Sunnyvale Trinity UMC: Using Zoom for Sunday Service

August 13, 2020

Sunnyvale Trinity UMC, where I am a member, has been using Zoom to stream its Sunday morning worship service since day one of the pandemic.  The primary reason was that I knew how to use Zoom, as did our Pastor, Jay Parr. 

That first Sunday, our live stream was from the sanctuary, with a musical solo, scripture readings and Children's time, things we can no longer do in an in-person service. The next Sunday, we streamed from two homes.  In the time since, we have learned a lot about the Zoom platform and have developed some best practices, which I will share. 

First, a bit about the program and equipment we use.

We started simple, with hymns, scripture reading, Children's Time, and sermon.  The pastor handled the sermon, his wife did Children's Time, my wife did the hymns on piano and I did the reading.  Our hardware was also simple:  the pastor's laptop with integrated audio/video for the sermon and story time, and my laptop for hymns and reading, with a Logitech webcam and a USB microphone.

From this base, we expanded, adding other elements such as congregational prayers and special blessings.  We also have members participate, leading Children's Time, readings and even musical solos, both instrumental and vocal.  Our most recent addition is Fellowship time after the service.

The hardware also improved.  We purchased a medium high quality, 4K capable, camcorder and a video tripod for it.  To use the camcorder, we also needed to have a video capture device.  In addition, we upgraded our audio equipment to use two of the high quality XLR microphones we already had and a USB audio interface to capture the audio for higher quality sound.  We also discovered that sound, particularly music, is much better if we used Zoom's "original sound" feature.

Each Friday an email is sent to members and friends with a letter from the pastor.  Included as two separate attachments are the worship program with announcements for the week and instructions for first time users of Zoom.

For all this to work, the congregation needs to have Internet access and hardware with audio and video available.  More on why the audio/video in a moment.  Zoom does support using a phone line for audio without video, but this is not as nice as using full audio and video features.

Why audio and video?  Because we want the readers, story tellers and musical participants to be seen while they are doing their bit.  Your first reaction might be, aren't people usually visible in a Zoom meeting?  The answer is not necessarily, and the reasons are part of the best practices I have mentioned.

What we've learned as we've worked with Zoom over the last few months:
  1. First and foremost, security is primary so you don't get Zoom Bombed.  Be sure you have a password for the meeting.  We do not post meeting information anywhere.  We have an email link on our website for people to request an email with the meeting info.  All regular attendees receive this same email and are encouraged to share it with friends and neighbors as an invitation to join our service.
  2. Force audio and video off.  Configure meetings to start with no audio/video and ask participants to join with both disabled.  This allows the congregation to focus on the one or two primary participants:  the pastor and the music.  As host I will start the meeting and when the pastor joins I will make him a co-host, so we can both do screen sharing or admit participants.  This also lets people join without needing to be "presentable", if they choose.
  3. I run the meeting with the waiting room enabled until opening time, letting in only the pastor and other readers or soloists, so we can all deal with getting prepared without worrying about broadcasting to everyone.  Our service starts at 9:15am, and I admit everyone at 9am, our opening time, also disabling the waiting room, so anyone arriving after 9am is immediately allowed into the worship service.
  4. We ask people to use chat to sign in, though not everyone does.  We also keep the participants list open, and make notes about who has connected, to cross check with the chat.
  5. Our Welcome Team is tasked with watching the participants list and welcoming everyone as they arrive.  They are also asked to make special connections with anyone they don't recognize using private chat.
  6. Participants are encouraged to greet each other using chat.  Because we start with audio off, there is very little tendency to talk audibly, which helps maintain order in the service itself.  We also encourage submission of prayer requests during worship using chat.
  7. We use two PowerPoint presentations during the service.  I run one, the general service order, with music lyrics, and special title slides where appropriate.  The pastor runs the other presentation specific to the sermon.
  8. We have found that the switch from speaker view to screen sharing can be made very smooth by using keyboard shortcuts to switch screens to set up what is to be shared, and switch back to Zoom to share it.  On a Macintosh, the shortcut is CMD-Tab, on the PC (Windows or Linux) it is Alt-tab.  You will want to switch to the actual presentation periodically, to move to the next hymn slide, for example, while some other activity is going on, switch back to Zoom, and be ready to share the screen with the first verse when needed.  Using this process avoids the "share the power point and then fumble around to start the slide show, then exit to get back to Zoom".
    The process goes like this:
  • Start PowerPoint and Zoom.
  • Use the shortcut combination to switch to PowerPoint, load your presentation and start the slide show.  This will create a full screen display of the presentation, hiding both the main PowerPoint and Zoom windows.
  • Now, using the shortcut keys, switch back to Zoom.  This is a bit counter intuitive, but works as expected, putting the Zoom window on top of (or in front of) the full screen presentation.
  • When the time comes for your presentation to begin, use the Screen Share icon as usual.  Be careful to select the full screen presentation and not the PowerPoint window.  Terminate the screen share to return to Zoom.  The presentation will remain full screen behind the Zoom window ready to re-share.
  • Again while other activities are going on, you can use the shortcut keys to return to the presentation (NOT the shared screen in Zoom!) to move to the next item, switch back to Zoom, and share the new screen.
9.   It is also helpful for the service setting to use the Spotlight feature for the pastor's screen, readers, story tellers or soloists.  A major advantage of using spotlight is that the constant jumping around between video views is eliminated.  Additionally — and I have not found anything in Zoom's documentation to confirm this — it looks like, when the pastor is screen sharing, if the pastor is also spotlighted before sharing the screen, only the pastor's image will appear with the shared screen, which helps focus attention on the message.

We have found that Zoom makes a very nice tool for running a service, providing a feeling of "being there" for the participants.  Yes, there is the occasional glitch, but this is quite minor when considering all the advantages.