Tim Snyder of the Lewis Center staff suggests it’s a good time for congregations to reassess their approach to online worship. He offers five “dos and don’ts” for churches looking to make digital worship a permanent element of their ministry.
With a year or more of digital ministry under their belts, many congregations are reexamining their online worship with an eye toward making it a permanent element of their ministry. These “dos and don’ts” may offer clues about your best way forward.
1. Do translate the personality and values of your worship into the digital context. But don’t try to replicate in-person worship practices.
What does your congregation hold most dear? What does it value? What is the personality of your faith community? What makes it different than other places of worship? These are the core elements that need to carry forward into the digital context. Other details can be left to the side. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to try to do in a digital context exactly what you do in in-person worship. When things don’t go well in digital worship, it’s often because leaders are trying to do just that. So, concentrate on “translating” what’s most important rather than trying to recreate it exactly.
2. Do choose a platform that fits your worship. But don’t choose your platform simply because of popularity, familiarity, or cost.
“Worship imagines a world,” as my friend Jonny Baker says. One way to discern what platform might be best is to ask yourself: what kind of world does our worship imagine? In the early days of the pandemic, many congregations made quick decisions to get online worship up and running. But now may be the time to step back and make a more deliberate decision. Some congregations may now find their initial choices constraining. It’s important to choose an approach to online worship that suits your worship design and what you are trying to accomplish. While cost is, of course, a relevant factor, you may discover that options that were once prohibitive have become more accessible.
3. Do draw on the gifts and talents of your people. Don’t make online worship a solo act.
As congregations expand in the digital realm, many are creating new kinds of leadership opportunities and new roles, both volunteer and staff. And often they find that God has provided exactly what they need — if they simply invite those who have the gifts and talents to serve alongside them.
4. Do solicit feedback and implement changes based on what you learn. But don’t try to fix everything at once.
Many advancements in the realm of technology occur through “iterative design.” A developer puts something out there, sees how it works, makes changes, and tries again. Congregations can employ this same approach in refining their digital worship. Solicit feedback and implement incremental changes based on what you learn. It’s exhausting to try to fix everything at once. Church leaders have borne many burdens during the pandemic. The expectation that digital worship can be perfected in one fell swoop shouldn’t be an additional burden.
5. Do consult the research on digital faith practices. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
There is a wealth of knowledge and research on digital faith practices, but few churches are making use of what researchers and scholars already know about the practice of religion online. Generally, when entering a new missionary context, a church would take time to learn the customs, the language, and what makes sense in that space. The same should be true in the digital context. The good news is that researchers and scholars have already done much of this work. So rather than reinventing the wheel, set aside some time to do continuing education. Familiarize yourself with what is already known and what other churches are doing.
This article is derived from Participation and Presence: Leading Meaningful Digital Worship, a free online webinar offered by Dr. Tim Snyder through the Lewis Center for Church Leadership on March 23, 2021. Watch now.
- What Approach to Digital Worship is Best for Your Church? by Tim Snyder
- 7 Reasons You Must Not Abandon Your Online Services by Thom S. Rainer
- 3 Strategies for Doing Church Online by Heidi A. Campbell