In many parts of the US, the local governments have asked large groups to not gather together (that’s us). In other locations, worship has been canceled by church leaders out of an abundance of caution and concern for members. In every place we can expect that even when we do gather for worship, significant numbers of people will choose to stay home.
So what are we to do? What could worship look like in the midst of the social isolation of COVID-19?
“Oh,” we say, “let’s livestream. Deacon Bob, just use your iphone and we’ll put the whole service on Facebook.”
To put content online requires that you have permission to use that content. Most churches have (and all churches should have) licenses that allow them to publish and perform the music they use on Sundays. But those licenses do not cover livestreaming.
Whatever licensing service you have, you can upgrade your account to get the permission to stream the material. It will cost money, but it will mean you legally have permission to use that material.
“But we’re just a small church, no one will care if we just use it.”
Facebook and Youtube are quick to take down any material that might possibly be copyrighted – even if you have the right licenses it may get taken down until you can prove that you have permission to post that song.
And yes, there are many examples of churches getting sued for copyright infringement.
And – most importantly – even if none of that were true, it is a matter of integrity. Don’t steal. Not even for a good cause. Especially when you think no one will notice. Don’t steal – and that includes broadcasting songs without permission.
You’ve probably never livestreamed before. You are not going to have a high production value broadcast right out of the gate, your first time, without any experience.
Don’t try to shoot the moon.
Instead, go for simple and intimate.
First, focus on the sermon. Not because it is the most important part (it’s not) but because it is the easiest part to livestream well. A camera or a smartphone in the front row really will cover it. It won’t be the slickest video or the best audio – but it will be real and honest. It will allow you to connect with your congregation.
And (see above) your sermon is your intellectual property. You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.
Think Even Simpler
The idea of livestreaming the sermon was right out the window.
Instead, I stayed at home and opened up my laptop. Using my laptop camera, I read the texts for the day. With the people on my facebook live, we prayed together. Then I reflected a bit on the text – not quite a sermon, more of a devotion. And then we blessed one another.
Because I was on my laptop, I could see and respond to their questions and comments during my Facebook live video.
Despite the limitations of digital media, getting even simpler allowed us to have an intimate moment of worship together.
Using digital media, we can spend time with one another in our living rooms. Intimate, vulnerable time in intimate, vulnerable spaces. Instead of an obstacle, turn this into a real opportunity for connection and community.
Use the Tools
Once we jump into the world of digital worship, many church leaders try to re-create the wheel. They try to provide everything themselves, and create it all in the congregation.
You’re not that good.
The fact is, lots of these resources are already out there.
One great way of leveraging the tools is in the area of music. I grew up Lutheran – worship just isn’t worship for me without music. But it is hard for a pastor with no musical skills to provide worship music from their living room while livestreaming a devotional.
So instead of doing it yourself, lean into those who have already done it.
Create a playlist on Spotify, Youtube, or Apple music of worship music, and send it out to your congregation. That way – not just during the devotion, but throughout the day – everyone can listen to the music and enjoy it.
Added bonus – no additional copyright license needed.
Another added bonus – you know that the quality is going to be great. Unlike the pastor at home, playing my kazoo to “How Great Thou Art.”
Remember Why You’re Doing This
Providing worship online is ultimately not about production value and views. It’s not a replacement for the in person gathering.
But it is a way to worship together.
And no matter the quality, no matter the numbers, that is what matters most.
Keeping us connected to one another and to God.
Now, go wash your hands!