How To Do Easter BOTH In Person AND Online
Easter may look very different this year. This means Churches are looking at navigating how to take the biggest weekend both online and in person. We asked Jason Moore, author of Both/And to share some practical advice on how to make this Easter a success for both online and in-person attendees.
Three Easters ago, the unimaginable happened: Easter was canceled. Well… the Easter we’d always known was canceled. In March of 2020, when the world shut down, we found ourselves without the ability to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in our physical spaces. Our church buildings were off-limits to us as shelter-in-place protocols were instituted all over the world.
For many churches, there was a scramble to get online with whatever technology was available. From smartphones to tablet devices, cameras to laptops, churches cobbled together whatever they could to make one of the biggest Sundays in the life of the church happen. Of course, others were already online and had been streaming worship for years.
Regardless of which scenario was true for any given church at the time, every church had to change its strategy on how to offer worship on that special Sunday (and the many Sundays that followed).
While there were plenty of challenges during pandemic lockdown where worship was concerned, in some ways – when it comes to streaming worship online – things were a little bit easier back then. You might ask how that could possibly be. I’ll explain.
In 2020, our congregations were all participating from the same place: online. Except for the skeleton crews responsible for crafting and capturing worship, our church buildings were empty.
When everyone was on the other side of the receiving end of the stream, worship planners could pour all of their energy into creating an experience that made worshipers feel like they were a part of it. Leaders would look directly at the camera, use chat, and text, and create moments that were meaningful for people worshiping from home. This by no means was the same as in-person worship, but that first Easter online (for many) was pretty special - mostly because we actually pulled it off.
Over the next year, we started to figure out how to improve the experience, and by Easter 2021, many churches made strides toward creating a truly hybrid Easter experience. “Send ahead kits” were crafted and delivered during the Lenten season, technology upgrades were made, and with large numbers of people still worshiping from home, much attention was given to creating what I call a “BOTH/AND” experience.
As the delta variant came and went, and then omicron peaked and stabilized, many churches began to return to more regular (pre-pandemic) in-person numbers. But something was lost along the way. As rooms filled up, our attention to those online decreased, and instead of continuing to iterate forward into this new hybrid reality, some began retreating backwards toward the worship of 2019.
Truly hybrid worship takes work. To create an experience that is for people both in the room and online - where no one feels like an afterthought - intentionality, planning, and a reimagining of what worship should be is required.
As we approach Easter 2022, it’s imperative that we not forget those who worship online. We’re still a ways away from everyone returning to in-person worship, but with more people in the room than we’ve had gather in the last two years, we must fight the temptation to leave those not in the room out of the experience.
Here are a few key areas of focus to make your 2022 Easter a BOTH/AND experience:
1.) Watch your language
Both Christmas and Easter bring in folks who don’t regularly attend church. These “C&E-ers” don’t know a lot of the lingo that we use on a regular basis. Online only amplifies this reality. People who might never walk into a physical church have a greater shot of worshiping with us online than in-person, and if we’re not careful, we’ll lose them with our insider language.
Rituals, creeds, and “holy language” isn’t bad, but if we don’t build bridges to those things through intentional orientation and explanation, we might very well miss some of the people we’d otherwise have the opportunity to reach, because they have no idea what we’re talking about.
It’s also important that we remember that with hybrid worship, there are three ways people interact with us: 1) right now in the room (in-person), 2.) right now at home (livestream), and 3.) later online (on-demand). When we give instructions to do something in the room, we need to remember the people online who are watching in real-time and later too.
Watch saying things like, “let’s stand and worship together.” People who are worshiping online (in real-time or later) are not going to stand, and your invitation to do so is a little clue that you’re not thinking about them. Instead say, “if you’re worshiping with us in person, I’d like to invite you to stand, and if you’re worshiping with us online, find a posture that will allow you to fully participate in this moment.”
The invitation to find an intentional posture tells them you know they’re out there, and it may help them worship with you.
2.) Create an intimate experience
Far too often when it comes to worship, our cameras are too far away, too high up in the air, or too off to the side. During the period of lockdown, many of us put our cameras up close when we streamed worship. We looked directly into them and talked directly to people at home. They could feel that shift. They’ll also feel it when you go back to only talking to the room.
While you can’t put the camera directly in front of you now like you did then, it does need to be up close and personal. Wide shots are fine, but only to establish the space or a cutaway from the closeups. The majority of your shots should be waist to head, and you should occasionally make eye contact with the camera.
I encourage leaders to put a camera icon in their notes so that when they glance down at them, they’ll remember to look directly at the camera from time to time, just like they’d look at people sitting in every part of the room.
3.) Include the online audience
There are two words I would love to remove from our collective vocabulary when it comes to hybrid worship: “watching” worship and “viewers”. We don’t want “watchers of worship”; we want worshipers online. We don’t want “viewers of worship”; we want participants in worship.
The only way people online can go from watcher or viewer to worshiper or participant is to include them in the experience. Invite them to the chat. You might even say, “If you’re watching from a smart TV, we’d invite you to open the chat on your phone so you can fully participate in our worship today.” You could even put a QR code on the screen that online worshipers can scan for easy access.
Create a dialogue by inviting them to share things both in the room and online. Consider a moment when you ask something like, “what are you thankful for on this Easter morning? Shout it out or put it in the chat.” Then have someone in the room assigned to verbalize comments shared in the chat so those folks feel included too.
If you offer communion on Easter (as some churches do), include instructions for online participants. That could be telling them to collect elements ahead of time, inviting them the week (or weeks) leading up to Easter to pick elements up ahead of time at your church, or even inviting them to stop by the church for a drive-through communion following the service.
Lastly, don’t forget to tell them who you are. Newcomers don’t know who’s who. Each leader should say their name and role at the church. Everyone is a mystery to a guest who has joined you online or in person.
4.) Invite them to what’s next
Easter offers us the chance to form meaningful relationships with newcomers. Be sure to invite people both online and in-person to register their attendance digitally so that you can get to know them better.
Consider having a first-time guest gift that can be picked up at a welcome center on the day of, or at a later time in person by those worshiping online. Or create a digital guest gift like a Starbucks coffee gift code or some other digitally delivered gift.
Take the time to plan out your post-Easter series ahead of time. Create a promo video, graphic, or teaser to show on Easter Sunday online and in the building. Use hashtags and QR codes to engage people and invite them back for what’s to come.
Of course, all of these tips apply to hybrid worship beyond Easter as well. It’s not too late to prepare for the best hybrid worship you’ve had yet.
For more information on how to do excellent BOTH/AND worship, check out Jason’s new book BOTH/AND: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences for In-Person and Online Engagement.
With Easter being one of the biggest weekends of the year for churches and the number of people needed to do all that is in front of you, we understand that it may have highlighted how much you need to grow your team. If we can help you complete your team, contact us. It also means that many are looking at restructuring their staff to cater to hybrid and online worship experiences. If our staff consulting services would be helpful to navigate these transitions, please reach out.