Building Online Community; Using Church Online Platform and Where to Stream for Best Effectiveness
For those of you who don’t know, we are proud to work alongside the awesome team at Life.Church Open Network, developers of the free Church Online Platform, an amazing way to host an immersive, interactive online campus experience, which is awesome when paired with the resiliency and reliability of Living As One streaming!
We spoke to the Church Online Platform team to learn a little more about choosing how and where to stream to as well as the best ways to build community online:
Q. What is the importance of a digital community for your online stream?
A. The “community” aspect is what changes the experience into a church service. Anyone can watch a video online—of a sermon, of cooking, of cats—but just viewing a video is an isolated experience. For us, we wanted to build a way to create the conversation, the relationships, and the connection of a real church experience. So, when you attend a church service through the Church Online Platform service, you can talk with other attendees, serve and volunteer like you would at a brick and mortar church, sing and worship, tithe and give an offering, and reach out for one-on-one discussion and prayer. That’s community.
Q. How does a church choose where to stream to for maximum effectiveness? What is the balance of streaming to social platforms in addition to a platform like Church Online Platform? What are some Pros/Cons?
A. At Life.Church, we feel a responsibility to leverage the technology available to us and have a presence on as many channels as possible… Big picture: we’ve been afforded digital outlets like never before in history, and we feel a responsibility for there to be a church presence on all of them! There are so many benefits to streaming on various tools. First, if you’re creating a church service video, you can get more mileage out of it by playing it across multiple platforms. One video, multiple audiences. The YouTube audience doesn’t perfectly overlap with the Facebook audience—and the same goes for Instagram, Church Online Platform, etc.—and you’re casting the widest net possible when you choose a multi-platform approach. You also provide options and flexibility to your attendees. Maybe they can only join church at certain times, maybe they’re more or less tech-savvy so they prefer one platform over another. Maybe someone is drawn in to your church service through paid ads or through organic sharing on Facebook. Creating a presence for your church on multiple tools means your church can have an impact on multiple platforms.
That being said, we see these different tools as falling into two different categories for streaming church. With sites like YouTube and Facebook, you’re going where people already are. These platforms are part of everyday life, and you’re meeting people there. It’s great for evangelism and for people to organically find your church. On the other hand, the Church Online Platform is more like a church building—your attendees come to you. Because they’ve intentionally navigated to your church site, they’re generally going to be more plugged in, have longer time-on-page, and interact more. With a Church Online Platform service, there aren’t the distractions, ad breaks, or alerts pulling people away from your service like you might find on Facebook and YouTube.
We love the evangelistic nature of streaming church services on social media platforms. They’re easy to stream to, and you can create community to some extent through the commenting functions. However, we ultimately built the Church Online Platform because we had unique needs as a church. It’s a platform built by a church specifically for churches so we’ve addressed all the unique needs of ministry. You can engage attendees at key ‘moments’ of the service with interactive buttons customized for churches. For example, an attendee can click to signify they’ve given their life to Christ, and that click can open a contact form that allows your church to follow up with them. People can click to give, to connect with the church, to request private prayer, and to engage with a quote from the sermon. These are all interactions that promote community that you’re not going to find on social media platforms. If needed, you can even mute a user who is being vulgar during a service. But unlike simply deleting a comment like you would on Facebook, our muting suppresses that person’s comments from appearing to anyone else, but they don’t know they’ve been muted. We want them to feel like part of the community no matter what.
We’ve also kept our online hosts in mind. “Hosts” function as greeters, conversation-starters, prayer hosts, and much more during services. What we find when we run church services on social media platforms is that the hosts need to have a side chat in a tool like Messages or Slack to converse with each other while they handle ministry in the comments. In Church Online Platform, we’ve built a unique interface specifically for hosts. They can update sermon notes, change the custom interactions during service, engage in one-on-one prayers, type in the public chat, and have their own private hosting chat—all on one layout.
Q. What tips do you have for a church to form an excellent online community?
A. We talked about hosting, chatting, and the interactive calls to action. A couple other things that promote community are trying, as you’re able, to create an online service that feels like it’s intentional. For example, rather than set up a camera at the back of your sanctuary and record the sermon over the heads of in-person attendees, film close up to the pastor. Coach your pastor to make the online camera one of his ‘pit stops’ as he looks at the audience; he should engage with his in-person audience and with the camera. You can also coach your stage speakers to include the online audience in their talking points. So, for example, our pastor says something like this every week: “Welcome to all of you in church today, and to all of you joining around the world at church online!” Other verbal cues that contextualize your message help form community online. A pastor can say, “Here in my town it’s hot—in your part of the world the weather may be different…” and move on with his point.
If possible, you can also create short videos that get edited in to your church service that are unique to church online. So rather than let the video roll while the in-person pastor gives announcements about things an online viewer might not be able to participate in—like a pancake breakfast or a donation drop-off—create intro and outro videos that give news, calls to action, and vision that pertain to the online attendee.
We’re passionate about the global church and about online ministry, so the Church Online Platform infrastructure and support are 100% free to churches. You can sign up at https://churchonlineplatform.com/
Church Online Platform is just one tool we offer for free to churches through Life.Church Open Network. We also offer a data-tracking tool called Church Metrics and a resource site simply called Open. Partnering with dozens of other churches, Open Network has more than 50,000 free resources, including sermons, art, graphics, stock video and photography, complete kids lessons, license-free worship music, church operations and policy docs, and hundreds of ministry trainings.
We’re honored to remove the potential barrier of technology for churches who want to have church online. We were blown away in March 2020 when so many churches were forced to close their buildings due to COVID-19 because we saw 25,000 new churches launch their online ministries. And more amazingly, more than 130,000 people accepted Christ via the platform during that month! For reference, 130,000 is how many salvations might be tracked in an average year, and God moved that many hearts in one month. Those salvations, those changed lives were made possible amid a global pandemic because of technology. We’re just so honored to partner with churches and be a small part of that miracle.
Thanks to Kyle Kutter, Jordan Burg, and Ben Matthews from Life.Church Open Network!
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Web Director, Newspring Church
“It just works. The reliability has been amazing, and the tickets that we receive of ‘hey, this buffered,’ or ‘hey, this went down’ has been greatly reduced. It’s just opened us up to saying, if it really is this easy to stream to all these platforms, I think we’re just in the beginning phases of getting a wide a net as possible with our online services.”