I have mixed thoughts on the idea of an online church campus. On one hand, I see the inevitable future that is online streaming and worship. On the other hand, I have concerns about what that future will look like and how the church should respond.
However, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to dip our toes into the online campus world. Our choice of platform was the Church Online Platform from LifeChurch.tv. I have to say overall, I’m rather impressed with the platform.
Of course, now that I’ve spent a few weeks in the platform, there are few things that I’ve learned. While I believe we did a thorough pre-launch checklist before we went live, there are some things that we should have considered. If you’re thinking about starting an online campus you should consider these things as well.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of four key things that you need to consider before starting an online campus. As I’ve said before, we’ve just started dipping out toes into these waters, so I’m sure we’ll have more things to consider, but these are the four that have most immediately stuck out to me as we’ve begun.
Have Clear Calls to Actions to Your Physical Campus
As I have stated before, one of the issues with a online campus is it really can’t replace a physical campus. There are so many aspects to ministry that require a face to face connection that an online campus just simply can’t compare to a physical one.
That being said, you need to create clear calls to action that help move your online audience from one of solely being online to a physical campus. While this won’t be true of everyone who attends online (i.e. homebound senior adults, missionaries, etc…), it should be clear to your audience that this is your desired action for them.
You can create this calls to actions through either creating a worship pre-roll video inviting them to your campus, banner ads, or inviting them inside your live chat window. However you decide to do it, make sure that calls to action are clear with the ability for the user to understand what’s expected of them.
Determine How Uniquely Communicate to this Audience
Just like social media, you can’t treat an online campus like you would any other communication channel. Instead you’ll need to think of it as part church campus and part interactive medium.
I suggest that before you launch an online campus that you spend a few weeks viewing other church’s online campuses. When you’re watching, ask the following questions:
- How is this experience different than sitting in the pew on Sunday morning?
- How is this experience different than just watching a replay of the sermon on YouTube?
- Do I feel welcomed when I’m view the online campus? If so, why? If not, what would make you feel more comfortable?
- How do the moderators/hosts handle outside guests who have opposing agendas? (i.e. online attenders looking to start an argument)
- Are there clear call to actions for next steps? (Both for spiritual decisions and invitations to visit a physical campus.)
- Are there other ways to interact with the campus other than chat? Can you give online? Can you ask for prayer?
I think one of the mistakes that church’s make when creating an online campus, is trying to replicate the worship room experience for the online audience. While you can do that in some ways, you’re still dealing with an online audience that can easily switch you off by closing their browser.
You’ll need to think of ways to make the users experience unique and interesting enough that it will draw the viewer back again the next week. I’m not saying you should go for gimmicks, but instead you should focus on making the experience unique for your online audience.
Provide Feedback Mechanisms
One of the strengths of online campus is that you can create immediate feedback mechanisms (i.e. online chat). You can give your audience the chance to ask questions, get technical help and give you feedback on whether or not the online campus is working.
This one of the areas that I think most churches struggle with. Most churches are very hesitant to give people an opportunity to say what they’re thinking in the moment (especially online). Nobody wants to be called out in front of an audience.
However, I found that if you foster community, that most of your detractors will be rather small. If they do appear, and the audience can tell that they don’t the right intent, the community usually does the policing without too much effort from you.
Surprisingly, our online chat is used heavily for technical support. While, I never thought I would be running tech support, it’s a good experience for the online attender to get immediate help versus having to email us and wait up to 24 hours for response.
If you’re planning to launch an online campus, I don’t see how you can do effectively without having an online chat component or some way for your audience to give feed back in real-time. I believe there are too many other online services where this is has become the norm (i.e. Periscope, Meerkat) that if you don’t include it, you could be seen as outdated.
Create a Clear Set of Protocols
One of the my favorite reads over the last few years has been the Checklist Manifesto and Work the System. Both books emphasize the need to create checklists and protocols that can be replicated to ensure quality every time.
I’ve become a big believer in checklists. Before we start an online service, I have a pre-service checklist I walk through to make sure that all the details are squared away.
Here are few items on my checklist:
- Is the streaming coming through online?
- How are the audio levels?
- Do I have all the links to post in chat that relevant today’s message?
- Have I written today’s chat greeting along with sermon title, Bible verses and worship leader information?
Then after the service, I have another checklist to make sure that everything is completed before I leave. This list reminds me to save a transcript of the worship chat and post the total number of viewers to our stats sheet.
While a checklist may seem like a boring aspect of an online worship service, having one ensures that online worship experience is consistent each week for the audience. By having a consistent worship experience, we’re extending our brand online in way that is good our church.
I have to say that an online campus, has opened up a whole new set of questions for us to explore. We still need to learn more about our online audience, explore additional times to re-broadcast the service and find additional metrics to measure success.
Does this excite me? You bet. I love the unknown and an online campus is just one more way of me helping push and pull my church into the future.