I have been leading worship in a full-time capacity for twenty-two years. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the Covid-19 global pandemic, hybrid worship, and a situation that began in our church on Sunday, March 15, 2020. On that Sunday, our worship team did most everything we would normally do on Sunday with one major difference… there was no congregation in our worship space!
Like most churches across the country, and around the world, we found ourselves in an unprecedented scenario. One no one could have foreseen and one for which no seminary education could have prepared us. Our church had to learn how to minister to our people solely through live stream technology on Sundays and Zoom meetings throughout the week.
As local and state regulations began to ease up a couple of months later, we found ourselves in yet another new scenario. One which seems to be for the unforeseeable future. On June 7, 2020, we found ourselves in a new hybrid situation in which a percentage of our church is worshiping “in-person” at our church facility while another percentage is continuing to worship via live stream from home.
This is the current scenario in which I would like to share some thoughts and resources that have worked in our setting and, hopefully, will be helpful for you and your church as well. Specifically, this article will cover: (1) Livestreaming, (2) Reopening Dynamics, and (3) Mixing for In-Person and Online Worship.
#1 – Livestreaming
Fortunately for us, we began live streaming in September of 2018. Thus, when we had to go to live stream only on March 15, 2020, we were mostly prepared for this scenario. I say “mostly” because we did realize that we needed to enhance and upgrade some aspects of our live stream setup; namely, our audio and the number of cameras being utilized.
Before March 15, our audio was not ideal. The audio for our live stream was coming from two condenser microphones placed in our technical arts booth at the back of our worship space. It was capturing the house mix. Because we didn’t have the pressing need at the time to have someone dedicated to the live stream mix, this was the easiest solution at the time. When we shifted to live stream only on March 15, our audio came directly from the board and we had someone dedicated to that mix. We did not really mix for the house at that time since there wasn’t anyone in our space except for the musicians, our pastor, and maybe one or two others.
Before March 15 we were only using two cameras: one in the back of the room for a wide-angle shot of the stage and one closer to the floor level that was focused on the podium. Around the time of the “live stream only” phase of the pandemic, our technical arts director, Nathan Wyble, purchased some additional cameras for our live stream. He purchased a couple more around the April time-frame as well. Currently, we use six different cameras (see pictures below). This has greatly enhanced the overall dynamics of the live stream experience. There is a much greater sense of interest, movement, and engagement from the viewers at home than before when we only had two angles. Nathan has been an invaluable addition to the technical arts ministry at Covenant. He has helped to supply much of the technical information in this article.
The four types of cameras we have purchased are: Panasonic GH4, GH5, G7, and a Marshall CV505 for our drum enclosure. We have two cameras in our tech booth in the back of our room: one on a lower level at the back of our room, two close to the stage, and one inside of our drum enclosure. These two upgrades (better audio mix and more camera angles) have greatly benefited us during both phases of the pandemic: Live stream only and the current hybrid situation.
Other Technical Needs
In addition to one or more quality cameras, you will also need to consider recruiting additional personnel and purchasing the necessary equipment and software to live stream your services. The following will offer you some examples of these main considerations:
- Personnel – to mix for house and live stream and to operate the switcher
- Capture Card – to make HDMI signal useable for a webcam: Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder, Blackmagic DeckLink Mini Recorder, Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle, or Elgato HD60
- Switcher – to move between camera inputs: Blackmagic ATEM TV Studio HD, Blackmagic ATEM Mini
- Software Platform – to broadcast and transmit to other providers (Facebook, etc.): Open Broadcast Software, Boxcast, Church Online Platform
#2 – ReOpening Dynamics
When we began to consider reopening, we created a task force to research all of the various aspects of this next phase of the pandemic. This task force consisted of five individuals who met via Zoom to research, discuss, and make proposals for our leadership to consider before reopening. The reopening dynamics were narrowly focused on our Sunday morning worship and fell into the following major categories:
- Arranging Our Seating for 25% Capacity and Social Distancing
- Sanitizing Our Bathrooms and Worship Space
- Communicating Our Policy Regarding Masks
- Making a Decision about Congregational Singing
- Communicating Our Plan and Expectations before Reopening via Email, Social Media, and Video
I won’t go into detail on each of these categories, but we had to decide as a team on all of the above matters. Needless to say, it wasn’t always easy coming to a consensus because our task force, our leadership, and our congregation had people on opposite ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. However, we did come to a consensus and also made adjustments along the way due to the fluid nature of our situation.
COVID-19 has created a “new normal” for churches around the world. Though many things felt very odd in the beginning, we have found that our people are resilient and have been fairly responsible in making the necessary adjustments. It has been an emotional and physical adjustment for everyone, but we are learning to be resilient during these unprecedented times. Here are a few aspects of our new normal as a church:
- During our greeting time, we encourage people to wave in-person (no hugging!) or text a friend or family member if worshiping from home.
- For fellowship, we encourage people to social distance while talking outside.
- We encourage people to wear masks as much as possible.
- We ask people to exit out different doors (closest to where they are sitting).
- We encourage people to place their offerings in baskets by the exit doors or to give online.
- Regarding communion, we have provided pre-sealed elements under each chair.
#3 – Mixing for In-Person and Online Worship
Because people had become accustomed to a good audio mix for our live stream during the shelter-at-home phase, we had to adjust our approach to mixing as we entered the hybrid situation. In our current hybrid situation, we did not want the quality of our live stream mix to suffer because we had to also provide a quality house mix. Our solution to this dilemma was to promote one of our trusted volunteers to “technical arts assistant” which includes a stipend ($75 a Sunday) for providing a quality house mix. For us, this was the most feasible solution.
This allows our technical arts director to focus on the live stream mix and oversee the other personnel involved on a given Sunday morning: a volunteer on lighting, a volunteer on ProPresenter, a volunteer on the switcher (providing different camera angles). We may be in this scenario for the unforeseeable future. I don’t believe anyone can predict how long churches will be in this hybrid situation. We seem to have a percentage of people who feel comfortable worshiping in person and a percentage of people who do not feel comfortable returning until the pandemic is all over. In the meantime, we will continue to walk by faith and take things one day, one week at a time.
Seating Arrangements in the Worship Center + Cameras and Respective Angles During Livestream