Over the last several years, live-streaming has become more common, as mobile devices have increased in power and sites like Facebook and YouTube have allowed mobile streaming. As churches utilize this means of member support and outreach there are a few things to keep in mind!
First, let’s consider some reasons for using live-stream as a ministry.
One reason is spiritual support for older saints who are unable to attend church. I remember back in the early 2000’s, the ministry team at Mountain Road desired to give our shut-ins the possibility of listening to services at home. This was in early stages of the ministry and was more of an “audio livestream,” if you will. Home-bound parishioners were called and could listen to Sunday services via phone. As we transitioned to live-streaming we immediately recognized it was more engaging, easier to maintain and oﬀer to others, and viewers could not only sense God’s presence but could witness the visual eﬀects of worship! Our shut-ins were so grateful for a way to both hear and see the services they longed to attend.
Another reason is being a spiritual lifeline for those who have jobs in remote areas with no holiness church within driving distance. Early on, Mountain Road had a family in the New England states in this situation. They were some of the first on the phone ministry and were so thankful for the added dimension to their weekly service when we transitioned to live-streaming! Others touched by this ministry included a truck-driver, those serving in the military, and missionaries in need of encouragement. What a blessing it is to provide church for those who would otherwise be without it.
Others touched by this ministry included a truck-driver, those serving in the military, and missionaries in need of encouragement.
A third reason is advertising and outreach. As people are online more and more, an attractive website and some form of social media presence is needed. This online presence is one tool of ministry and, in most cases, is a free or cheap way to let others know about our church. There are many effective ways of using the internet to reach into our communities with live-streaming (not as cheap) being one of them. We can’t overlook the impact of visibility online.
The fourth and most important reason is sharing the gospel! As online ministry grows, it will serve a dual purpose: supporting those who can’t attend church and attracting those who don’t attend church. Some of our GMC churches have reported a few people contacting the pastor or media team to tell them they’ve accepted Christ because of a service watched online. After all of the time and eﬀort is spent, it is truly rewarding to be bringing souls into the kingdom!
Although all of these reasons for using this modern venue of member support and outreach are positive, there are a few negatives also when beginning to live-stream at your church.
The first big negative is privacy. As Mountain Road set up its ministry, they quickly realized the need to protect people’s privacy. Attendees need to know they can go to the altar without it being broadcast. They need freedom to testify but now need to be careful about how much information is mentioned. Sharing private information about themselves or someone else can be embarrassing and/or inappropriate. This is true of both testimonies and prayer requests (on second thought, maybe this is a positive as it may deter disguised public gossiping sessions!). Another aspect of privacy is how much personal information is given in relation to where someone lives or even medical history. According to the CIA, online hackers aren’t as interested in credit card numbers now as they are a complete bio of someone, especially medical history, which can be very valuable on the black market. Careful attention must be given to not reveal too many pieces of personal information online. In other words, everyone needs to feel their privacy is protected. Where these lines are drawn can vary from church to church, but each pastor and team must choose where those lines are and let their people know their decision.
Everyone needs to feel their privacy is protected.
Another negative is consistency. Parishioners may decide to stay home to “watch church” instead of attending. (Of course no one from your church would do that…). Online visitors may not feel the obligation to become a faithful “member” of the congregation. It can also be diﬃcult to know how many are watching. Each of these pose a problem with consistency and although it’s not all about numbers, we do want each soul to be consistent in their attendance whether in person or online!
A third negative is appearance. Anyone can set up a cellphone, open the facebook or YouTube app, and “go live” but this presents an image to potential people about the church. For instance, if the lighting is poor, the sound quality is bad, the videography is shaky, the pastor often walks out of the video and the congregation isn’t aware the service is streamed, it can hinder a church name or reputation. Buying proper equipment is very expensive and some churches can only afford offering this ministry via a mobile device. While this may serve the purpose and be better than nothing, be reminded the image presented is how people perceive the church and sometimes it even affects their opinion of God.
A fourth negative is vulnerability. Having any kind of social media or web presence, whether streaming or not, can be embarrassing or even incriminating if the wrong things are said or posted and the right people find it. There have been many secular social media influences that have experienced a very hard fall because of an impulsive tweet or photo shared (and if we think we are in some way exempt because we are a church we are seriously misguided). In secular media, if it is church related, the “obvious hypocrisy” becomes the focus. Once something is posted somewhere it can be found and used against an individual or the church. Carefulness along this line cannot be emphasized enough. Legal battles over something said or shown could both destroy the church and present God and Christianity in a negative light.
Before beginning to post videos of services, the good and the bad must be weighed (as with any ministry of the church). However, after investing many hours helping churches get live-streaming started or running smoothly, I am convinced this ministry can be a very effective tool for member support and outreach!