Church online in the next phase - advice and considerations

First published 24th June 2020

Church online has presented us with a number of new opportunities, and some technological challenges. As church buildings prepare to host services with congregations once more, a new set of opportunities and challenges present themselves to us.

Click here to access 'Opening the doors' resources from the Church of England.

Here we explore some options and some considerations.

It is highly likely due to ongoing health concerns, that a proportion of those who attend our churches will be unable to do so long after church buildings open. It is also worth recognising the positives this season has brought; among others, many who otherwise might not have attended, or been able to attend church, have found that church online can be more accessible and less daunting than walking through the door of the church.

Research has also indicated an increased interest in prayer and matters of faith at this time. Online Alpha courses run by churches in the Diocese of Bristol are being well attended. Providing accessible online worship opportunities is a missional opportunity for the church and a new shop window through which to welcome people into God’s church.

In the next phase of this season, a mixed mode solution may be appropriate in some contexts; where church services take place, safely following all necessary guidelines, live in the building, but are also broadcast live on the internet. A parish or benefice might also choose to host some services within their regualr pattern of services online only and some in-building only.

A mixed mode solution will clearly also be useful for funerals, weddings and other special services well into the future.

A church wishing to livestream an in-building service will require some additional technology, training for operators and an adaptation of the way we do things. Simply putting a webcam at the back of the church is a less than ideal solution as the quality will be poor and for the home worshipper it will be an experience similar to simply watching a live CCTV feed – a bit unengaging.

A helpful discussion of helpful learning from the lockdown period can be found here: Everybody Welcome to the Future.
Click here to download our guide: How to... Make your church accessible during the pandemic
Click here to download our guide: How to...Make a return to in-building worship accssible
Click here to download our guide: How to... Livestream in building services


Click here for safeguarding, data protection and faculty considertions.

Consideration should be given as to how best to deliver online and in-building services, what approach is appropriate for your context?

If morning prayer is said, perhaps it could take place online only twice a week, live only twice a week and in mixed-mode once a week, so that a range of options are provided for people.

Invitation will clearly still be important as we invite those in our communities, or on the fringes of church life, back to church – whether it be online or live in the building.

When live streaming in-building services:

Those leading services should be encouraged to acknowledge, engage with and recognise that there is are worshippers present, who are not in the building. Welcoming these people, explaining things for them and including them in creative ways is encouraged.

Additional thought will need to be given to the things we might previously have done that will not work for those online. Constantly saying “I’m sorry, those watching at home won’t be able to see this”, is not very inclusive.

Could content be included from people not present – the reading or prayers could be pre-recorded by someone who is attending online, and shown in the service.

An online welcomer/host could be appointed to engage with those watching online, reply to comments and to oversee the online content during the service.

Training will be needed for operators to ensure someone can set up the equipment and reliably put the service online.

If refreshments cannot be served after the service due to restrictions, then holding post-service coffee time on Zoom, one hour after the end of the service, would enable all those who attended, whether online or in the building, to be a part of that time together from home.

Signage will be needed to clearly indicate that the service is being broadcast online and an area in the building provided where people can sit and be out of shot if they chose to do so. Ideally cameras should not include shots of the congregation, only those who are presenting from the front - closer shots are preferable for viewing experience over wide angle, distanced shots. Further safeguarding steps may also be required and should be discussed with your PSO or the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer.

Technology solutions

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Because it is hard/impossible to control who sees images streamed or recorded for broadcast children and vulnerable adults must be protected.

  • Provide an area of the church which is not visible in the recording/streaming and clearly mark out this area for people.
  • All families with children or young people attending should be asked to sit in this area so that they are not visible on the recording/streaming.
  • This area should also provide for members of the congregation who may prefer to attend in privacy and may not wish their whereabouts to become known publically.
  • Anyone coming forward to receive communion should also not be visible in the recording/streaming.
  • Relaying or recording sound only is unlikely to cause an issue as individuals in the congregation will not normally be identifiable.

Data Protection

Peoples personal data must be protected and this includes visual images of attending members of the congregation.

  • If livestreaming and/or recording is usually done in your church, livestreaming a service should be covered by your existing GDPR consent forms or the legitimate interest base for processing personal data. Otherwise specific consent is needed to film the congregation attending the service (either live-streaming or recorded) as opposed to the celebrant and readers etc delivering the service.
  • Before attending a service which is to be streamed and/or recorded, a notice should be clearly visible at the entrance to the church, informing the congregation that the service is to be livestreamed and/or recorded, and advising them of seating areas which will NOT be filmed, if they do not wish to be identifiable during the service.  So long as this advance warning is given (put on the website/social media too) and the notice includes a statement that they will be presumed to have given consent if they attend the service, after seeing the notice, written consent is not needed.
  • Announce to the congregation that the service is being livestreamed/recorded at the start of the service.

Faculty issues

Any installation of permanent CCTV facilities requires a faculty, but temporary installation including attaching to the fabric of the building can be covered by an archdeacon’s temporary reordering licence for a period of up to 24 months, using Form 9. (See Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 Rule 8.2.)

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