How to Take Your Church Virtual (Fast) by Paul Maxwell, Content Strategist at Tithe.ly
During the coronavirus outbreak, your church leadership team is left to figure out how to lead your congregation, how to continue the fellowship of believers, and how to continue ministering to your community in a safe and effective way.
There are certain ministry contexts in which physical gathering and physical touch are more common. Small group meetings are one of those kinds of gatherings. People hug, shake hands, share food, and pass germs.
- Should you cancel small group?
- Should you cancel church?
- Should you let people do whatever they want?
Here, we’re going to unpack the basic tools and principles that will help you make the best decision for your church—one which maximizes your ministry impact and keeps your congregation as physically safe as possible.
Virtual Community Tools
Several tools exist which enable your church to produce a full and engaging virtual service through an online platform.
Here, we’re going to unpack what those tools are, what kinds of churches would be best suited for each tool, and how your church can leverage their capabilities not only to survive during the coronavirus outbreak but to thrive as well.
But first, it’s important to note one tool that every church should be using for their virtual service: the church app.
That may sound insane, but church apps are widely misunderstood and misused. More than that, not all church apps are equal. When I say that your church should use a church app for your virtual service, I mean that you need a church app equipped with the necessary features to live-stream video and accommodate inter-personal messaging and tithing during the service.
For this, look no further than the Tithe.ly Church App. It can handle live-streaming. It has the most straightforward, easy to use, advanced and customizable giving solution among church apps. If you’re looking for an all-in-one, best in class church app for a very low price, your first action should be to get a Tithe.ly Church App for your church here: get.tithe.ly/church-app.
For Smaller Gatherings
If you have smaller gatherings, certain tools are better suited for your needs. The tools below serve smaller churches best, but they also have helpful applications in larger churches for their smaller events and gatherings.
Zoom is the best tool for organizing virtual video conference meetings among church staff. Simply download the software for free, create an account (you can even log in through Google), and Zoom enables you to host meetings of up to 100 people, with a 40-minute limit on group meetings. If you pay a small fee ($15–20/mo), you can gain access to other features such as custom URLs, 24-hour meeting limits, etc.
Simply press “Schedule Meeting” on the home screen of your app, select the guests you’d like to invite, and press “Send to recipients.” It will then send all guests a Google Calendar invitation and, when they accept the invitation, an event will automatically populate the guests’ Google Calendars with a link that will take them right to the meeting.
You can also choose to have Google Calendar send reminders to your guests before a meeting starts.
This technology would best serve the small group ministry and, on a very low budget for a small church, could be the video platform that a church uses to host its Sunday service. However, I recommend using a more involved live-streaming service for the service itself, as Zoom is not a live-streaming platform but a video chat platform. I’ll survey those products more below.
YouTube is a fantastic tool to live-stream your Sunday service. We'll get to more advanced tools below, but if all your church is looking for is a video live-streaming tool, look no further than YouTube Live.
If you have a young YouTube channel, your best option is to live-stream your service with a webcam such as a Mevo Plus.
Once you have your camera setup plugged into your computer, all you need to do is follow these steps:
• Open up YouTube on your computer.
• Confirm that your channel is verified and that you have no live stream restrictions in the last 90 days.
• Click this icon in the top right corner of your screen:
• Click Go Live.
• At the top, select Webcam.
• Enter a title and description, and select a privacy setting. You can also schedule your live stream for a later date.
• Click More options > Advanced Settings for more settings.
• Click Save. Your camera will then take a thumbnail.
• Click Go Live.
• When you’re done streaming, click End Stream at the bottom. All streams under 12 hours will be automatically archived. You can access previous, current, and upcoming streams in the Live Tab.
In order to stream your service on Mobile, watch this video for straightforward instructions: How to Create a Mobile YouTube Livestream
Live-streaming to Facebook is extremely simple.
In order to set up your church service to stream through Facebook, watch this excellent and brief tutorial: How to Go Live on Facebook
Christian World Media
Christian World Media is a fantastic live-streaming service for churches. Their team is highly dedicated to ministry. Our team has seen them work with churches to find a price point that works for them. Their commitment to serving churches permeates their business practices, and smaller churches would do well to use them to host their video live-streams.
For Larger Gatherings
Google recently announced that users who subscribe to their Education services now have free access to their advanced Google Hangout tools, which enables video hangouts of up to 250 people and live-streaming to up to 100,000 people.
Google Hangouts is a far inferior service to Zoom, but if you are trying to set up a live meeting with more than 250 people, it can handle your volume-related needs in a pinch.
Their features include no contract, embeddable anywhere (including your church app), live support, viewer analytics, video replay, video trimming, audio extraction (so you can publish the audio to a live radio channel), and many more.
Due to their current pricing offer in light of coronavirus, this would be the best option for most churches who do not already have a live-streaming provider in place.
Virtual Ministry Practices
Excellence, specificity, and brevity are critical elements of a successful communication plan when it comes to mobilizing your church or small group on a virtual platform.
Make sure that everyone is tuned into the right channels—whether that is a private email list, church app messaging group, a private Facebook group, or text messaging thread. Once you have communicated that information to everyone on the list, make sure to send all necessary communications through that channel.
Instruct everyone to mute
During a virtual meeting, it’s tempting to have everyone “unmuted” to foster participation. However, this can easily devolve into a cacophony. Instead of leaving it open, instruct participants to press “mute” at the beginning of the meeting so that only the person speaking can be heard. This prevents distracting background noise from interrupting a participant who is sharing in the meeting.
Set a strict outline for the meeting
It’s easy for virtual video chats to devolve into chaos with everyone speaking over each other. One way to mitigate against this is to set up rules for interacting. In a small group context, this would look like opening your meeting with a brief explanation of how people should conduct themselves on video calls, the structure of the meeting, and when it is appropriate to speak.
You may choose to include a time of personal sharing, during which it would be best to have prepared an ordered list of participants. Share that list with the participants, and during time blocks in which people “go around the circle” to share, the participants will simply follow the order of that list.
While the tone of the coronavirus conversation is panic, your church’s conversion to a virtual model actually communicates significant confidence and competence. If a church is in panic, it may shut down all services and staff production immediately.
When you shift to a virtual church option, you communicate your team’s continued commitment to the work of your church and your belief that this crisis is merely a season that will be resolved.
Set an example for your church of what it looks like to walk through this coronavirus scare in faith. They will be inspired by your continued church production work in the virtual space, and may perhaps even be prompted to switch to a safer virtual model in their own professional and social contexts.