Greg Atkinson interviews Steve Lacy, founder and president of StreamingChurch.TV, on what it takes to live stream your service, the obstacles involved and the future of impact of technology in ministry.
Q: Steve, what exactly is StreamingChurch.TV, and how did it get started?
StreamingChurch.tv provides the ability for churches to broadcast their services live on the Internet. StreamingChurch.tv actually grew out of our original ministry product, MyFlock.com. MyFlock.com began as a social networking tool within a church body created to connect church members with each other. MyFlock.com was introduced 5 years before Facebook or MySpace, although with a slightly different purpose. While Facebook was designed to keep you connected with friends you already have, MyFlock’s purpose is to foster new relationships within the church body by providing profile-matching tools and other tools designed to connect you with other members within your church. To accomplish this goal, we created several interactivity tools designed to get members interacting with each other. When we launched StreamingChurch.tv, we leveraged some of these interactivity tools (chat room, private messaging, interactive maps, etc.) into the StreamingChurch.tv platform.
Q: What makes you different from other companies providing streaming services to churches?
Interactivity. Rather than providing just a live video feed online, we try to replicate the interactive experience a guest would have when attending the service at your physical facility. For example, when visiting a new church in person, you’ll most likely be greeted by someone as you approach the service. You’ll find a similar experience with an online greeter when attending a StreamingChurch.tv service online.
You’ll be logged into the chat room as you arrive, and the system will automatically announce your arrival, and there’s a good chance an online greeter from the church will give you a “virtual handshake” and welcome you to the service. The system is designed to provide both the guest and the church volunteers/members the ability to connect while attending the service. My church’s Web pastor likes to point out that the online church service is a safe place where you can actually “talk in church” and have it add to the experience and ministry opportunities. Obviously, guests can interact as much or as little as they wish online. Some arrive to the online service and just say “hi” and then retreat to just watch the service, while others actively engage.
We also provide tools that allow attendees to bring their identity and social network to the service. For example, they can login using the Facebook Connect option, and their Facebook profile pic appears in the chat and “who’s attending” area. The online invitation tools also automatically provide the opportunity to invite their Facebook friends as well as “tweet” the service to their followers via an automated Twitter integration.
Another key distinction of our service is the ability for ministries and churches to seamlessly integrate their StreamingChurch.tv’s “online campus” into their existing church Web site so that it appears as a natural part (or extension) of their existing church Web site.
Q: How long have you been helping churches?
We got started with MyFlock.com in 2001 and have been serving thousands of ministries for almost 10 years now. In the summer of 2008, my home church (AliveChurch.com) launched a multi-site campus where we began broadcasting our services live to a remote facility. As my church leadership looked at it, we saw that they could create an online Web campus that everyone could attend with very little additional effort. That was the beginning of StreamingChurch.tv. Our developers were able to quickly leverage several of the interactivity tools into StreamingChurch.tv, and we began offering the service to other ministries in late 2008.
Q: Do you believe every church should stream their services live?
Absolutely! Many churches don’t realize how little additional effort is required to broadcast their services. Most ministries already video tape or record their services now for viewing at a later time. That means most ministries already have the infrastructure in place necessary to broadcast: cameras, computers, and an Internet connection. To broadcast live, you just need to connect these parts together, connect with a streaming provider, and you’re broadcasting online.
Another key reason to broadcast live is that it’s an integral ingredient to your church growth. Attending services online is the easiest, lowest barrier way for new people to experience your church and determine if it’s a fit for them. Also, once you start broadcasting, you’ve now equipped your members with a great low intimidation tool to invite their friends to church. Members can say, “Yeah, check out my church this weekend. We broadcast our services online at mychurchwebsite.com.”
My home church has quadrupled our regular attendance (to over 1000 attendees a weekend) in less than 2 years since we began broadcasting live.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for churches desiring to stream?
There really aren’t any big challenges to streaming your services live. Although, I believe there are challenges to effectively creating a vibrant online ministry that leads to church growth (both online and in-person). Pastors and church leaders need to treat their online broadcast as another campus (rather than just a video presence online). This means investing their vision, thoughts, and energy into some of the same things they invest in their physical campus. Do I have a skilled greeter at the front doors? What about my online campus? Does my church look inviting to a first time visitor? What about my online campus? Are there lay leaders in place to minister to attendees? Who’s in place for those needing private prayer in the online campus?
Getting your members and lay leadership involved online with your Web campus is essential for the care and feeding of those first time visitors checking out your church online. If the experience isn’t good online, chances are they will not bother giving your ministry a chance in person. We’ve found at my home church that the majority of those that become new members at our church (AliveChurch.com) first attended a service online.
Q: What does the future look like for the “streaming” age and technology in general for churches?
Wow. I believe that the future is really bright for streaming and technology in general for ministries. The church has been leveraging technology in ministry dating back to the time when the Romans first built roads to connect their cities. This equipped those of that day a technology that led to an explosion of spreading the gospel. As time has progressed, so has the technology of the day.
Think of some of the technology over the ages and its incredible affect on evangelism: the Gutenberg press, television, the Internet…Wow! What’s next? As you know, technology is accelerating, and its capability for ministry is growing exponentially. I believe the Internet and broadcasting your services live is still in the early phases of its maturity. As television viewing continues to wane and consuming your media via the Internet continues to increase, I believe the church is in a unique position to reach the world for Christ using streaming technology.