestant churches are now available to join. These same Latinos may have found themselves in Catholic churches in the past, but now more immigrants find (and are willing to start) local churches based on Protestant beliefs and liturgy.
Also significant, we cannot ignore the ongoing scandal of sexual abuse among priests that has hung over the American Catholic church, which has disillusioned many to leave Catholicism. Furthermore, many find it difficult to relate to priests in America, clergy who are less likely to be of Hispanic ancestry in comparison with local Latino Protestant pastors who tend to be indigenous, speaking similar dialects, often coming from the same region and sharing similar cultural experiences.
Additionally, our research finds the pursuit of more intimate and more intense spiritual experience to be important. In our interviews, Latinos say they were eager for the deeper spiritual nourishment they discovered in Protestant churches, finding their priests to be dismissive of their desires and questions, while discovering excitement and zeal in a local “Christian” church. More than one respondent simply said, “I found God here.”
Finally, the greater independence of many Protestant churches translates into greater organizational agility and adaptability to their local environment. Even when a particular church is unable to change, it is increasingly likely that Latinos can find a newer church designed to appeal to new sensibilities. This means that the competition among churches is not just between Catholic and Protestant but among Protestants themselves.
Aaron: You stated in your blog post that Pew Research reported that half of all American Latinos will be Protestant by 2030. Why is this significant?
Gerardo: The dramatic increase in Latino Protestantism is largely unanticipated. Considering that Latinos in America are stigmatized as “foreigners” in far too many places in the United States (as is evident in our political controversies regarding illegal immigration), this may result in a renegotiation of both the nature of Protestantism in America as well as the understanding of American Latinidad.
For example, Protestantism is traditionally the mainstream culture of white Americans, serving as a base for promoting privilege and status. The increase of Latino American Protestants may more fully emphasize the racialization of “white Christianity.”
Also, religion among Latinos has often been assumed to be steeped in Catholicism. Approaching Latino religiosity apart from Catholicism can be disorienting for religious leaders who simply have not known Latinos as Protestants. In addition, because the broad Latino community retains strong social and cultural ties to Catholicism, the increase of Protestants can be the source of tensions among family and friends when approaching the nature of the sacred through life-cycle events like weddings and funerals and church-based social events (festivals, holidays, parties, etc.) intended to reach larger social networks.
Aaron: Are American Catholic leaders trying to figure out why they aren’t “automatically” getting Latinos? Is there something “to be done” to change the trend?
Gerardo: All churches whose ancestry are Anglo-European (as well as Asian, i.e., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) tend to lump all “Latino” ancestries together, and Catholic parishes often segregate congregations within a single church to serve particular ethnic groups. However, even when services are conducted or translated into Spanish, the idioms, illustrations, pronunciations, and vocabularies between Hispanic groups can be vastly different. Appointing a Mexican-American minister does not automatically create connections to Cuban, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran people in their neighborhoods. Similarly, relational connections — the family and friends people most likely lead new guests in their churches — do not necessarily overlap between various Latino ethno-racial groups.
Beyond the challenge of outreach to different cultural groups within the general category of Latino, all churches are challenged to be self-reflective regarding their willingness to be truly hospitable to groups that are socially distant from their own. I would caution church leaders against merely setting up another segregated ministry. While I commend congregations that support separate Latino ministries, it is worth considering further the extent a congregation can more fully welcome and incorporate Latinos (and other racial/ethnic groups) into the ongoing ministries of the congregation. While pastor and paid staff may be friendly initially, the successful incorporation of Latinos into obviously non-Latino settings takes a deliberate effort. Lay leaders and regular members must be willing to take into their lives new relationships.
Leaders are challenged to evaluate their own ministry: How wide are the arms of love that can be extended in your congregation? How welcoming is your church to “the alien, the stranger, and the foreigner”? Does your church have intentional boundary-crossers who regularly reach out to those who are unfamiliar and culturally distinct?
The Catholic Church shows pastoral commitment and concern for Latinos, yet the Church would benefit from even more aggressive outreach toward recruitment of Latino men and women from a variety of ancestral backgrounds for lay and full-time ministry.
Aaron: Some readers may associate Protestant with mainline denominations, yet you imply high numbers of Latinos connected with evangelical and Pentecostal movements. Is there a breakdown and explanation of the divisions within Protestantism?
Gerardo: To avoid confusion, our research uses the label “Protestantism” to signify all religious orientations that base themselves from the stream of congregational movements after the Reformation. Today, the data on Latino Protestants captures three distinct groups: Pentecostal – characterized by an emphasis on healing, tongues, and related ministries centered on the infusion of the Holy Spirit; Evangelical – non-Pentecostal churches that emphasize preaching, bible study, adult baptism, and emotive worship; and Mainline – churches with affiliations to historic denominational structures like Methodism, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, etc.
In terms of proportional representation, the most recent data indicate that the total population of Latino Protestants consists of a little more than one-third being Pentecostal, a little more than one-third Evangelical, and a little less than one-third Mainline. The dip in Mainline affiliation may have to do with the historic absence of significant Latino membership among these churches and the lack of educational credentials qualifying Latino leaders for ordination. In addition, it has been more difficult to establish new Mainline congregations at the pace at which Latino-centered Pentecostal and Evangelical congregations are being established, especially with the added requirements assumed for ordination in Mainline churches.
Aaron: Did the Latino community bring their high commitment and participation in church with them as immigrants or is this an American Latino phenomenon?
Gerardo: We are still working to understand the exceptionally high rates of religious intensity among Latino Protestants. Certainly, part of their congregational fervor has to do with the momentum of church centrality and involvement already cultivated in their countries of origin. Even so, Latino Pentecostals and Evangelicals are generally much more involved in their church communities than those from the Mainline. In addition, most Latino-centered Protestant churches are smaller and therefore require higher involvement among volunteers and lay leaders to sustain their ministries over time.
Aaron: Are there unique challenges for Latino churches that aren’t being addressed by denominations, judicatories, and parachurch organizations? How can organizations like the Center for Congregations be most helpful to the Latino community?
Gerardo: The challenges for sustaining the continued vitality of the Latino Protestant churches in America are many. They include:
Availability and affordability of pastoral training: Latino Protestants mirror their secular counterparts in having lower levels of college attendance and graduation. Therefore, the great majority of Latino pastors committed to ministry lack the educational background necessary to be admitted to seminaries. Consequently, they also lack the means to afford classes and study materials. In response to this situation, a variety of local Bible institutes have emerged, and many seminary and divinity schools in the United States have made generous arrangements to accept Bible institute credit to provide a pathway for graduate education. In addition, some larger churches and theological schools are expanding to provide training in ministry explicitly oriented toward Latinos. Denominations, judicatories, and parachurch organizations can further fund, mentor, and organizationally bridge opportunities for more formal pastoral training.
Financial pressures for salaries, rent, buildings, technology, and ministry infrastructure: Because Latino ministries do not usually include contributions from wealthy donors, church leaders are constantly pressed to meet the financial requirements to build ministry programs and serve the needs of their people. Even when aligned with larger denominational structures, the stories we hear from leaders in the field reveal how difficult it can be to obtain funding. Latino leaders believe priorities for Latino ministry to be quite low. Unfortunately, Latino ministries also suffer from the stigma and prejudice that is all too common among white-dominant communities. Latinos are sidelined, with their issues being accorded less importance. With Latino persistent population growth, the infrastructure for Latino ministry is an area of investment worth considering for the future of Christianity in America.
Latinos administratively lumped together, often with other “ethnic” ministries: Latino groups desire to have their own distinctive pastoral and congregational needs met. Yet lack of understanding or poor administration can often leave all “ministries of color” combined with little regard for significant distinctions in their histories and needs. In one organization, we found that all ethno-racial ministries, also joined with women’s ministries, placed under a single department head. Latino migrations are complicated, resulting in practical pastoral differences. With some reflection, church leaders would quickly realize that such administrative streamlining leaves important differences ignored and therefore unaddressed.
Absence of respect or authority in decision making within larger structures and networks: Latino leaders bring a great deal of passion and experience to their ministries. We have met many who began their ministries while still teenagers. Yet, their ministry experiences are often ignored and their input rarely sought. These Latino leaders feel like perpetual guests when participating in larger structures and networks of ministry, leaving their own distinctive perspectives and concerns ignored. Similarly, too few Latino pastors and consultants have attained status as “experts,” leaving a highly skewed and incomplete perspective coming from the few who have made it into elite spaces of influence. While non-Latino leaders should make an effort to be more inclusive, the few Latino church leaders with influence should not hoard their visibility and make an equally strong effort to expand the public influence of their colleagues and peers.
Latinos are firmly established in the American spiritual landscape. Attention to their spiritual development should be a priority. Of course, with commitment, planning, and foresight, the challenges listed above can be addressed with practical initiatives centered on further development of pastoral leadership. I trust that concerted effort, consensual planning, and a host of brilliant minds can certainly meet these challenges moving forward.
Tags: Religion In America, Contemporary Trends, Latino, Latinex, Multi Cultural, Ethnic, Diversity Race, Protestantism, Catholicism