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Technology for worship

In response to the recent CDC recommendations limiting public gatherings to no more than 50 people, many WELS congregations are now utilizing the blessings of technology to offer a livestream of their worship services.

If your congregation does not offer worship services via livestream, there are multiple ways you can still connect to online worship resources:

“May God bless our efforts to share his gospel in all circumstances, regardless of any earthly barriers we encounter,” says Mr. Martin Spriggs, WELS chief technology officer. “Truly technology is a blessing God provides for our use to take his message of peace and comfort to our members and the world. The apostle Paul once shared, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39).”

 

 

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Learning about and adapting to this pandemic

If you are looking for resources from medical and science professionals related to COVID-19, visit cdc.gov, the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The site includes:

Congregations that continue to hold public worship services may consider changing some of their practices during this pandemic. For example,

  • worship folders (bulletins) can be picked up off a table in the entryway and disposed of after the service by each individual family;
  • the order of worship and hymns may be included in the worship folder or on a display screen so that hymnals do not need to be used;
  • serving food and drinks may be discontinued;
  • shaking hands may be replaced with a friendly wave;
  • offerings may be collected in a basket or offering plate placed in the entryway; and
  • online giving may also be promoted.

Although these temporary changes may feel unusual at first, God’s powerful Word does not change and will be the one constant during this unsettling time.

 

 

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Suggestions for Parents of Young Children

Mrs. Cindi Holman, Early Childhood Ministry national coordinator, has provided some helpful tips for parents and families as they will now be home together.

  • Routine: Routine makes children feel safe. Establish a routine for this new period. Avoid over-scheduling the day but have enough structure that your child feels a sense of security.
  • Daily Devotions/Bible Story: If you’re already in the routine of home devotions or Bible story time, continue. If not, this is a great time to start. Northwestern Publishing House has some wonderful resources. Your child’s teacher will have Bible story resources (for students at Lutheran schools) to help or simply pull out a children’s Bible story book.
  • Outside time: As weather permits and when possible, give your children time outside. Take walks together and allow them to play outside — encouraging social distancing.
  • Have a flexible daily schedule: Include active times and quiet times. Don’t expect to replicate the schedule and length of a school day. Be careful not to overemphasize academics but provide balanced activities. Reach out to your child’s teacher or caregiver for advice on age-appropriate activities.
  • Read, read, read! Read to your child everyday and multiple times of day. Provide a quiet book space for them to enjoy books as well. If your library closes, check out online resources such as books to listen to that can often be checked out from your local library.
  • Include creative activities such as writing, drawing, and craft projects. Provide them with plain paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, glue, play dough, etc. Simple items can be the most fun for children. (Empty cardboard boxes, blanket forts, etc.) Can you do cooking or baking projects together?
  • Help your child stay connected with friends and family. Your child will be missing the usual social interaction with friends and family. Play dates are not recommended. However, can you set up a virtual play date where the children play together via SKYPE or Facetime? Perhaps parents can take turns being the guest reader for a group of friends using video conferencing. Can grandparents and other family members take turns at reading to your child as well?
  • Limit screen time—especially time watching or hearing the news. Even if they are not watching, they are hearing the reports. The continual influx of information can be stressful for adults. The same is true for children who don’t always have means of coping or sorting out all the information. Provide only age-appropriate information as needed in ways that you know will be best for your child.
  • Encourage acts of kindness: Can they create cards, notes, or pictures to send to nursing homes, family and friends, or neighbors to brighten their day?
  • Provide your child reassurance and encouragement. Pray with them for themselves, those they know and love, and others that the Lord will watch over them. Be sure to include prayers of thanks for the many blessings that they have each day. (Jesus their Friend and Savior, a home, family, food, a sunny day, rain, nurses and doctors, grocery store workers, etc.)
  • Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, healthy food, time in the Word, and connections with others.

While this is a time of uncertainty and new routines, this can also be a time of great blessing. While an adjustment time will be likely, in our world of full schedules and activity, this can be a time to slow down and spend time with each other in our families. What an opportunity to spend time together talking, playing games, reading, cooking, etc. What an opportunity to remind ourselves and those we love, how dearly our Savior loves each of us and is with us each day, even when our day feels different.

Jesus, Shepherd of the sheep,
Who your Father’s flock does keep,
Safe we wake and safe we sleep,
Guarded still by you. Amen
Christian Worship 436:1

 

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Live Web Streaming Guidance for Churches

livestream imageThe recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to limit public gatherings to no more than fifty people certainly has ramifications for our churches. For many it means that alternate worship strategies will need to be considered…most notably live streaming. Some churches do this already, so it is a relatively small step to make this the primary way our members can take part in worship. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind. More on that later. However, many of our churches do not currently stream their services at all. Here are some guidelines and resources for those looking at ways to get started:

  • Read through this excellent article by Phil Thompson entitled “How to Livestream Your Church Service: A Practical Guide.” There are great suggestions and links to more technical how-to articles.
  • A couple of things to keep in mind both from the article and my experiences… one includes a decision by your leadership if you want to try to livestream a typical worship service complete with a small group of people in attendance, or a shorter format worship or devotional experience provided by the pastor or worship leader in a more intimate setting? The article referenced above tends to lean more toward the latter, and I would agree with that. It is difficult to provide an engaging experience based on the traditional corporate worship experience. The viewer quickly becomes a passive spectator. Some of the suggestions in the article for “engaging” the audience are good ones including building in questions with time for reflection and responses, having a Q&A slot, or some other feedback mechanism once the stream has ended. Personally I would be more engaged by a video session streamed by my pastor from his office with chances for interaction.
  • Two suggestions for technologies to consider are Facebook Live and YouTube. While I have no preference for either technology, Facebook would require people to be on that platform, and there might be some reticent to join. I do think Facebook Live has better “personal interaction” options available however. YouTube, while a little more technically challenging to set up would not have the same issue with people needing to login or get an app to participate. Another option mentioned in the article is the use of a camera called Mevo. We’ve used this in the past and works rather well. It requires a Vimeo Livestream account, and the current camera costs about $400, but it allows multiple camera perspectives, records and streams at the same time, can be controlled via a smartphone, and can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook Live at the same time. With the rush for livestreaming solutions, I’m not sure about the availability of these cameras as of this writing.
  • Whatever platform you choose, put a premium on capturing good audio. People can live with substandard video, but if the audio isn’t clear, you will quickly lose their attention and ultimately, participation.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Take some time to both get yourself comfortable with delivery, but also use your leadership team as guinea pigs beforehand and take suggestions before you stream your first service “for real.”
  • You may also want to consider whether you want to offer a live experience or a more on-demand model. How important is it that your people “gather” at the same exact time. There are advantages to having people gather around God’s word at the same time, but there are also technical challenges that some congregations can’t quickly overcome. There is nothing wrong with posting a recorded sermon or devotion or worship experience of some kind for people to view when they can. Of course, try to make that as engaging as possible with some way to provide feedback or invite a “conversation” about the content asynchronously.
  • Once you’ve got the hang of streaming some kind of worship or devotional experience, it’s a short hop to doing the same for other things like Bible Class, which is many respects might lend itself even better to this format. You could have a small group gathered for some in-person interactivity, but then augmented with a larger online group. Be creative. Use the technology resources available to you.
  • Other considerations should be made for those who don’t have internet access or may need technical assistance to get online and gain access to your resources. It might be a nice gesture to make a staff person or tech-savvy member or two available willing to take phone calls and help people along. If people don’t have access to the internet, perhaps delivering a recorded DVD of some type might be your only option. Of course, don’t forget about your shut-ins, but keep in mind the guidance provided by health experts as well.
  • Be sure to consider copyright issues when streaming content. Many of you probably have OneLicense or CCLI licenses already but these licenses typically don’t cover livestreaming. Each also offers “podcasting” licenses that can be added that covers the streaming of any copyrighted content. Christian Copyright Solutions both offers licenses, but also excellent Fact Sheets on all things related to streaming copyrighted content over the internet. Of course remember about typical privacy concerns related to broadcasting members (adults or children). You will want to make sure they are both aware and comfortable with what you are doing. (Note: Until April 30, CCS is offering 10% off with the code STREAM10. OneLicense is offering a free license until April 15.)
  • As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly if you’d like to discuss any of the items in this post or general issues related to streaming. I can be reached at martin.spriggs@WELS.net or 414.256.3250.

May God bless our efforts to share His Gospel in all circumstances, regardless of any earthly barriers we encounter. Truly technology is a blessing God provides for our use to take His message of peace and comfort to our members and the world. The apostle Paul once shared “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Martin A. Spriggs
WELS Chief Technology Officer

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