At Hillsong Church, we started video linking some of our church services over 10 years ago. Back then it was such a novelty with a lot of experimentation and plenty of mistakes. But over time we have been able to refine the process and bring our congregation on the journey where sometimes you forget we’re linking across states and even time zones.
Here are 14 key insights we’ve learned during the process…
1) Brief location pastors and operational teams.
It’s important that everyone who is involved in the smooth running of the service is briefed on what the plan is. In Australia, our Events team sends an email each Friday to all 30 locations pastors and their operational teams with the service runsheet, MC announcements and specific information for that weekend.
Any changes across the weekend are emailed through and included in WhatsApp groups for different teams for urgent communication.
2) Catch and reflect culture.
As a pastor, even when you are on the receiving end of a link there is still so much to pay attention to and steward. Our platform team are closely listening to all that was said, and specifically even what wasn’t said.
We understand that we’re not just linking to hear a 35 minute sermon, but reproducing the culture of our “house” in all the spread-out “rooms” – which is why visitors will often say wherever you attend Hillsong Church it “feels the same”.
3) The atmosphere needs to be led.
When receiving a link, the atmosphere from the sending room will not automatically appear as a result of pressing play on a video link. The atmosphere must always be created and nurtured by leading intentionally.
Creating a phenomenal atmosphere is often more about intentional thought and action, than it is about your budget and technology.
Model a receptivity to the link that you want to see reproduced by your congregation.
4) Set the right lighting.
The best lighting for a link is not pitch black like you’re at the movies – that is not the message we’re trying to send to our congregation and of course, we want them to be able to read their Bibles and take notes.
Dimming the lighting slightly may improve the clarity of your screens and projector, but be careful not to go too dark so you’re unable able to see your neighbour.
5) Define the moment you enter and exit the link.
After trialling many different ways of cleanly entering and exiting the link, what we have found to be most effective is for locations to link in off the back of a video.
We usually show two videos during our services – an offering testimony while the giving is being received, and our weekly Church News. It forms a clean break in the service and usually will allow our Senior or Lead Pastors to address news and announcements to the whole congregation so everyone is on the same page and able to hear it firsthand as a family.
Then we exit the link during a ministry song at the end – see point 11 below for how the worship teams do this.
6) Acknowledge locations across the link.
While it sounds simple, it is amazing the impact that verbally acknowledging all the other locations joining across the link makes to the engagement within those rooms. If you have the time it’s lovely to mention each by name, although make sure you don’t miss any out as this will undo your good work.
Then the MC will often say something like “Across the country, let’s give everyone a big warm welcome this morning,” which encourage everyone in each location to engage with the moment.
7) Watch where you’re looking.
Another simple habit with a big impact is to intentionally glance directly at the camera, or even address a whole sentence down the barrel of the camera as all locations will feel as though you’re talking directly to them.
It might feel unnatural at first but will become easier and be of great benefit.
8) Invite a response from all locations.
We have found that scattering a few invitations to respond at certain times through the message keeps linked locations engaged and their receptivity up…
9) Assume on engagement.
…however don’t mention it too often as eventually you’re reinforcing the separation between the locations and keeping it top of mind for people that want to be focussing on the sermon.
10) Localise what needs to be done in your venue.
The may be moments in a service where a linked location pastor needs to lead the local room by reinforcing instructions given across the link.
Sometimes this is done verbally, “Right here in Perth, if there is anyone that needs prayer for healing in your body, why don’t you lift your hands too.”
Or sometimes it can be done non-verbally by simply motioning with a hand that people are welcome to come down the front of the room if that is what all locations have been asked to do.
The key is for the local pastor to take the gap and encourage mirroring what is happening across the link.
11) Local worship teams can support the link.
The same goes for the worship team if they are on stage. We have found it to be very effective for the local worship team to play quietly underneath the linked worship and all the vocals to continue leading the congregation by example.
When it comes time to end the link, gradually the local audio will become more prominent and then transition from link visuals to local cameras or graphics ready for the local MC to get up
12) Think about what other locations need to see.
Watching a sermon and service across a video link is a much more limited visual experience than obviously being present in the live room.
For example, if the preacher is showing photos on screens, then your live cameras will need to cut from focussing on the speaker to what they are looking at. The same is true for scripture verses that can be added as lower thirds on the link stream.
It’s also important to frame the speaker with a medium close up shot (MCU) that starts just above the head and finishes just below the elbow, but at the appropriate points cutting to wider stage or room shots, so that other locations can see what’s happening in the room.
These kinds of cut might not be necessary in the original room, but will really help linked locations feel like they’re not getting a second-rate experience.
13) Have a backup plan.
The technology tools for linking services are getting more and more reliable but that doesn’t mean you can guarantee they will work 100% of the time. We have found it useful to have a redundancy computer running off separate internet connections, that we could switch to if needed.
However in the case that the link does drop out you do need to be ready to jump up locally at any point in the service.
Does that mean our pastors always have a message ready to preach? Yes it does – you only make that mistake once.
Although if the message has only just started, then we may take a couple extra minutes to worship while we try to fix the connection, or if it is during a second or third service of the day then the local pastor may finish the message from the notes they have previously taken.
The key is not to freak out, but put the congregation at ease. If you’re comfortable, they will be too.
14) Keep reinforcing the ‘why’.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been linking services for, you’ll always want to keep coming back to the ‘why’, and specifically the why for your church.
Often times visitors and new believers won’t know any different and will accept it as just the way it is here, however it will be your existing church members that you’ll need to take on a journey and overcome any skepticism.
Truly the benefits outweigh the negatives and some of the most powerful moments as a church family are when we are linked across the whole church worshipping together in unity and sitting under our Senior Pastor’s teaching.
This thought was inspired from a webinar entitled “Linking Services” hosted by Chrishan Jeyaratnam during Online Open Week in February 2018.
Online Open Week is your opportunity to receive impartation and leadership training direct from the Hillsong team through live webinars – completely free.
To watch the full webinar recording click below.