By Carl Stagner
We may be living in a selfie world, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead of lamenting over the negative effects of technology, today’s church has an opportunity to redeem it to advance the kingdom. First Church of God in Archdale, North Carolina, is one of many Church of God congregations across the country discovering ways to stay connected with each other and reach their community without having to break the budget. Thankfully, there’s an app for that.
Actually, there are several apps for that. If you’re a regular on Facebook, you’ve no doubt observed the rapid swell of popularity of live video streaming. The Facebook Live app, now available on both Apple and Android devices, has turned everybody into an onsite reporter. Not only useful for our narcissistic friends, pastors have discovered its use for daily encouragement and reminders of upcoming events. The playback feature allows live video to played back later for those who miss a broadcast. First Church of God in Archdale has found it to be the ideal, no-cost way to broadcast, record, and archive weekly worship services. As a result, they’ve made connections beyond their city limits and outside their flock.
For First Church, it all began when they recognized a need to keep one of their members connected who had to be away for an extended period. The church tried a variety of streaming services back when Facebook Live was still not supported by Android. About the time that Facebook Live announced compatibility with Android, the church’s youth pastor, Mark Albert, and others had gotten frustrated with the low quality of their streaming. How could a free service be the best? It may not be, but for the price and quality, First Church couldn’t be happier with Facebook Live.
Mark says they made some preparations to make the new technology work for them. They bought an iPad to ensure the camera would be sufficient, and they increased the church’s Internet bandwidth. To ensure audio and picture quality, they place the iPad on a stand near the front of the church. The experience may not be that of a professional, multi-angle production, but the informal, on-the-ground perspective is exactly what social media users are watching today. Plus, the immediate transmission to Facebook increases accessibility by those who planned to tune in, and reaches many more who stumble upon the live feed in their News Feed.
Tips and tricks: One person is assigned to sit with the iPad or other mobile device. Wireless connectivity is prone to hiccups, but a Facebook Live “operator” can quickly reconnect if necessary. Off-center is better than centered. Being close to the front also limits distractions. Comments may also come in from Facebook users, and the operator may choose to respond with words of welcome or to answer questions that viewers may have. Managed from the senior pastor’s (Pastor Hallie Scott) personal profile as opposed to a church’s public page, their worship service reach friends of the pastor—within and beyond the congregation—who then intentionally share the link on their own pages. Within a couple of days, total Facebook reach may hit up to three times the church’s Sunday morning service attendance. Churches may also opt to operate Facebook Live from their church Facebook page.
First Church recommends an app called Givelify to allow tithes and offerings to come in even when people are on vacation or business, and may or may not be tuned into the Facebook Live service. Mark says that he and many of his peers just don’t carry cash or a checkbook anymore. But they do carry plastic. Givelify does take a certain amount off the top, but the increased overall giving since they started using the service has made it all worth it.
Google Hangouts have also proved useful to keep high school graduates connected to the church when they go off to college. The app offers space for up to ten individual web cam feeds, and the experience has been very successful for First Church. Mark reports that up to fourteen students at one time have participated, some on the same web cam. True to college life, the students decided to make their Bible study “hangout” once a week at 10:00 PM.
“Our mission here, as Pastor Hallie has stated it time and time again, is to reach families with the good news of Jesus Christ,” Mark explains. “Those families include infants, the great-grandmothers in the congregation, and everyone in between. Here we’re doing it in a multifaceted sort of way, whether in a traditional worship service or through the use of today’s technology to spread the gospel the best way possible.”
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