Virtual religious services have been around in various forms for years. In 2018, Wired Magazine reported on the founding of a completely “virtual reality” church. That development illustrates how technology can play a role in supporting religious practices. In reality, many religious institutions already own buildings, so switching to a completely virtual model is unlikely.
Instead, virtual religious services are essential because they give your members more flexibility in a time when COVID-19 makes traditional services difficult to hold. For example, some elderly members of a religious organization may not be able to travel to a place of worship. Likewise, people who are traveling on business or who have health problems would not be able to attend traditional services.
Three options to get started with virtual religious services.
Depending on your religious tradition, you will have different types of services and gatherings. With a virtual service, you are no longer limited to the format and structure of traditional services, however. Just imagine — you could have a modern and traditional service on the same day! Or you could offer worship services in different languages to better connect with your members.
1) Virtual religious services: worship gatherings and services.
Technology options include: Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Meet
Churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious organizations all have the practice of periodically gathering for a service. This could include Friday prayers in Islam, a Christian Sunday service, and so forth. These large group settings are an essential way to connect people. However, they are challenging to hold if you are observing social distancing guidelines.
Instead, use tools like Facebook Live so people can attend the service from home. If you are going to use video and audio, make sure you test your equipment first. For the best results, make sure you have good lights.
2) Virtual religious services: small group meetings.
Technology options include: Facebook Live, conference calls and more
In addition to large gatherings, some religious organizations organize small group gatherings. For instance, your organization might have a Wednesday evening gathering for teenagers. Alternatively, you might have a special group for parents or new members. These small group gatherings might include studying a religious book (e.g., Bible study), conversation or other activities.
From a technology perspective, a conference call may be a good solution for a virtual religious service. The group leader can start with a few opening comments and then invite everybody to make comments. Using a phone or conference line is a good choice if your members are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with live streamed services, Facebook Live and similar tools.
3) Virtual religious service: religious education.
Technology Options available include: Facebook Live, live streamed services, phone calls, YouTube
Religious education for children and adults is a significant activity that has been practiced for centuries. For example, the Sunday School movement dates back to the 1700s, according to Encyclopedia.com. This type of religious service has a long history in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and other traditions. When social distancing comes up, a traditional approach to religious education may not be suitable anymore.
To offer a virtual religious service focused on education, there are a few ways to get started. Instead of delivering a lecture yourself, you could email a link to a recorded lecture to everyone beforehand. Then, when everybody joins the Facebook Live session, you can focus your time on discussion and raising questions.
How to make virtual religious service experience better for your members.
Offering virtual religious services for the first time is exciting! Expect that people will have difficulties as they learn how to use technology like live streamed services for the first time. To improve your services for your members, use these tips.
- Send an email survey to your members. You can create free surveys using tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms. For the best results, review SurveyMonkey’s Survey Best Practices before you design your survey. For example, did you know that using absolutes (e.g., “always” or “never”) in surveys may lead to lower-quality survey responses?
- Send text messages to ask for feedback and suggestions. Using SMS messaging is an excellent way to ask a simple question to your members.
- Check your internet speed situation. Whether your livestreamed service involves music, video or simple audio, the speed of your internet connection has an impact. Streamspot recommends a minimum upload speed of 3.5Mbps for high-quality broadcasts. If you are not sure about your connection speed, use Speedtest to measure the speed of your internet connection. Note that if other people in your home are using the connection at the same time as your virtual religious service, you may encounter slower speeds.
- Train a few volunteers to run a help desk. If some or many of your members are unfamiliar with virtual religious services, offering tech support by phone is a good option. Make a list of the top 10 most common questions your members ask and then train a few volunteers to provide technical support.
Virtual religious services: Online donation tools.
Many religious organizations rely on donations from their members to operate. The traditional way of gathering funds such as a locked donation box in your building do not mesh well with a virtual service. Fortunately, there are several tools available that make this process easier. According to business software website Capterra, the top three best-reviewed donation management tools are Bloomerang, DonorPerfect and DonorSnap. Consider using one of these tools to gather online donations
Virtual religious services: The way of the future
More and more of daily life has moved to the virtual world. To stay relevant to members, make it easy to interact with your organization online. In addition to offering live streamed religious services, make it easy to accept donations or offers online. After all, your organization may need to purchase new equipment like microphones, lights and cameras to make virtual religious services better. By delivering virtual services, your members will be able to attend while traveling, stuck at home or elsewhere. It is a great way to provide more flexibility.