An Online Worship Update · Heritage UMC

An Online Worship Update

Friday, April 17 2020 by Matt Horan

Dear Members and Friends of Heritage United Methodist,

I want to say a word of thanks to the many, many of you who have done your best to stay engaged with the church, our staff, and each other during the Coronavirus pandemic.  You all have had to learn many new skills and technologies in a short time to be able to do it, and I want you to know that your efforts have been noticed and appreciated!

A concept we’ve learned is “continuity.” If you pre-record a segment and do another live, you have to be wearing the same clothes. I remembered the shirt that I was wearing in the prerecorded segment, but wore the wrong pants!

We have received plenty of feedback in response to our efforts at keeping our congregation connected to God and each other through weekly online worship services.  Some of you have called, texted, or emailed; and many of you participated in the survey I sent out a couple weeks ago.  All of these have been helpful, and have expressed to us that your church remains important to you whether we are together or separate.

The responses we’re getting fit into three main categories:

  1. We love what’s happening so far–keep doing what you’re doing.
  2. What we’re doing doesn’t feel like church to us.
  3. We saw what another church is doing, and we like that more.

It occurs to me that it might help to share the philosophy behind our approach to how we’re offering online worship at Heritage.  This is probably overdue, so I offer apologies for that.  I’ll also offer a brief word about these observations above.

What were we thinking?

When we began planning online worship (in online meetings, of course), we thought about what it was that our congregation would miss the most.  We knew we could continue to teach the Bible through online small groups and classes.  We knew that we could preach sermons online.  We knew that we live in an age in which any hymn or worship song you want to hear is constantly available to us day or night through services like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, or YouTube.  We knew that we could offer Holy Communion online regularly.

The most challenging thing for us to try and recreate was you!  We can show you anything that happens on a Sunday morning by livestream, but an inegral part of worshiping together is the together part.  How would we be able to create way for our church to still be a gathering of people who love and serve each other and the world together?

For the record, I did NOT change into khakis just before my sermon.

The plan we came up with had a few different parts.  First, we decided on a unified service that John and I would lead together.  We would intentionally create a conversational experience where our preachers were together, and our services were together.  In a season with less conversation, we felt that it would not help to have an individual speaking at you as much as two conversing together about the Scriptures and the work to which our church is called.

Second, we made a plan to incorporate our viewers into the service using the chat typing functions available to us on Facebook Live and Vimeo (on our website).  John and I were able to see prayer requests and reply live “on air” to people who were writing to us and to each other during the service.  We’ve begun looking for ways to involve more congregation members participating in worship so you can see each other, and you saw this in our Good Friday service and the pictures and videos sent in by our members to say hello to each other.

We’ve tried to include different types of worship music, such as a video of our choir from last Easter, or piano and violin pieces from the sanctuary, or piano pieces sent to us by Barbara Davis all the way from her daughter’s house in Colorado; as well as more contemporary pieces sent by Lyza Rutkowski’s family from their back porch!

To further create connection for our congregation, we’re doing things throughout the week that we hope you’ll take part in, including online small groups and classes, prayer and worship times, art class for kids with Gerry Briseno, calls to check in on our homebound members, and even family trivia contests starting next week!

While we’ve received plenty of compliments on these efforts, we’ve also heard some advice and suggestions for the future.

This doesn’t feel like church to us

There’s no doubt that what we’re doing is nothing like what happens at Heritage on a normal Sunday.  As you’ve read, we didn’t really try to recreate Sunday morning worship, and geared our efforts toward meeting the needs of the congregation during this pandemic season, which we perceived to be much different than usual.  We have tried to include elements that are familiar, but we are not too surprised to receive this feedback.  We’ve focused on broadcasting church as the people, rather than church as the event that someone attends.

We are pleased to hear, however, that what we normally do at Heritage is something that you miss.  We have begun to work on ways that we can recreate some of our Sunday morning worship experience online.  It’s important to share transparently that it will be impossible to recreate the usual four service experience online with such a skeleton crew on campus on Sundays.  However, we have heard this feedback and are now making plans for the future with the awareness that this desire is out there.

If you prefer traditional worship expressions, remember that I’m offering online Holy Communion in the sanctuary every Wednesday night at 6:30pm.  If you prefer more modern expressions, John and Lyza are offering a brief “worship and word” time on Thursday afternoons.

I do ask that for your patience as we learn our way through this new way of doing socially distanced worship.  Please know that we are making decisions about worship motivated by our love for Jesus, our love for our congregation, and our awareness that our congregation misses being together, and misses being in their usual worship venues.  Thank you for journeying with us!

We saw what another church is doing, and we like that more

This season of online worship has led to a new phenomenon I’ve begun calling “chancel surfing.”  (The chancel is the raised platform at the front of a church sanctuary where the worship elements take place, and is the part of the sanctuary that is on camera when livestreamed over the internet.  So people can flip among a whole host of churches that are only online, and it’s natural to compare those to our own.  Perhaps the pressure for us to be engaging enough for you to not change the channel will be a helpful motivator for us to be at our best!

I feel that we have some pretty good people working on our staff that have made this adjustment pretty well, and pretty quickly.  We’ve been learning a lot about what our equipment can and can’t do, and there have been many days when the “can’ts” outnumbered the “cans”!

Acolyte Naomi did the job usually done by all of our acolytes by herself in our Good Friday service.

I can guarantee that you will be able to find livestreamed worship services by churches who are large enough to have a full time TV production staff.  Their scenes will fade from one to another, and they will have lyrics that somehow gently appear overtop of video of their musicians so you can see both the band and the words at the same time.  There will be 3-4 cameras on the preacher so that the angles change every so often to help you pay attention.  It will be a sharply done experience for sure.

I have zero complaints for the quality of the work that our staff has done as they have learned how to be a TV production company in just a few short weeks.  While we do not have the staff, equipment, or budget right

Our tech crew is small, and appropriately socially distanced, but mighty.

now to produce the kind of experience that megachurches do, I can guarantee that we’ll produce an experience that is uniquely us.  It will reflect who we are, where we live, and what God is calling us to be and do.  It won’t be perfect.  It will be us.

That said, we’re open to learning, and stealing, ideas from other places.  So, if you see the next big idea in online worship out there, send it to us.  If we think it’ll work for Heritage, and if we think we can do it, you might just see it happen.  We thank you for your help doing reconnaissance on what is possible!  Let’s keep on working together on being the best version of Heritage United Methodist we can be.  Whether we’re in-person or apart, we’re all in this together!


Matt Horan
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Heritage is a United Methodist Church in Clearwater, FL with the goal of loving those around us, equipping leaders with roles that require their unique abilities, and inviting everyone into a life changing relationship with Jesus.

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