This article first appeared on ChurchTechToday under the title “8 Tips for an Online Service Host.”
The Online Service Host is a relatively new role that churches are developing, especially now that COVID-19 has forced churches in America to shut their doors and move to an online-only format. The future of church as we know it is uncertain, but online worship services are becoming the new norm. Even when churches are able to meet on campus and in person again a significant portion of the congregation is likely to remain at home. So it is imperative that we establish procedures that will make an online worship service feel more like the real thing and provide authentic worship experience.
One of the most important elements in helping people feel connected is having a host (or two) to virtually “greet” people as they log in to your online worship service, a real person with a real name who can interact with them during the service, provide important information, answer questions, add encouragement, and walk guests through their online experience.
Whatever medium you use to live stream (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Periscope, Ustream, or your own thing), it should have a live chat feature. This ability to interact live with your congregation is essential–it is how you turn viewers into participants. Of course, there are other important ways in which the on-camera people can get viewers to engage, but the live chat allows for real-time feedback.
Here are eight things your hosts should be prepared to share in the chat:
1. Personal Greetings. Introduce yourself and greet people personally as you see them log on. In some platforms, using @UserName will highlight their name (only in that user’s view), drawing their attention to your comment. If you have a small congregation and want to make people feel truly known, you can say something personal (but not too personal!).
– ”Hi @CherylG, so glad you could join us this morning!”
– “@ThomasP, welcome back! How was your trip to Hawaii?”
2. Ask Questions. It’s important to seek feedback and participation. Let them know you are listening. Ask simple, non-intrusive questions that people will want to respond to, like:
– “Where are you watching from? Anybody out of state?”
– “How have you been handling having the kids at home instead of at school?”
– Even a simple survey is ok and can provide you with valuable information.
– “Who’s watching on a phone/tablet?”
– “Any first-time watchers?”
– “Did everyone see the link to the sermon notes page?”
3. Prayer. Explicitly invite prayer requests, either right within the chat or through a link to a private page or email address.
– “If you’re dealing with anxiety, like the pastor is talking about, we would love to pray with you. Share your prayer request by emailing prayer@FirstBaptistDanville.com.”
– “We at FBC want to know what burdens you are dealing with. Go to www.FBC.com/prayer to have someone from our staff give you a call.”
4. Links. Make it as simple as possible for people to give their tithes and offerings or to fill out an online “connection card” where they can give you their information or access additional resources. Having links in the description or notes section of the webpage is helpful so they’re always visible, not only within the chat.
5. Encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, and the live chat of your worship service is a great place for that. Post a brief Scripture verse related to the sermon topic (or used directly in the sermon) or a simple reminder of biblical truth.
– “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
– “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4
6. Quote the pastor. People generally need to hear something (or read it) multiple times before it sinks in. Help your congregation really take in the main points of the sermon by putting them in writing. Repeat a significant point after the pastor says it.
– Did you hear that? “God will never leave you or forsake you!” That’s a promise! Do you believe it?
7. Next Steps. Perhaps the very best way to turn viewers into participants is to help them take the next step to engage beyond their device screen. Make sure you provide a clear invitation for people to take whatever their next step may be and include a link or clear instructions on how to take that next step.
– If you are thinking about “taking the plunge” and getting baptized, don’t wait any longer! Learn more at www.WCPres.com/baptism. A pastor will meet with you personally to help you understand what baptism is all about.
– Life change happens best in a small group. If you’re interested in connecting with others, either in person or online, and building real relationships with other people just like you, click here to connect with me in a private session and I’ll help find the right group for you.
8. Private Conversations. If a particularly sensitive or private issue arises, or you sense a need to pray more specifically or have a longer conversation with someone (chat messages usually have a limited number of characters), hosts should be prepared to take the conversation somewhere else. Set up a Facebook Group where you can then invite them to a private one-on-one messaging platform, to a separate texting platform, or give them your email address to which you can immediately respond.
Encourage your volunteer hosts to spend some time preparing before the service. If you have access to the pastor’s notes, have hosts read them over so they can be ready to reiterate the main points, the “take away,” or application challenge when it is said. See if you can get your pastor to provide the hosts with a list of additional resources–for example, if the pastor is preaching about honoring the sabbath, the online host can share a link in the comments to a book or video the pastor recommends for further reading or watching, perhaps even another sermon on the topic.
Do you have experience as an online worship service host? We’d love to hear about it. What other tips do you have to share?