Tips for Online Services & Spiritual Sharing Sessions w/ Zoom
Written by Paul Richards on May 11, 2020
It’s time for episode three of our new interactive live show helping churches communicate in the era of COVID. Today we are discussing tips for hosting online services & Spiritual Sharing Sessions using Zoom video conferencing. Following up on our last two productive meetings (which are available to watch on-demand) today we will review how to use break out sessions to make your online services more intimate.
In our past episodes, we have discussed the need to go beyond live streaming and explained why two-way communications are so necessary for keeping congregations together during a time when communities are 100% distributed. We have also discussed a return for in-person church attendance and what that will mean when many of the congregation will have to stay at home.
We are going to recap all of this information and provide ample time for Q&A. But most importantly, we will be hosting a live Zoom session where you can join intimate break out sessions with other worship leaders in groups of 4. This will be a process we call Virtual World Cafe, and it’s something you need to learn about as we push forward into this brave new world of online communications.
New Show Format
- Past Show(s) Recap
- Weekly presentation
- Group Sharing / Q&A Session
- Breakout Collaboration
- Small-Group Sharing
Beyond Live Streaming
Live streaming is generally thought about as a one-way broadcast from a single location to audiences around the world. For many houses of worship, this idea is a simple solution for sharing the message of God with a wide audience outside of the four walls of the church. With most one-way broadcasts, two-way communication is a privilege reserved for in-person members who are able to shake hands and exchange ideas in-person.
But today, everything has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has literally shut down in-person church services around the world, in order to keep the deadly virus from spreading in large groups. Out of sheer necessity, humans have been forced to communicate online. Live streaming a one-way broadcast helped churches to stay connected during difficult times and the technology provided pastors with a form of communication that could reach their dedicated congregation and beyond. Worship leaders helped to spread the message with emails, text messages, and phone calls sharing the live stream information as they provided members of their congregation’s tips for staying connected even from home.
With each passing week, communities longed for the in-person experience they have grown used to at church. The need for fellowship and community engagement continued to grow as live streams lacked the two-way communications worship leaders, pastors, and families longed for. Forward-thinking worship leaders found video conferencing software such as Zoom and started to host meetings to keep their congregations connected even as everyone was distributed physically.
It was April 21st when Michael Begeman reached out to me from The Church of Conscious Harmony, in Austin, Texas. Michael had been using a PTZOptics 20X-USB camera to live stream his church services using OBS, but he had questions for me about using the camera with Zoom video conferencing. Michael had found that in the era of COVID, his worship leadership team had been spending a lot of time discussing how to best live stream their meetings and services to remote participants. Michael was thinking about social distancing restrictions, and what would happen when they are slowly lifted in Texas.
Would the church start to have both local (in-room) participants as well as remote participants during each worship service? When everything was a one-way broadcast, they only needed to produce a live stream of what was going on inside the church. But now they are having spiritual sharing and interactive conversations happening inside of Zoom. “What if you want interactivity?” Michael asked me. “How do you include remote participants in an interactive large class, workshop or the church service?” I took Michaels’s questions very seriously and started a show called “Helping Your Church Live Stream (a weekly show)” to bring together worship leaders from all over the world who could meet once a week on Mondays to discuss these important topics.
“I can layout the journey for our church which has made it from all-local… to a 1-way broadcast with a mix of local and remote participants, to 1-way broadcast where everyone is remote, to finally an interactive all remote set up using Zoom,” said Michael during our first live episode of the show. “Now we’re thinking that when we can physically get back together, there’s no ‘going back’ to the old way of one-way broadcasting and we will have to be including remote interactivity.” The relatively good news Micahel shared was the fact that his church’s community was growing. “We’ve discovered during COVID that our community is much larger and more far-flung than we ever knew, so we feel the need to keep everyone included even when most of us can meet face-to-face.”
Online Spiritual Sharing Sessions
Michael and his wife were excited to meet many of the new members of their church using Zoom. They had particularly exciting conversations with people from all over the world during their small group spiritual sharing sessions they host online. Michael helped to lead a conversation about adding remote participants into the church’s Sunday services. It introduces a number of issues that are more complex than having a 100% distributed church service online. Micheal said “Some of our classes and services are led by tech-savvy people, and some are led by people who need someone else to do all the technical legwork and moderation for them.”
The idea Michael was trying to wrap his head around was a scenario where a class leader is sitting on the stage presenting. The presenters are seen by people in the room and also by remote participants via Zoom. Inside of the Zoom meeting, Michael would like to encourage people to raise their hands and participate. Michael’s team had already figured out some of the important Zoom moderation best practices which include
- (1) mute participants on entry;
- (2) disallow participants unmuting themselves;
- (3) restrict screen sharing capabilities to the host only;
- (4) disabling Annotation, Whiteboard, Chat, Participant Renaming, and Nonverbal feedback.
In this way, the worship leaders can unmute participants who raise their hands, when they would like to share meaningful questions with the group. But here was the dilemma. When it’s time for questions and sharing, the members inside of the church can raise their hands and pass around a hand-held microphone. But how does this work for remote participants via Zoom? Is there a way to allow the remote participants to have a conversation with folks inside of the church naturally?
This idea became the content of two very productive presentations made on our live show which are available to watch on our StreamGeeks YouTube channel. After consulting with audio technicians and multiple church media engineers, we came up with some simple solutions for bridging the technical gap between the in-person worship service and the remote participants on Zoom. The solution essentially requires some audio routing which is outlined in a free PowerPoint download at StreamGeeks.us/2way. There is a diagram below that Michael was nice enough to share.
So what is the “new normal”? For a short period of time, it has become normal for ninety-nine percent of a church to attend remotely. There are billboards in Austin, Texas Michael tells us that say “the online church, it’s a thing.” Michael says “We enjoy the fellowship, we enjoy the, you know, what I called the warmer part of the church services… the hugging and all of that. You know, the breakfast that we have beforehand, but the new normal is that we’re probably not going to have that for quite a while. Even as the social distancing restrictions start to get relaxed…. there are still a number of members of our community who are at risk in different ways.” Because of age or other health-related issues, sadly many people will have to continue to participate with worship services online. So the question becomes, how do we include them as fully as possible, as active members of the community? As active participants in the interactive sessions in the classes and active members of the worship service. The goal has become to create a space where remote viewers can be on a peer to peer basis with everybody else who is participating in-person.
With all of this in mind, our team has created some new resources that are available for worship leaders who want to include remote participation in their worship services. One resource package is graphical and it allows worship leaders to put a presenter full screen next to the remote participants shown in a grid-view using software like OBS, Wirecast or vMix. These graphics are totally customizable for your church and available with tutorial videos included with the Udemy course for this book.
The first graphic, for example, has two primary uses. It has been designed to show a pastor next to their presentation but it can also be transitioned to include another video source. This second video source could be someone providing sign language interpretations or a speaker view of a Zoom conference. During some portions of the presentation, many churches may want to have the presentation next to the pastor but during other times it’s helpful to show a grid view of the online participants from Zoom. In this scenario, production software such as vMix, Wirecast or OBS can be used to transition to another set up with this same graphics overlay.
Finally, a high-level look at how live streaming and video conferencing can work together is important for worship leaders to understand. The most likely place people will get notifications about your live worship service is social media. Your live stream is like a window into your church and it serves as the first place people can engage with you live, in the moment. This is the first stage of engagement, but it’s only one-way. Sure, it’s nice to get prayer requests via a chat message. Even donations can be made through YouTube and Facebook. But ultimately, there is so much more you can do with two-way communications.
Using Zoom, you can have a moderator manage your online worship service. Therefore, you can leverage the power of social media, to encourage people to join your more intimate online meetings. Your worship leaders can moderate the online meetings and even allow participants to un-mute themselves and speak directly to your pastor. 93% of communications is non-verbal. Therefore, you should encourage members of your congregation to turn on their video and show face to the rest of your congregation.
When you start hosting worship services with an online meeting software you will likely find that there are a lot of people who want to join. In fact, you may even find members of your congregation are joining from outside of your local community. Zoom offers a great feature called “Breakout Rooms” which can be used to encourage small group discussions that can be used for spiritual sharing, organizational meetings, and Sunday school activities. This tool allows the meeting host to name and create small breakout meeting spaces that they can then send meeting participants to. It’s a good idea to have your worship leaders set up as a host or co-host in your meeting so that they can manage who is sent to which rooms. Hosts also have the ability to broadcast a message to all break out rooms. For example, you may want to let everyone know that they will be joining the main group in just five minutes.
There is an unlimited number of ways to use breakout rooms to help your online services become more intimate sharing spaces. One exercise to try is called the “Virtual World Cafe.” The Virtual World Cafe is a breakout session practice that separates the main meeting into breakout groups of four people. To do this, meeting hosts can randomly select to divide the entire meeting up into breakout groups of four. Groups of four are ideal because they are small enough for people to get to know each other in a relatively short amount of time. Worship leaders can decide if they would like to have two or three rounds of these world cafe meetings, essentially shuffling the deck and setting up new breakouts.
Another option for increasing communications for online worship involves multiple simultaneous meetings that are open for people to join at their own choice. This is more ideal for social butterflies who may want to jump from one meeting to another. Each Zoom meeting can be designed with a specific topic in mind and people can choose to move between these virtual rooms or dig deep into the conversation of a specific group.
Understanding that much of this technology is new, I have included new videos demonstrating this technology in the included online course. I can still remember joining my first Zoom breakout session, and it’s going to be a learning curve for everyone involved. Perhaps the best way forward is joining our weekly live broadcasts and they evolve and change, you can take the parts that you find most practical and apply them to your worship services. Please feel free to ask questions in our online Udemy course if you come across something you would like explained in more detail.
Learn more about Church Communications
- Here are tips for using Zoom meeting for worship services and spiritual sharing sessions here.
- Learn how to move beyond one-way worship live streams and use video meetings as well here.
- Learn how to use Zoom at your church to communicate with remote congregation members here
- Get a free copy of Helping Your Church Live Streaming here.
- See why your church should consider starting a podcast here.