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More than a viewer: 10 tips for engaging with online worship

Children from Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville , Tennessee, watch the online worship service at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of Glendale United Methodist Church
Children from Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville , Tennessee, watch the online worship service at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of Glendale United Methodist Church

For many United Methodists throughout the world dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, weekly worship services are happening around a computer screen instead of inside a church building. But how do you become more than simply a viewer watching a screen? Check out these tips for engaging with your online church community.

1. Create a sacred space.

Light a candle. Use a purple place mat to symbolize the Lenten season. Place a cross in the center of the table. Open your Bible. If you have a hymnal, get it out.

“Having a space that feels like this area where you watch worship is something different helps with feeling centered,” says the Rev. Barbara Dunlap, associate minister of discipleship and outreach at First United Methodist Church in Hurst, Texas. “Whatever you notice when you’re in the sanctuary, see if you can create that in your own space.”

2. Say ‘Hello.”

Greeting fellow worshipers is a routine part of attending church. Do the same online. Engage through the chat functions, such as the comment box on Facebook Live or the chat box on YouTube or Livestream. As you see friends join the service, say “hi.”

“Greeting one another through chat is important so that you see that you’re not by yourself,” Dunlap says. “There’s a sense of knowing that people are worshiping with you and you are still connected.”

3. Don’t just sit there.

Stand up. When you’re singing a hymn or repeating liturgy, get out of your “pew.”

“We encourage people to stand and sing with us from their homes,” states the Rev. Donna Pritchard, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon. “When we do the passing of the peace, we ask people to make the sign of the cross on their own bodies.” The familiarity of the routine is another way to feel connected, she suggests.

4. Come closer, please.

This is one setting where physical distancing does not apply. In keeping with the theme of seeking to feel connected, sitting closer to the online activity on the screen helps, Dunlap says.

5. Sing louder.

Sing the songs, repeat the liturgy. Recite The Lord’s Prayer.

“If you’re comfortable singing the songs out loud, do that,” Dunlap says. “Or say The Lord’s Prayer along with the church leader. How many people around the world are saying The Lord’s Prayer? Thinking about this makes you feel less alone and less small, because you’re part of a whole.”

6. Let us pray.

Share your prayer requests, both joys and concerns, through the comments or chat functions of the livestream. If you aren’t comfortable sharing that information in a public virtual setting, send the information via email to your church leaders.

“Tell us what’s going on,” Dunlap encourages. “We still want the prayer concerns.”

7. Please sign the attendance pad and pass it down.

Just because there is no formal attendance registration process doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let your church know that you’re in worship. Register your attendance by engaging with the comments/chat boxes or by “liking” the social media post.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out. Leaders want to know that you’re there, but they also want to know if you aren’t,” Dunlap points out.

8. Say “cheese!”

Consider sharing photos of how you and/or your family are worshiping together at home and share and/or tag them to your church’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to create a sense of community.

9. Sit with the folks you normally do.

Consider worshiping together through Zoom, chat rooms or private Facebook groups with your Sunday School class, small group or families and friends that you sit near at church, Dunlap suggests. In her church, there are groups that meet virtually for coffee or breakfast together– from your own homes, of course – and then watch the worship service together through an online service.

10. Say “thank you.”

“When people tune in, they are so grateful to have the chance to connect even though we aren’t physically together,” says the Rev. Stephanie Dodge, lead pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. “Expressing gratitude with your online community is another way that people can participate in worship.”

*Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.

This story was published March 26, 2020.