Background

Pastor Andrew Moody in San Antonio, TX received word on Saturday morning (14-Mar-2020) that the congregation could no longer worship in a local public school building. All the schools in Texas were closing down because of the rapidly spreading and highly contagious coronvirus (COVID-19) and the global pandemic. The school building was going to be locked down for several weeks (or months) and would only be open for bio-hazard cleaning. No special meetings could be held in the school building since it would be locked up. He had to get video streaming up and running by Sunday morning. What follows is a quick review of what happened the very first week they tried video streaming in Pastor Moody’s own words. (See also: Church Video Streaming – Lessons Learned from Seven Churches on March 15, 2020 )

Streaming Platform: Vimeo

Since San Antonio Reformed was already using Vimeo for posting pre-recorded videos, they opted to go with Vimeo LiveStreaming. It was the quickest way to get up and running within 24 hours (for their situation). Please note — Pastor Moody is a very tech savvy guy, and he made it look easy on Sunday morning – with worship broadcast from his living room. An instant replay of their first Vimeo Livestream (15-Mar-2020) is here, along with a duplicate Facebook video.

Pastor Moody’s Report:

We had already been using the basic Vimeo pro service to upload our videos to the website every week.  There are several free streaming platforms available, however, since this is now our primary means of meeting for worship we need to have the best quality available. So, we chose to upgrade to the plan on Vimeo that supports live streaming.  The cost is $75/mo. This will allow streaming from pretty much any device, including your phone. It also connects to Facebook and Youtube, so your livestream will be viewable on multiple platforms simultaneously. 

We will spend time this week looking at some of the production features available with the upgraded account.  Last week we just used it turn-key with no tweaking, except uploading a cover graphic for the event.

Vimeo live allows you to create a reoccurring event.  So, that it is already up and ready to begin for the following week with a countdown.  This means the event URL stays the same from week to week, which is also nice.

Vimeo connects to Facebook and Youtube as well as other platforms.  So, we had the video shared widely on Facebook with 371 views. We had 71 views on Vimeo.  Many of these views represent a family or group gathered around a tv or computer. So, the actual number of people watching far surpasses the typical 85 people we have in our normal morning services.

Worship Participation and Resources

I published the bulletin as well as the hymns and responsive reading as PDF files, so that all participants have the necessary resources to participate in the service.  Our musicians continue to lead the worship music, so those who are attending online can follow along with the accompaniment. 

We decided to utilize the chat box feature, which allowed people to submit prayer requests in real time and for people to interact with my wife during the service.  She brought me all the new prayer requests prior to the pastoral prayer. This kept an interactive/human element to the service instead of being completely passive for those tuning in.  It is important that if chat is enabled that someone is monitoring it, because there is always the potential for an inappropriate comment. However, we haven’t had any problems. In addition, I make a practice of asking the children questions during the sermon.  This allows them to continue to be engaged, and I break down some of the concepts in a very simple way throughout the sermon. As they answer at home, their parents can type their answers into the chat box, so they know they are still interacting and that their active participation in worship is important and ongoing.

Start Time

Although our worship service begins at 11:00, we started at 10:45, to make sure the technology was working correctly.  However, there was 15 minutes of dead time prior to the start of the service which was confusing to some viewers and also gets saved to our archive.   

This [next] week we will start at 11:00 with announcements. The page will show the timer counting down.

Camera

Our first service we used my cell phone with a special tripod attachment and had it set on selfie mode.  This worked and provided good video and audio, however, we could not adjust the camera during the stream, as it would require me to go up and look right into it to pan or zoom.

We have upgraded to the Mevo Plus camera that is designed for streaming and can be controlled on a cell phone or tablet.  So, a church member can run the camera from their seat during the service. We also purchased the accessory tripod and carrying case.  It can plug into a power source, so we did not purchase the optional additional battery pack.

Lighting / Background

We used my curtains in our sunroom as the background.  The curtains were colorful, and although the lighting was good initially, as the sun rose behind me, it created a back-lit effect that made it difficult for the camera to adjust the lighting properly.  So, my face became dark as my background brightened.

We have ordered a Photography Backdrop (10’X10’) to put behind me and the musicians to create a more pleasant and less distracting atmosphere during the streaming service.  Here is the backdrop we will use this next Sunday.

Outreach

As mentioned above, the wide participation was unexpected and greatly encouraging.  At least several hundred people participated across the various platforms. We had a family in the church that has invited their neighbors to worship several times, but they had not come.  However, they invited them to come over for the live stream and they did! I received emails from other OPC families around the country that joined in the service due to their inability to be at worship, and we also had many people join in who we have no other contact with.  We will advertise the service online this week, and encourage church members and friends to share the live video on Facebook, as well as the link to the Vimeo live page. I am going to encourage the church to look at this as a way to be missionaries in their neighborhood during a time of suffering and uncertainty.  They can have small numbers of people join them for worship.

Finances and Final Thoughts

Because of our rental situation, we are saving money by not meeting (in a building).  We normally pay $400/mo for our meeting space, so we were able to purchase equipment for streaming without having to spend extra funds.  I know many churches are not in that same situation. We have already had the ability for the church to give online for a while, and many already do.  That makes the transition to only online giving much smoother. However, time will tell if that impacts our overall giving. Church members can still mail in a check, or they could drop off funds in person if desired. 

We anticipate the economic impact to hit several families very hard. Many businesses are being closed. Already we see movie theaters, restaurants, and other places where people gather are being shut down on a daily basis.  This will only get worse. Those who have school related jobs that are not full teachers are also out of work (custodial staff, teachers assistants, etc). One of our members is an interpreter for the deaf for the school district, and he is currently out of work.  So, we are being mindful of these needs in the church as the economic impact continues to unfold. There will be opportunities for churches to reach out to their communities where people will have very real and significant needs. Some people may not even be able to afford food in the coming weeks and months.

One more thing.  I don’t think every church has to be streaming their services.  They can team up with other churches and join together in an online service.  For instance, Grace OPC here in San Antonio will be having their members join our streaming service in the coming weeks.

Related Resources

Due to high demand, we are offering three follow-up webinars on March 18, 2020. Please note that space is limited to 100 participants and pre-registration is required.