With the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of church buildings, churches learned fast how digital communications can enhance their mission and ministry.
As we begin to emerge from lockdown, church teams face the new challenge of a hybrid form of church. We've compiled the following resources to support you as you continue to develop your digital presence.
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You don't have to break the bank in order to get your church online, but we know that many churches will have been making do over lockdown.
Equipment costs could range significantly from doing something very simple, using little more than a smartphone or computer webcam, to purchasing ‘film’ quality video and sound equipment. We’ve put together some suggestions based upon creating a basic functional setup that will work for the majority of church environments.
Whether you are live-streaming or pre-recording a video, the equipment you use may vary.
For Zoom or Google Meet uses, your phone camera, tablet or laptop’s built-in webcam will almost certainly suit your needs. If you have a desktop machine that doesn’t have a camera, but through which you would join these online meetings, you will need to buy something.
The choice is broad but it’s worth finding one that includes a microphone and has had some positive user reviews, something like this (click here) would suit most desk-based purposes.
If you’re filming more broadly in your church building, for instance, a Sunday service, your choices become broader. Most modern personal smartphones or tablets are in all likelihood going to be able to film to an acceptable standard for your needs. They also have the advantage of being able to connect to the internet when live-steaming.
If you wish to invest in some new video equipment, about £300+ is the starting price you should be considering (multiply this many times for ultra-high quality equipment). Chosen well this will resource your church with both a camera and video recorder for several years.
- Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells, have been exploring their equipment options. They’ve kindly shared their research with us. It ranges from a budget option right up to high end. View their Live Streaming Tech list here
- The Diocese of Bristol has also put together a suggested equipment list. Find it here (Scroll down to find the Technology Solutions section)
To help future-proof your investment, look for models that can connect to WIFI and have interchangeable lenses. Two options from Canon to consider would be the Canon EOS 4000D DSLR and the Canon EOS 2000d. When purchasing a camera, it’s worth adding a case and if the budget allows a spare battery and additional memory cards can come in useful.
With even the most basic smartphones having the filming capacity to meet most needs, it’s important to then ensure the sound quality is good.
Viewers are quite forgiving of poor video, but not sound.
The Church of England Digital Team has produced two blogs that will help you gain a better understanding of what to consider. They also make suggestions for what you might choose to purchase. Follow the links below to learn more.
- How to improve audio quality in video recordings
- Audio recording at home (designed more for creating podcasts but still valuable to learn more about the subject)
It is certainly worth investing in a tripod to hold your chosen film device securely. Here are some examples are taken from the Church of England Blog “How to set up to film a video on your phone”
- An affordable tripod and frame - https://amzn.to/2LwhLX1
- A better quality tripod - https://amzn.to/2J5uyy6
- A better mobile phone frame - https://amzn.to/2JwuTcn
As with sound, lighting is often an issue when shooting video. Without spending many hundreds of pounds on lighting equipment and spending many hours learning how to use it to best effect, try to experiment with what you have at your disposal already.
If your church benefits from lots of natural light or is already well-lit with artificial light, it’s likely that for the purposes of online streaming service or pre-recording something, you will already be okay.
If you experiment with the recording, you might find that there are corners where people won’t be well lit, and so for these areas learn to avoid them when filming.
As a general rule, you should ensure that the strongest light source is behind the camera, not in front. This blog (click here) from the Church of England digital labs team gives some general advice around this.
Need more advice?
Here are suggestions for blogs, Facebook groups and online forums where you can find lots more advice and tips, as well as support.
- The Digital Church Toolkit - a consultancy team, but with an excellent Facebook presence that shares tips, resources and webinars on all things Digital church: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalChurchToolkit/
- A blog from the Church of England Digital Team on practical next steps for churches wanting to explore their digital engagement out of lockdown: Supporting congregations and people exploring
- 31 amazing tools and resources to support your online - or offline - church services - Church of England blog
- Coronavirus Help: Rev Bryony Taylor: A fantastic blog full of practical 'how to videos' on how to do church online, especially if you are on your own, or have limited time and people resources.
- How to make videos - A great little film from the Diocese of Manchester, giving you tips on how to make your self-shot films on your phone look good.
- An introduction to Open Broadcast Software (OBS) - Adam Pyrke, Curate at St Justus
- Premier Christian Digital webinars - a variety of topics explored, from the practical to the more reflective. Your first webinar is free, those following will have a cost.
- Opening the Doors from the National Church offers materials including posters, prayers and webinars to help you, welcome people, back to the building.
- CPO Digital Toolkit - A go-to resource where you can find help in all areas of church and digital communications and ask any questions you may have. Curated by CPO Marketing Co-ordinator Gemma Kent, it includes interviews, articles and tutorials with contributions from the CPO team and peers within church communications.
Watch our ' Doing Church Digitally Webinar'- the future shape of the church. Hosted by Bishop Simon Burton-Jones, our speakers explored the how and why of doing church online.
- Bob Jackson - Co-founder of the Everyone Welcome Online project, Durham Digital Theology Unit (Bob Jackson's notes)
- Rev Esther Prior –Vicar of St John's Church, Egham & Premier Digital webinars contributor (Rev Esther's notes)
- Rev Bryony Taylor - Rector of Barlborough and Clowne in Derby Diocese, blogger and expert on social media and its uses for learning and communication. Bryony Taylors presentation
Most of us are quite used to being able to connect to these platforms through our phones or the internet when at home. However, for many, it has begun to highlight issues around connectivity while in a church building.
If your church does not already have WIFI, or the signal strength of mobile devices is poor or unreliable, now might be the time to focus on solutions to this, not least because as well as making live streaming from the church possible, it also opens the door to fuller use of things such as card readers.
Where to start
- A good place to start is the 'Connectivity' pages on the Church of England website. Click here to visit those pages. This will take you through various stages including 'why get connected', 'what solutions are available, 'legal considerations' and 'Grants and funding'.
- Audiovisual and electrical wiring advice can be found on the Church of England website here.
- Digital Connectivity - What permissions do you need? - The Diocese of Rochester’s Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) have put together details of things you may or may not need permission for to get your building connected.
- Parishes can benefit from the Parish Buying platform to connect their church buildings. Click here for more details.
- Learning more about benefiting from good connectivity with regards to Contactless giving, running an online giving campaign, can be found on our Generosity and Stewardship pages.
Explore mobile WIFI
Sometimes physically connecting your church to a cabled telephone line may just not be feasible. In which case, purchasing a portable WIFI hub may work for you as it has done for some in our Diocese and elsewhere.
A portable Wi-Fi hub is a small device that lets you use the internet when you're out and about.
These mobile WIFI hubs work by using a normal phone signal to offer WIFI to your church. From this, you can connect the devices that you need to (usually only a limited number at a time) so you can stream your services or use contactless card readers. Here are a few steps to take:
- Check the signal strength in your area first, you can do this by clicking here. Particularly look at the Upload speed. You want a minimum of 2mg - the higher the number the better quality your stream will be.
- If you can, test the areas in your church building where the signal is best on different networks. Your congregation might be able to help if members are on different mobile networks to see which one seems to be the strongest inside your church.
- Once you've settled on a network using your own tests and the Ofcom checker contact the network operator to purchase the device. You might at this stage find this best to do 'in-store should you have any questions.
- It varies, but much like a mobile phone contract, you might expect to pay £20-£30 per month (or more with more data).
- Always be careful about giving any wifi codes or access to visitors or congregations. It could put you at risk of people downloading unsavoury content via your WIFI, as well as slow down your connectivity.
- You should also consider changing passwords regularly
Can't get online, don't worry. Many of our churches have reached out in other ways, by setting up phone sermon and prayer lines, as well as emails and podcasts. Back in the building? Then why not prop up the phone on the altar and share the service that way?
As long as you are connecting with your community in the way they find most useful, online or not, that is just as good as being fully online.
- A number of churches have set up free phone lines which allow people to dial in and listen to sermons and prayers. Read their experience here.
- Zoom also has the facility to allow people to dial into a session, with no need for an internet connection.
- The national church has also set up the Daily Hope worship line. The phone line offers a selection of hymns, reflections and prayers.
- Setting up a phone church - a video by Rev Bryony Taylor on how to set up a phone church.
There are currently few communication/digital specific grants available, however, given the upsurge in this area of ministry, there is no doubt that this will be a changing situation. Indeed, as a Diocese, we are looking at what possibilities are out there, and we are aware of one new grant that could be of interest for churches wanting to improve their connectivity.
- All Churches Trust - The Hope Beyond grants programme aims to enable churches and Christian charities to meet changing needs within their communities, helping them and the communities they support to adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by the Coronavirus pandemic.
This includes projects focused on growing technological capability and resilience, particularly increasing digital capacity and provision, and supporting those without online access to get online through training and support.
In all cases, applicants will need to demonstrate how their project is seeking to directly respond to increasing/new needs as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Grants of up to £50,000 are available. Find out more here
Many churches have been on a steep learning curve. As you explore and develop your digital presence, it's always best to keep things simple at first and deliver something that is sustainable and right for you and your community. If you want to improve your skills, take a look at some of these learning opportunities.
- Premier Christian Digital webinars - a variety of topics explored. Your first webinar is free, those following will have a cost.
- Labs Learning webinar - regularly updated series of webinars from the National Church Digital team to help churches to use digital communications effectively. From Instagram and Facebook to online donations and much more.
- Disciple and Evangelism webinars
- Online Worship - a new course from the Central Readers Council, to help you do online worship well. Comprised of 3 one hour units to take you through both theory and practice, all at your own pace. Find it here
Keeping everyone who engages with us online safe, is a key priority, as is ensuring everyone can be part of our online content.
- Supporting congregations and people exploring faith online as churches begin to reopen - a great blog from the national church which includes things to consider about sharing services online safely.
- Guidance for dioceses and churches for the safe use of video-calling with young people
- Government Guidance: Support for parents & carers to keep children safe online
- Being connected with ZOOM safely
- Top tips for an accessible online service (CofE): When it comes to being on screen, there are some basic rules that will help us to be more accessible. Revd Bill Braviner, Disability Adviser to the Diocese of Durham and Co-Founder of Disability & Jesus shared his top tips for this Church of England blog.
You also need to be aware that there are some copyright issues that come into play, especially around music, literature and images, when you share content online.
There are several copyright permissions that come into play when streaming a service, which means it is not always an easy area to navigate.
You will not be covered by your usual CCLI licence for streaming and there are particular issues around using recorded music - such as a cd - as opposed to a live performance.
- Here's a short guide the Diocesan Communication team has produced to help you as you consider how to include music and other copyrighted material, legally in your service.
- The national Digital Team has also added some new guidance on music copyright in the FAQs section of their COVID-19 page
- Music hub - In addition, the national church, working with St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Royal School of Church Music, has is now providing a resource of rights-free music for use in streamed services. They can be accessed via the A Church Near You Resource Hub. You must also have the CCLI Live Streaming Licence.
Books and images
Permission should also be sought from the owner(s) of any other creative works included in a service. If reproducing bible verses, or liturgy, usually there will be copyright information in the front of the publication, and usually, they will allow for only a certain proportion to be reproduced.
For any images etc. the same rules would apply as in normal circumstances. Never assume that you can take an image found on Google and use it in a church service or include it in a service sheet or similar without permission.
With regard to a Service Sheet, as long as there are appropriate licences/permissions in place, making that service sheet available online should be fine.
Religious belief, is a special category data under GDPR. Therefore, those appearing in a video, livestream, or in photographs in a religious service, will need to have given you their permission.
You should also specify on any consent forms exactly what aspects of the service you intend to film.
- Filming and photography in churches – consent and GDPR is a blog from the Church of England that provides guidance for taking photos and videos during religious activities such as church services, Eucharist, or Christenings etc. It also offers some best practice around communicating that you are filming, as well creating 'safe spaces' where people won't be caught on camera.
- For non-religious activities such as fetes or parties etc. The National Safeguarding Team has created guidance for filming and photographing activities involving children and vulnerable adults in the Safer Environments and Activities guidance here.
Taking your church worship and engagement online may have raised some questions for you. Here is a selection of resources and materials to help you reflect theologically on your digital experience.
- The Durham Digital Theology Unit: This unit aims to research and transform the theological conversation concerning digital culture and be at the forefront of Digital Theology. It's already produced lots of outputs relating to Digital Church and Covid-19.
- Churches Together in England: A compilation of missional and ministry reflections from across the denominations: Reflections on Covid-19
- Centre for Digital Theology Facebook page – offering weekly accessible webinars and sharing digitally inspired resources.
- Everyone Welcome Online - A project supported by CPAS and the Durham Digital Theology Unit, this team have produced some comprehensive material including an exploration of how to welcome plan for a mixed in-person-online church future: Everyone Welcome to the Future
Communications Manager and Bishop’s Media Adviser