Multi-tasking During Online Worship

Let us face it: online worship is here to stay – for the next two years, at least. Unlike on-site worship, that has established norms that developed over many generations of church culture, online worship has none.


On-site worship service norms are clear and established. Not so with online worship service. A norm is a guideline or expectation of proper behaviour that each society and culture decides as acceptable, and what violates that acceptability, and what to do with that violation. We all know what behaviours are expected in on-site worship services: punctuality, dressing, how to enter the sanctuary, how to sing during worship, or attend to the preaching and what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, before, during and after the worship service. It is taught. It is mostly caught. But everything is new in online worship. It seems many of the guidelines and norms have been held in abeyance or thrown out.


Multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day. While the online worship service is being streamed, or viewed later, viewers could be doing various other things while watching. Since there are no norms for online worship, anything goes! Here are some of the imagined possibilities.

  • Nail clipping or polishing,
  • Having your meal
  • Surfing other channels, websites
  • Answering emails, WhatsApp messages and social media
  • Doing your housework: folding and ironing clothes, vacuuming and mopping the floor, etc
  • Doing your hair or facial routines
  • Preparing meals
  • Chatting on phone or zoom or someone with you
  • Exercising
  • Reading or writing something unrelated.


Multitasking during the online worship service is not something taught by the church. It’s the force of sheer habit and the invasion of a global online culture into the new territory of online worship culture. Since there are no established norms other forces hold sway. We are a people conditioned to require endless stimulation and engagement to stave away boredom and to feel productive and connected and excited. Multitasking gives us these. Since the church gives no guidelines, each person does what is right in his or her eyes, or gropes sincerely in this gap of ambiguity.


A mature Christian would ponder about how to navigate this new territory. If the believer would ponder over the purpose of worship, he should be able to draw some principles upon which to form new norms of online worship for himself or for his or her family.

We know the purpose of worship is for us to glorify God and enjoy Him. We remember the Lord and all he has done for us through his finished work, and respond by giving him thanks and praise, and also to attend faithfully to what he wants to say to us through his Word, his Spirit and his Body. This requires the positioning of our whole body and soul to be actively and wholly involved. This cancels out most multitasking during online worship.

Its hard to imagine Moses multitasking while God spoke to him during his burning bush experience. He was on holy ground – to multitask would akin to tearing out the heart of that encounter, that worship experience. Jesus reproved the Pharisees and scribes, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Matt 15:8). We cannot afford to let our hearts drift away from God during online worship. St Paul said to the Corinthian church. “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor 10:23 NIV).

The main idea is to participate, to be attentive to, and respond to how the online service is moving your heart, and not merely to watch the whole program like a task to dutifully complete to soothe your conscience, and to have some comment to make in case some leader asks you about it.


This is a difficult word for people to hear. Everyone wants to be in control and do whatever is right in their eyes. This is precisely where coming under Jesus’ rule and kingship cuts the Adamic tentacles of rebellion that still desperately cling to our hearts after our conversion to Christ. Discipleship is not theory. It is very practical. It boils down to how you posture your heart and how you behave in all spheres of thought, speech and conduct. In this instance, we are talking about online worship conduct.

You may disagree with me and I am certainly aware that worshipping online at home becomes a challenge, even a meaningless routine, or worse – a drag – after the initial novelty has worn out.

I fully encourage support of return to on-site worship services. If you cannot do it every Sunday because of safety and other constraints, then less frequently, but seek to resume attendance with your whole body and soul. You can read more about my thoughts regard this HERE.

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Church response to Circuit Breaker re-opening

What we were doing during the Circuit Breaker stay-home period

Since the beginning of the circuit breaker (CB) the pastoral staff and worship teams have taken turns to record our songs, announcements and sermons from home and sent them to a strong media and editing team who then uploaded the pre-recorded, stitched-together online worship service. We have received good reviews and comments about our online presence, and are proud of the production standard, and have become quite used to doing it. Even though it was stressful and tiring. Stressful because we had to learn the skills of recording and that of preaching to an empty room. Stressful because the recording of songs and music and putting them all together was tedious and difficult. Stressful because putting together one service required thorough and long hours of editing. Not to speak of the meeting of deadlines.

What phase 2 circuit breaker re-opening allows

In terms of recording and broadcast of religious services and prayers, the MCCY allows:

“Religious organizations (RO) are encouraged to continue supporting the religious needs of their communities via remote means such as recording and broadcast of religious services and prayers. In Phase Two, we will allow up to 10 persons on-location for these productions, of which up to 5 persons can temporarily remove their masks when speaking or singing. Those who are unmasked for speaking / singing are strongly encouraged to maintain at least a 2 metres separation from other persons. All other persons present must remain masked and maintain a 1 metre separation. The time spent on-location for this activity should be kept as short as possible. The production team must also put in place safe management measures, including no-cross deployment between locations (where practicable), no socialisation during breaks and thorough cleaning of technical equipment”.

When it came to worship services: “Places of worship may resume congregational and other worship services, starting with up to 50 persons at a time(excluding religious and supporting workers, which should be kept to a minimum), subject to safe management measure. “ 

And in a key stipulation:

“Singing and other live performances are not permitted during the worship service. Singing is considered a higher risk activity as it could potentially release a larger amount of droplets. Places of worship may consider alternatives to singing and other live performance components in their worship services.

How churches are responding and why

I think churches are generally happy that there is communication between the MCCY and that they are sympathetic with the needs of mosques, temples, and churches. Churches appreciate the feedback and clarification sessions that had been taking place. Churches share the same concerns as MCCY and want to co-operate and keep Covid 19 in check in our country. After all religious gatherings have been a hotbed for the spread of the virus.

While it is good that up to 50 can now attend worship services, most churches have not jumped in to begin gathering physically. There are many reasons for this inertia. Different churches would have different reasons for being hesitant and remaining unchanged. 

Most churches have, through quite a struggle, found a rhythm of doing church online, and have even been doing it well beyond their expectations. Their congregations have also gotten used to tuning in to meetings online. Even the older generation have learned to tune in. Many like the commute-free and shorter services. In a way they are in their comfort zone. 

Having taken so much trouble to get to where they are, churches would be hesitant to go back to physical gatherings when there is no certainty if these liberties may soon be taken back if the infection numbers in the community rise up. Why not wait and see? Why switch back and forth? 

Anyway, many churches need time to get things ready for re-opening. The Roman Catholic churches want their members to stick to one church and not move around to other churches to prevent cross infection. But to round up volunteers and train them takes time, so each parish can decide when they will re-open.

We have to admit that the restrictions on singing does discourage the return to physical gatherings. Singing was a part of Christian worship from the beginning, but with the rise of clergy, congregational singing went off the grid until the Reformation, which brought it back to the churches that left Roman Catholicism. Today congregational singing plays an important part of Christian worship. Members learn theology, express their feelings and adoration through congregational singing, and though they may not know it, witness to God’s love and grace in song. So if there is no singing …. it’s not the full experience of worship they have been used to. I know this topic about how essential singing is to worship is debatable and you may want to comment on this. Feel free to do so below.

Another reason for hesitation is that there are churches that have to share space in one building, or have their own halls in the same building. There are many churches in this position in industrial buildings as well as in HDB sites like the ones in Yishun, Clementi and Jurong where two or more churches are housed in the same building. The MCST have to ensure that the different congregations in the building do not cross-infect each other via common areas like staircases, lifts, and common restrooms.  This also make churches in such situations think twice about meeting physically.

I would think a fuller experience of worship may be had at home where a small gathering of 5 church members joining a family at home, can tune in to online church service on Sundays and sing to their hearts content, and after that interact and share life authentically.

Watching worship team in church online

Our church has decided to gradually do all our recordings in church instead of from homes. We have begun with recording the sermons in church. This will be followed with all the worship songs being recorded in the church. In the meanwhile, we keep monitoring the situation, and prepare for the day when the church can re-gather physically. When that time comes, we will meet in church and have live streaming for those at home. We will also continue to leverage on technology to minister in prayer ministry and Christian education. It looks like Zoom meetings are here to stay. 

Pre-recording in church sanctuary (Photo: Wayne)

I still do not know what the new normal will look like but from the looks of it more churches will be better off after the pandemic, for they had been forced into learning to leverage on technology, something it feared to do in the past. I expect churches will not discontinue some of the things they have picked up during the Circuit Breaker. Most will keep a stronger presence online than they had before. This augurs well for the “new normal” church!

What about your church or denomination? How are they responding to the new phase 2 circuit breaker re-opening?

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