The Good Steward

October 2020

Virtual Church: Streaming Services to Reach Community

Vulnerable populations and limited attendance have shifted the way that churches need to reach their audiences. The coronavirus pandemic has spurred many parishes to embrace technology. They’re streaming their services, connecting with people in their homes and cars as they cope with restrictions that keep them out of church.

Garland Pollard, Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, however, has been encouraging the parishes in his diocese to attempt this outreach strategy since he assumed his position in 2011. He and Anne Vickers, Chief Financial Officer and Canon for Finance and Administration for the diocese, offer talks, trainings, and instructional articles about how to set up and reap the benefits of virtual services. Check out some of his tutorials, as well as links to streaming services in the diocese.

At the beginning of the pandemic, about 19% of the churches in the Diocese of Southwest Florida were putting live services online, Garland reports. Now, about 95% of churches are on board with the process.

Snags and Leaps Forward

The diocese’s emphasis on virtual services even before the pandemic meant that churches were more likely to adopt streaming when it became a necessary means of reaching their parishioners.

“A lot of them figured it out using our tutorials, and they have been able to learn from each other, too. It’s a simple process, but there are a lot of intricacies that can make streaming a challenge. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of improvements,” Garland says.

Worries about copyright infringement dominated many churches’ early conversations about streaming. Garland says the problem has been largely resolved by using material either in the public domain or owned by Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI) or The Church Pension Fund. CPI has granted its clients free streaming rights to certain resources until November 22, 2020.

Some churches hesitated to jump into the live streaming game right away due to a lack of bandwidth capacity and fears about equipment costs. “You need a decent modem and hardwire connectivity to the internet,” Garland explains. He cites one example of making it work: Parish children volunteered to dig a trench across the yard so that the church could lay down cable; the diocese paid for the cable.

Garland helped the churches in his diocese by enumerating the cost of each step to help churches budget for the new equipment and related expenses. He calls the financial outlay a good investment.

“People are out there watching. People can listen in their car while they’re traveling. It’s a way for the community to thrive even though they can’t get together physically.” In fact, Garland says, views of most streamed services surpass the number of people who ordinarily attend in-person services.

All Manner of Content

Once a church has streaming capabilities, the content does not need to be limited to weekly services. Garland recommends broadcasting church musical offerings. He points out that many dioceses have excellent choirs and musicians. The choir master and a few choristers might even get together for weekly concerts, he says.

“People are searching for inspirational content. When they see a church’s musical schedule, it can lead to seeking out streamed services, too. Our technical effects are just as good as a lot of what you see on television now.”

Once churches in his diocese become accustomed to providing virtual events, Garland hopes to find a way to make the practice sustainable—even once people are back in the pews.

“We don’t want to change the nature of worship. We just want to open it up so everyone can have the experience,” he says. “There will always be people who can’t make it to church physically. We want to be in a position to meet the demand.”