Congregational Members Respond to Online Worship

In preparation for the 2020 annual Summer Workshop, CMI solicited information from congregation members about their experiences with online worship. Their responses informed programming for the summer and fall at CMI, to focus on the worshipper rather than those behind the camera. Here are some of the findings.

Music is important to viewers, especially familiar music that connects them with God and their faith community. Even if they do not sing along with hymns, listeners appreciate the traditional organ prelude and postlude, and clerical attire for leaders that reminds them of traditional worship. Music that is tied to the spoken word is the most meaningful.

When asked what has not worked well, they most often mention missing communal singing. Live groups singing have been the best. A soloist singing with accompaniment does not suffice for congregational singing, and, in fact, is a reminder that the congregation is absent. (Alas, a survey of online worship services indicated many churches use soloists for hymns.) Lack of connection between spoken and sung word is seemingly more obvious online. Having texts for music on the screen is helpful. Seeing people from the congregation leading music and worship gives a sense of community and familiarity in an otherwise uncertain world.

All respondents said they needed an order of worship/bulletin, a hymnal, a Bible. With few exceptions most did not have a hymnal.

All were grateful for the efforts to bring online worship into their homes but do not see it as a replacement for communal worship. One person said congregational worship is at best interactive and intimate, putting the worshiper in oneness with God. At best, online worship can inform (sermon and Scripture) and inspire (sermon and music). One respondent worried about the performance nature of the consumerist platform. Some were appreciative of the creative camera work that brings closeup shots of the sanctuary they might not otherwise see.