This Tech for Doing Online Sunday School and Worship topic was started during the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak and is in the process of expanding!

Share your information, links, questions, and most importantly -- your experiences!

Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Regarding "distance learning" and live-streaming Sunday School and worship...

Connecting with kids and families in their homes over the internet...

 Totally easy and free and you have several options.

Facebook Live lets you broadcast on your Facebook page using your cellphone or tablet. FB Live also saves your broadcast so people can view it after the fact.  Just open your Facebook app and click the "LIVE" link prominently featured on your newsfeed to activate your cellphone or computer's camera and microphone. Save it for future viewing by others.

Most Americans of a younger persuasion are already on Facebook. You have to have a Facebook account to view Facebook video live or recorded. 

YouTube also lets you broadcast live over your cellphone or tablet and saves your broadcast so people can view it later. One advantage of YouTube is that it doesn't require an account to view their videos like Facebook does. You just go to their site on your phone or computer and watch the video (live or saved), The broadcaster does have to have an account (which are free). 

My choice for general audiences would be YouTube because you don't need an account to watch live videos on it. People just need the URL of the video and a cellphone or computer or smart TV to watch it on.

Zoom, Microsoft "Team" -- and other "live streaming video conferencing services.  Most offer free versions. Not all of these allow for recording and later viewing  -- which seems to me to be an essential requirement for churches. However, they are good for meetings, and for bringing kids and families in virtual contact with each other! 

Share lunch with each other, share stories, play games, pray together, demonstrate using an object lesson, sing together. View this as a valuable learning experience for the future! The possibilities and new insights into how we can be in fellowship with each other when we can't be in the same place will be INVALUABLE.

As with all cellphone and internet usage involving children and youth, adult supervision is required.


UPDATE:

During the Coronavirus outbreak, many denominations are publishing links to online video and streaming services as well as highlighting real church experience/response to streaming services, meetings, and classes. Go to your denomination's website, or search the Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian denomination sites. 

Tom's Guide to Live Streaming Worship also has a number of good suggestions, including tips on equipment. Just keep in mind that a cellphone or tablet computer that can shoot video is all you need for small groups. 

A weekly gathering of Church Worship Leaders talking in a Zoom meeting talking about their experiments with Online Worship Using Zoom.

Led by Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian minister. He is currently the Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto (CA). They do communion every week, including ONLINE. Here's his 2 minute opening message about that. https://youtu.be/yMW1D09QotY

It's an hour long, but has lots of great insights and advice... What works, what didn't.

Here's their Week I zoom meeting. It's more about "how to" for newbies. https://youtu.be/XHE9_MJljxE


Terrific and easy-to-understand "how to get started with Zoom" video tutorial on YouTube by Ben Balden. Describes how to sign up and get other people to do the same and join you.

A Review of My Online Worship Surfing Experiences
Sunday morning, 3/22/20

In short: Oh boy, have we got a long way to go. Sincerity is no excuse for lack of quality control and attention to details.

My Sunday worship surfing began by trying to log-on to two friends' churches doing online worship on 3/22. Unfortunately, I was immediately met with a number of technical challenges just trying to see their livestream or video. Here are two actual screenshots from my attempts to log-in to two of my friends’ worship services. I was eventually able to solve getting into see one friend's service (it was mediocre), but never was able to get into to view the other. Pity their poor members.



So I started visiting other online worship services across my denom and others, including some churches I had previously served in. Here are some of the things I encountered:

  • Several church services only available at the appointed time. If you were an hour late, too bad.
  • I found one pastor repeatedly staring into a LIVE camera to adjust it.
  • Bad sound (almost a universal problem which means they didn't properly equip or care about their quality).
  • Another whose microphone wasn't working (needed batteries).
  • Several who just sat there and moved their mouths.
  • One where the preacher never looked at the camera, even though the pews were empty.
  • An organ that was too loud for the microphone and caused buzzing.
  • Lighting that was bad or non-existent. (Test, people, test)
  • Many speakers who droned on too long -- forgetting I could click away. (Online is not a captive audience. You need to design and sharpen your content for a screen.)
  • Videos that included lyrics on the screen which were totally unreadable.
  • But the biggest problem I saw was that apparently the Coronavirus has rendered everybody's video camera's immovable and unzoomable, as well as paralyzed most onscreen participants with stiffness.



Is it on? Why am I sideways? O hello everybody.

Hello down there.... there.... there...
in black.... blac....bla...


There's nobody in the pews, so why didn't you look in the camera when preaching? It was odd, and the audio was so bad I sometimes strained to figure out what you were saying.

It was a dark and stormy night and the piano was played a floating head.

Oh how we love our church furniture (with organ prelude).
Pointing a camera at the front of the sanctuary
is not where online worship should go in the future.

Best online I saw were:

  • Services I could easily find the link to and click once to view.
  • Short. Not an hour.
  • Not trying to replicate the traditional in-person service.  The better online services seemed to understand that this was a different way of worshipping, not just a "video of the traditional service."
  • Understood the importance of lighting and visually interesting scenes.
  • Featured guitar music and nice voices (easier to listen to on tiny speakers).
  • Closeup shots of the leaders/speakers when they spoke. 
  • Visually interesting (animated) speakers.
  • Edited with titles and hymn text which you could read.
  • Understood I may be on my phone and not viewing on a laptop or big monitor.
  • Understood that I wasn't signing on at the stroke of 11, but still wanted to see the whole thing.

I was also  astounded by how many church website homepages completely LACKED or had obscure links to their online services. Really surprised by that. This info should be featured prominently on the church homepage and be available with ONE CLICK.

Hoping to see better on 3/29.

And YES, I am being critical. Church professionals making professional salaries should be held to a professional standard. 

  • It’s not hard to connect online these days.
  • It’s not hard to test your output.
  • It's not hard to know what looks engaging and what looks boring or amateurish.
  • People don’t need another reason to think church is irrelevant and worship is lame. 

Worship deserves our best. I hope and pray that this “great experiment” in online worship will bear fruit long after the current crisis is over. But it will only happen in those churches who take it seriously and take honest feedback (which many worship leaders are unwilling to do).

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Want to see what other churches are doing online for worship?

(or just want to worship online?)

Go to YouTube and type "Online Worship + YOUR DENOMINATION" in the YouTube search field.

Then click FILTER and "this week" to see what's recently been uploaded.  This is a great way to discover "what's good" and "what's not working."

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This helpful information was shared with us by our synod office.

Beth

 

WARNING ON ZOOM ATTACKS ("ZoomBombing")
One of the synod bishops was in a Zoom meeting of tech people (a WordPress user group used for meeting face to face), talks were interesting when one presenter was suddenly interrupted by a stream of porn. The host was caught off guard and took a LONG minute to get control. This is a known problem, and uses like community open gatherings are being found and introduced to this junk. If you or your congregations are hosting Zoom events, some suggestions:

  • any open Zoom event is truly open (and listed on your open social media accounts), they can be found and entered with no authentication
  • the host needs to be sure that taking over presentation mode by any participant is turned off
  • if others are to be able to present, make them specifically co-presenters and be sure they are invited and authenticated
  • best to present with all remote mics muted, and perhaps even remote cameras
  • especially if the host is presenting during the broadcast, it’s good practice to have someone watching for unacceptable activity, including on camera and in chat


These issues are significantly a problem in open events, which are likely to be used in Zoom worship and other activities. Only allowing folks to participate by registration lessens the dangers, but is also not welcoming the way we likely want to be. Invitation only works for closed meetings with a particular group, but doesn't work for worship.

Zoom works well, though there are other platforms which also work well. If you use ANY online platform, be sure to learn the many facets of how it works. Folks who want to do mischief will do it. The WordPress group was bad enough, they were adults yet shocked by the experience. Imagine an open worship or bible study. Be safe, take care.

 

An article on this from TechCrunch provides helpful information:

In order to help Zoom Bombers to not be able to ride along, change your Zoom account setting. These settings can be saved on the account page, so they are the same on all Zoom calls from your account.

1. Log into your Zoom account.
2. From the "profile" screen, under "Personal", click "Settings" on the left hand menu bar.
3. Under where it says "Meeting" in the main portion of the screen or left of screen, click "In Meeting (Basic)"
4. Turn off "File Transfer" and "Screen Sharing." (toggle switch will be dark)
5. If you think the host may need to share their screen for some reason during meetings especially, you can leave "Screen Sharing" on and under "Who Can Share", click on "Host only".

Online is Not In-Person

That should be a big "duh" but the lesson seems lost on most of the dozens and dozens of online services and lessons I've been surveying during the Coronavirus crisis (see my experiences above about that). 

Fortunately, there's a lot of real and longstanding experience out there, particularly in the area of online worship, and their advice applies to online classes as well.  Here's a great quote from an article in Christianity Today online about online teaching and worship: 

As I've learned from the experts in the field of online education, teaching online isn’t about a direct transference of material from one medium, or modality, to another. It's about a transposition of the material.

If I typically lecture for 40 minutes straight in the classroom, for example, I shouldn’t record a 40-minute video lecture and expect my students to experience the content in the same way.



There seem to be two approaches to online teaching and worship:

One looks like this:

The other looks like this:

Which one would you want to be part of?

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Thoughts on my Online Worship Experiences, March 29, 2020

3/29/20 was my second Sunday of attending online worship services during the Coronavirus crisis. I began by "attending" a "live" online worship service being held via ZOOM, a free video-conferencing service. After that, I looked in on several other services that had been recorded live but I had to watch afterward. Several of the services I attended online this week and last were led by friends or acquaintances of mine, ...but I'm not identifying any of them 

I apologize is any of you are offended by my criticism of these well-meaning churches trying to engage in worship online in this season of social-distancing. My intention is to learn something about what it takes to make online worship a good experience and help churches AVOID the easily and inexpensively correctable mistakes I see so many making as they step out into this brave new world. See my summary advice at the end of this post and in the previous posts in this topic.

BY FAR, the most intriguing service I attended on Sunday was the Zoom-enabled worship service of a Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto CA. It wasn't because they were flashy or hip. 

  • I liked it because I could see the other worshippers, and sometimes hear them.
  • Because the pastor also appeared with us on the screen -- up close and personal.
  • Because it felt like we were something like a community rather than an audience. 
  • Because it felt like we were being led, not talked to.

The pastor was relaxed and sitting in front of the camera with an outdoor scene behind him. He walked all of us through the service showing the occasional slide of information, such as the scripture. They even had a passing of the peace moment!  Could it have been better? Yes, but as I reflect on all the other online services I've been part of, what set the Zoom worship apart was that it WASN'T just focused on the pastor and church's furniture.

zoom

I left the live Zoom worship toward the end to join an old seminary buddy's first "live" online worship via Facebook Live. As the screenshot shows, the camera was positioned down below and zoomed wide. It stayed like this for the entire service which made it all look like an old photograph on the wall, --over thereThe cavernous sound of the nearly empty room didn't help. Good message, though a little long (20 min is too long online).

WeirdAngle

My next visit was to another Facebook Live worship, this one at a church I used to serve in! Getting there about an hour after they had started, I watched their recording. Like my seminary friend's service above, this worship service suffered from a locked-down camera that the operator never zoomed, even when singers could be heard.  The only time the camera moved was to pan down to the laptop screen in front of the camera operator to record the words of the scripture and hymns from the screen. Surprisingly, it worked. Unfortunately, their audio was not great, but at least the pastor acknowledged it and promised some equipment was coming. 

It was fun to see people's "loves" & "likes" popping onto the Facebook screen during several of these Facebook Live services. However, as you can see below, people's comments can also interrupt a sermon.  The church on the left is of another church that locked their camera on the preacher from a distance (this is a church in my town). The one of the right is the small church described above that I used to serve in.

TwoServices

Sadly, when I revisited the following friend's ELCA church for a second week in a row, they had not fixed their lighting and audio problems from the first week. 

Lighting

As you can see below, they celebrated Communion with the camera pulled back to show a big empty space. It made me feel sad.

OnlineCommunion

The Struggle to Find Links Continues

Once again, I struggled to quickly find the LINKS to many churches' Live Worship Services. I looked on their homepages and Facebook pages and found bad links, missing links, and hard to find links. Your link to live worship or worship recordings should be prominently displayed and kept UP TO DATE on both your FB page and church website's homepage.

In summary:

  • MOVE THAT CAMERA AROUND.  ZOOM-IN on people when they are speaking.
  • ADD LIGHTING !
  • CONNECT the pastor's audio directly to the camera. A simple Bluetooth headset would be a start. Don't record "the room."
  • GET SHORTER, pastors. 50 to 70 minutes online watching the same scenery and same person talking/leading is simply too much for a non-captive online audience. And yes, "audience" is pretty much how most of these online worship services feel.  That has to be figured out.
  • Make your LINKS easy to find in multiple places, starting with the TOP of your Homepage.

Pastor to Pastor Advice:

  • This is your chance to only write a ten-minute sermon. Take it.
  • Make sure you sound good by making sure your microphone is connected directly to your video camera by wire, wifi, or Bluetooth. 
  • Move, walk around, walk up to the camera. We are stuck with wherever your camera is pointing us. 
  • The organ and warbling choirs don't sound good online. Use the piano or a guitar and fewer but pleasant voices.
  • Lose the robes and loosen up your language. We need a sense of personal connection right now.
  • If possible, make sure what's behind you is visually interesting. You don't want to bore our eyes and ears because our fingers are near buttons and we have choices.

This is my last report on my online worship experiences. I need to worship, not feel sad or think about technical issues (good luck with that, self).

Hope your church is rising to the opportunity. 

(Rev) Neil 

Unreadable

Surprisingly more common than you'd think.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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