Jason Moore: 3 strategies to hybrid worship

January 21, 2021

By: Doreen Gosmire and Karla Hovde

View a recording of the webinar and view the handbook from the webinar. View a recording of the second session, with conversation between Moore and participants.

“Online worship has allowed us to reach people that would have never walked into our church doors,” said author and creative worship coach Jason Moore. “The question the pandemic leaves us with is: How do we worship both in-person and online without leaving anyone out?”

Moore recently taught more than 100 participants across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area how to maximize hybrid worship experiences for both online and in-person audiences.

“We will lose the momentum we have gained if we are not careful as we move into this next season of ministry,” said Moore, founder and owner of Midnight Oil Productions. “One of the hardest things that we have learned during the pandemic is that we need to make connections even though we may not see people in our church buildings.”

Many churches that offered online worship before the COVID-19 pandemic merely put a camera at the back of a sanctuary and broadcast through an online platform. Those worshipping online were not considered the primary audience. Then, when COVID-19 hit, remote attendees all of a sudden became the primary audience.

As congregations begin to plan to go back to in-person worship, it would be a mistake to turn the in-person worship experience into a studio audience and give our attention solely to the camera. It would be an equally big mistake to focus on the in-person worshippers and forget about the people online.
Reimagine worship
Moore suggested that we have to reimagine worship in four ways:
1. Consolidate the experience: The average in-person worship experience is about one hour. However, Facebook analytics reveal that viewers will watch online for 25-30 minutes, maybe 40-minutes max.

2. Adapt what you do: Be aware that most people viewing online do not sing along with hymns. Moore recommends showing both the musician and the lyrics to online viewers, and reducing the number of hymns that online viewers see in order to keep them engaged. Other worship elements that need adaptation for online audiences are communion, offering, and announcement time. Move announcements to the end of your worship for online worshippers and treat announcements as giving people a way to live out what they learned in worship. 

3. Iterate and innovate: Make the worship experience fresh and inviting. Tweak one or two things in your order of worship or how you offer hybrid worship in each sermon series or season. Whatever you do, don’t try to recreate pre-COVID worship.

4. Properly prepare: Walk through the service with all worship leaders beforehand, and plan the transitions and flow. Reimagining worship into a meaningful hybrid experience is the new mindset we need to embrace. Cohesion and connection are essential. People viewing online will leave to find another, more meaningful virtual service if the experience is disjointed.
Three strategies

Rev. Jenny Hallenbeck Orr of McCabe UMC in Bismarck, ND shared a photo as she viewed the "Both/And" webinar.
Moore presented three approaches to providing worship experiences in-person and online. One of these approaches will be best for your context.
1. Pre-Both/And Worship: In this scenario, there are different experiences for online and in-person worshippers. Online is pre-recorded, exclusively for those people who worship online. Separate in-person worship happens for those who come to the building. This strategy does not involve live streaming.

This strategy requires human resources to record, editing software, and equipment for recording. Consider a pre-recorded online worship service of 25-30 minutes—no more than 40 minutes. Shorten the amount of music and the length of the sermon. The call to action should be included and presented differently to those viewing online. 
Provide hospitality for online viewers with an online worship host. The host connects to those who are commenting and walks the viewer through the service for things like giving and the call to action.

2. Real-Time Both/And Worship: This strategy allows worshippers to simultaneously watch a service live online and to attend the in-person service. Worship is designed in such a way that attention is given to both audiences. This may include a combination of live and pre-recorded elements for the online viewer.

In this scenario, the online service should be shorter than in-person, perhaps with a staggered approach. For example, in-person starts at 10 a.m. with several songs, and online starts at 10:10 a.m., during the last song of the opening. After the sermon, the online service cuts away to announcements or closing that are either pre-recorded or led by the online host, leaving in-person worship to continue with a longer ending to the service.

3. Post Both/And Worship: For this approach, worship is offered in real-time for the in-person audience. The service is recorded, edited, and repurposed for the online audience. The recording is available online for viewing at a later time. 

One consideration with this strategy is developing engagement and participation processes for the online viewing audience. Build a digital hospitality team and appoint a chat host, who can create engagement by posting statements, asking questions that reinforce the sermon, and inviting participants to the call-to-action. To assist the digital hospitality team, prepare a document ahead of time with links and key points.
Audit your worship service

As churches move forward with creating hybrid online and in-person worship experiences, quality is key. As you plan worship, ask yourself: 
  • What is the purpose of this aspect of worship, and does it translate to all audiences?
  • Does this moment belong in both worship experiences?
  • Is there a participatory or interactive way of doing this?
  • Is this element too short or too long for the audience?
  • How does this translate on-screen at home, and do we need an alternate moment?
  • Does this need additional contextualization for either audience?
  • How will a first-time viewer or in-person guest receive this?
“There is a pretty dramatic shift happening. Begin to think about how you will make the shift and invite more people to Christ,” said Moore.
View a recording of the webinar and view the handbook from the webinar; both are available until Feb. 14.

The Dakotas-Minnesota Digital Campus Initiative includes grants for training and coaching to reach new people digitally. Applications are due January 24, 2021.

Doreen Gosmire is director of communications for the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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