Advancing Your Ministry’s Web Presence
“Thousands each minute were logging on to listen;” This reference to the Internet in the popular “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Tyndale House) is only one of many that alerted even the most casual reader to the potential impact that today’s most important emerging technology will have on our ability to reach “every tribe and nation” with a relevant message of hope and life.
The “Left Behind” character, Tsion, though growing up in a very traditional Israeli culture, espoused the Internet as the obvious means to reach out to an entire world left with few reliable forms of communication. The implication is that in the coming months and years, we will see the demand for a converged television/Internet experience, wherein the ability to broadcast globally will no longer belong only to a handful of major networks via expensive satellite delivery methodology. Web sites are now an essential part of the total outreach of many churches and ministries, just as the use of other technologies have become integrated within most church settings. Reflecting back over the past decade, we are reminded of professional audio systems, the extensive use of multiple wireless microphones, and “production lighting.” Or consider the use of Video and PowerPoint presentations, especially during music/worship, enabling “everyone to be on the same page.” As each of these technologies began to be employed by “progressive” churches and ministries, they were questioned and in many cases simply rejected as “too theatrical”, “too expensive”, or just plain “too new” to be appropriate in our settings. We often refer to the “MTV generation” as having a very short attention span and expecting a lot of electronic stimulation. When asked to worship alongside the technologically challenged older generation, no wonder our congregations seem to be continually dealing with worship style issues. The whole world is going through re-invention crises, and if the ministries in which we are involved are to remain relevant we have no choice but to deliver our message in the most contemporary way, utilizing every tool available; within the constraints of our resources. To begin with, every ministry should have a web site, even if only to provide the most basic information, such as:
concise statement of belief
concise statement of vision
address and directions (on street and on campus)
child care information and instructions
Beyond this basic information, many ministries will invest resources in keeping the web site up to date at all times, including stories and reports of special occasions and programs; with photos, of course! Additional uses for web site outreach include:
registration/sign-up for event participation
summer camp, week-end seminars, retreats
Now that we have a web site, in order to maximize our outreach potential we should be preparing to “stream media” from our site; in essence, to become a radio and/or TV broadcaster. Whoa! We have a hard time just getting the order of service right on Sunday morning, and getting through it without blowing the PowerPoint presentation. How and why should we expect to become TV broadcasters? The simple fact is that Internet technology enables us to do this at a fraction of the cost of network television.
There are two categories of streaming media (audio or video) that we can consider for our ministry’s web site: “live” or “on demand.” On demand (or “archived”) media can be prepared for the Internet from a tape (audio or video) and stored on a large disk drive (server). Live events can be streamed while they are happening through special encoding and server computers, and then archived after the event for “on demand” listening or viewing.
Here are some practical questions and answers that will arise as we consider the addition of this exciting dimension to our ministry’s web presence. Over the next few years the investment we make now in this technology can pay back eternal dividends in lives affected by the increased breadth of our ministry. Now, that’s an exciting thought!
What are some of the media applications I might consider streaming from my web site?
• Radio broadcast (simulcast live or on demand)
• Regular sermons and special events
• Christian education classes
• Church’s music (special programs or worship segments)
• Prior content from tape library (sermons/events)
• Announce upcoming events
• Informational/promotional communication
• Multi-lingual versions of your ministries What kinds of skills do I need in order to get started?
• A core team of technicians who are familiar with broadcasting or recording procedures.
• Begin with a basic webcasting computer technician, and an audio engineer/mixer.
• Very helpful: a producer/stage manager, an MC/Host, and a video editor. What kind of basic equipment is needed to broadcast video on the Internet?
• Onsite Webcast Encoding Computers
• Video Camera and Audio Feed from Microphones/Mix Board
• ISDN Digital Telephone Line to connect with your streaming/host server.
• (This may be your own server which you house at a co-location facility, or it may be one of the companies specializing in Internet media distribution such as InterVU or Real Broadcast Network) Optional:
• Video Tape Playback Deck(s) Betacam Style
• Video Switching Package Switcher/Monitors/Camera risers
• How do I actually get started with LIVE or Archived media?
• Contact a Webcast Service Company to conduct first few live events
• Contact a Webcast Service Company to encode and host your media (AOD “Audio on Demand”, or VOD “Video on Demand”)
• Determine scope of web media offering
• Get ministry budget approved!
• Find or Train a Web Technician
• Purchase computer(s) and other audio/video gear
• Obtain software license (Real or Windows)
• Contract with ISP for hosting/streaming
But there are further reasons to step out and do this. Additionally, there is an entire body of folks who are unable to participate in person with us in meetings for one reason or another; either because of physical limitations or disabilities, or because of scheduling conflicts. We have just described the characteristics of the emerging on-line church. The Internet will become a potent place for ministry as we move full speed into the twenty first century.