Seven tips for engaging with live-streamed worship

April 21st, 2020
This article is featured in the Sustaining Worship issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

While some churches have had live-streamed services for years, a vast number of others have felt the understandable urgency to do live streaming for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s not just the leaders who are asking, “How do we do this?” People worshipping remotely are also asking, “How do we do this? How do we worship during a live-streamed service?” Where one or two or three are gathered, how does this work? For families with young children who find it tough to turn their attention to a worship service on screen, what could help? For a household of one, how can it seem like they are not alone?

The most fundamental shift to make is moving from watching to participating—from passively observing a produced service to fully engaging as an active worshipper. Let me offer seven practical suggestions for worshipping during a live-streamed service.

1. Build anticipation. Talk to your family the night before about how exciting it will be to worship together “live.” For those who live alone, share your joyful anticipation with a friend or neighbor, inviting them to join you from their home at the same time.

2. Prepare the technology in advance. Make sure that you have reached the web page at least 15 minutes ahead of the hour of broadcast and that it is functioning well. That way, you won’t miss the first moments of the service while you are trouble-shooting any technical difficulties that could arise, especially with the slowdown in Internet capabilities many people are experiencing.

"Worship Like Jesus" by Constance M. Cherry. Order here:

3. Create a worshipful setting. Gather what items you have around the house to create a centerpiece for worship. On Palm/Passion Sunday, I found a large battery-operated candle. To create the allusion of palms, I cut a few leaves from my yucca plant in the back yard. I placed an open Bible in front of the candle. Voila! Now I have profound symbols of the day in my living room to aid in worship. They will stay there through the evening. Next week, I will replace the yucca-turned-palms with a ring of artificial spring flowers for the Christ candle that I will hijack from another home arrangement.

4. Get settled. Make sure that the lighting in the room is conducive to avoid screen glare. Position everyone to be able to see the screen. Test the audio. Provide ample and comfortable seating for everyone. Grab that cup of coffee or tea.

5. Pray. Before the time of service, offer a prayer out loud for whomever is present (even if it is just you), invoking God’s presence. Give this special time to God. Pray for your pastor and all worship leaders as they are doing things they’ve never done before—like leading corporate worship without the gathered corporate body physically present with them. Here’s a prayer you can use:

Triune God, be present with us as we turn our hearts to worship you. We thank you that you are present everywhere at once, and so we ask for the blessing of the Holy Spirit to pour out upon those who lead us in worship and upon every worshiping community gathered anywhere throughout your beautiful world. May Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, meet us powerfully to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

6. Enthusiastically participate throughout the entire service! Don’t just watch other people sing, sing! Don’t just watch other people pray, pray! If you are invited to engage in certain postures such as kneeling, bowing, standing, stretching out your hands to receive the benediction, do it! Do everything you would do if you were present together at your church—aloud! You will probably feel awkward. You might even think, what’s the point? No one can hear me. Ah, but many can hear you. In fact, every Sunday when our churches are full of people, there are a host of others who are hearing us; we have just become unaware. Every time we worship the Lord Jesus Christ as the gathered community on earth, we unite with the saints in glory, the church triumphant, as they do the same. So, go ahead—sing, pray, and gesture in abandon, for you are not alone after all!

7. Reflect on the experience. Mention what happened in worship at various points throughout the rest of the day or the upcoming week. Reflecting on what held meaning or was remarkable (other than the glitches in live streaming that happen to all of us!) is a way to remind ourselves that our weekly worship service at home has real significance. Why not also take time to write a hand-written thank you note to your leaders expressing appreciation for the ways they are leading you during worship? At this point the U.S. postal service is still functioning. What could be more encouraging than for a leader to receive a personal note they will cherish during this challenging time and beyond?

Worshipping remotely can easily become passive, but biblical worship is never passive. So, let’s do what we can to fully engage. Think of it as rehearsing for that first Sunday when we are finally back in our houses of worship together again. How much more enthusiastic our worship will surely be for having made the shift from watching to participating until then.

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