Most of us are trying to get our feet under us as we figure out how to hold services online during this time. There’s no shortage of advice on what programs to use and what equipment you need. But in the midst of this scramble for information, we must take a moment to consider what we hope to create in and through these streaming services.

I don’t need to tell you that we are in a time that is foreign to the church and our congregations. But I can share with you that it is possible to be simple, creative, and directional in our worship moments.

For the last 10 years, I have researched, surveyed, interviewed, and completed a doctoral thesis-project to help church planters create a sense of sacred worship space. Although my expertise is for the church planter who is worshiping in a public space, some of the principles I studied in sacred space and environmental psychology applies to an online space.

Whether we are celebrating the Eucharist in front of the streaming camera, leading people through morning prayer, or just providing a worship (music-driven) moment, we can be intentional in helping others connect with the Lord and with others.

Here are some tips from my years of research studying sacred space and environmental psychology as you create sacred space through streaming online.

Go Live

I know there is a temptation to pre-record your service and then cast it into the internet to present a more polished look, but let me encourage you NOT to do this.

Really, this is a pastoral issue rather than professional. Your people do not need polish—they need presence. If your congregation is looking for a professional consumer experience, they will find better than you can offer no matter how sophisticated your equipment and performance might be.

Yes, we are called to excellence in our work and you should carefully prepare and rehearse so technology issues or confusion do not distract from worship. But people need your authentic presence.

Keeping your service live also fosters community in isolation. When a service is pre-recorded and pushed out, the pastor not only becomes more removed from the community, but the community becomes unmoored in time. A recorded and posted production feels too much like an “on-demand” moment, consumable at one’s leisure, like the Netflix shows they are bingeing. This spatial disconnect undermines the goal of uniting the body in these online services.

Perspective

For those with a permanent worship space from which to broadcast, leading from behind the table is a great place to lead. It gives people a sense of orientation and connection to a familiar space and provides a single focal point.

However, there is a danger to run a streaming service the same way you usually lead a service where all participants are in their usual spots (e.g. the worship leaders, readers, celebrant, etc.). When things are too spread out, the camera will swivel all over to follow the “action.” This is disorienting and removes people from the sense of sitting in the service.

My recommendation is to keep the camera stationary, fixed on one frame, and then you can bring people into the frame as needed. If the angle is wide enough, you can create a nice worship moment.

For those who are leading from home because you are no longer able to meet in a place where you’ve been worshiping, be sure that you are not sitting with your back up against the wall. People need spacial depth and texture. People need to know the greater context of the environment. You don’t want to give the perception that you are leading worship from a prison cell. So be sure to move the camera where people can see the larger room, helping your congregation feel not so confined.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Be aware of your lighting: You don’t have to get a professional. A lamp on the desk will work if you angle it correctly or a simple floodlight from your local hardware store helps to light up a larger space. You want lots of light without dark shadows. There is also a little trick to manipulate your computer’s features and modify the saturation and color rate to help with the lighting.
  • Watch your cadence and honor your commas: I have really struggled with this. When you read alone to a screen, it’s hard to remember that you are leading others in prayer along with you. Slow down, keep a steady pace, honor commas and periods. Don’t get “cute” with familiar texts; people need the familiar rhythm. It’s already awkward enough to pray along with a Facebook stream—we don’t want them feeling self-conscious because they can’t follow.
  • Don’t be thrown by the delay: It may look like an old Kung Fu movie sometimes if you are streaming high-quality audio and video. You can do some research about some technical fixes, but my advice is either lower the quality of your stream to match your bandwidth or, well, get over the delay. Everyone understands that we have limitations. Don’t let it distract you from being present as you lead worship.
  • A streaming camera and an external mic will go a long way in the streaming world: If you do not have a streaming camera and an external microphone, let me encourage you to invest in those two items. They will not break the bank and will help with the overall streaming experience.
  • Accept imperfections: Look for ways to learn and grow, but acknowledge that some things are beyond your control and some things you are just going to mess up. Be comforted that Jesus did not see professional polish as a crucial criterion for his disciples.

I want to encourage you as you lead your flock during these times. Be true to who you are as a pastor and follower of Christ. Live out the love God has put on your heart for your people while trusting in the Holy Spirit is working in you and through you. You are the perfect person to lead the flock God has bestowed upon you.