With mandatory closures and restrictions limiting meetings to no more than 10 people, churches are facing an unprecedented challenge during the COVID-19 crisis. How will the church operate in these times? From learning how to stream worship to determining ways to coordinate how to serve the community, churches need to embrace key technologies.
It is essential that church families meet together in some capacity. Hold a prayer vigil. Coordinate meals for seniors. Continue meeting as small groups. Conduct the basic business of the church.
Faith communities must now embrace the virtual meeting technologies. Businesses have proven the value of these resources. By implementing them in your church, you can help to keep things as close to "business as usual" as possible.
Today's world can be scary, but using technology to stay connected doesn't have to be. We're here to help with some suggestions.
WHAT IS WEB CONFERENCING OR VIRTUAL MEETINGS?
This is a digital "meeting room" that you create using a web conference tool. Typically, a meeting organizer can email everyone a link to the meeting. When people click on the link, most of the tools open in a web browser and people can stream a video of themselves, share a document, speak to one another and use text chat. Most laptops and computers now have webcams, microphones and speakers built in, so meetings can be as simple as "click and go."
OVERVIEW OF POPULAR PLATFORMS
Microsoft Skype (FREE)
- Hold virtual meetings and collaboration in real time.
- Create and share your online meeting in three clicks.
- Utilize on desktops, mobile, tablets, Xbox and Amazon Alexa devices.
- Collaborate with up to 10 participants on video calls.
- Can provide live captions and subtitles to help the hearing impaired.
Microsoft Teams (FREE)
- Comes as part of Office 365. This powerful tool has a bit of a learning curve but can be very useful to help coordinate activities for the church.
- Manages real-time collaboration and threaded discussions by creating teams and channels. You could have a "First UMC Team" with all members and then separate channels for each committee (ex. Staff Parish, Trustees, etc.). Channels can be open to all or made private to a select list of invitees.
- Lets you start a video call with everyone in a channel or a team by hitting "Meet Now" at the bottom of the screen. It also supports private chat and calling.
- Has a strong connection to Office 365 and OneDrive to allow easy collaboration on next Sunday's worship PowerPoint, annual budget Excel spreadsheet or the latest bulletin.
- Connects with apps like Trello, Evernote and other productivity apps to keep your team coordinated.
Google Hangouts (FREE)
- Benefits from the familiarity with Google and the popularity of Gmail, making this a good choice for churches.
- Hosts virtual meetings of up to 10 participants.
- Allows chats, phone calls and video calls.
- Use it on computer, iOS and Android devices.
- Supports the use of calendar invitations to future meetings.
Zoom (Free for limited use. $14 per host per month for more capability.)
- Supports large meetings and church services easily.
- Join from anywhere on any device.
- Creates calendar invitations to help people remember when to join the meeting.
- Integrates with collaboration apps like Slack, popular browsers and Microsoft Office 365.
- Offers a free plan for webinars for group meetings of up to 100 participants. The free plan limits meetings to 40 minutes. Other plans start from $14 per host per month.
- United Methodist Communications now offers free on-demand training, Zoom for Churches.
BlueJeans (start at $9.99 per host per month for up to 50 attendees)
- Brings together features like screen sharing, polling, Q&A, recording and text chat to make collaboration easy.
- Connects from any computer, iOS or Android device.
- Includes dial-in numbers allowing people to call into the meeting without a computer or mobile device.
- Uses Smart Meeting in-app intelligence to capture the most important discussion points, assign action items and catch-up quickly with time-saving highlight reels.
- BlueJeans plans start at $9.99 per host per month (billed annually).
Webex (Free for up to 100 participants. Other functions require a subscription.)
- Allows for meeting with 100 participants, HD video, screen sharing and a personal room for as you like.
- Requires subscription starting at $13.50 per month per host for application sharing, recording and other functions.
THE BEST TOOL IS…
The best solution is the one your church will use. Of course, don't forget FaceTime works for conference calls in a pinch and is easy to use among Apple device owners. Microsoft Teams is a very powerful and free tool, but that's irrelevant if people can't use it. Try them out, and see what works best for your team. Remember that the quality of the experience depends on the quality of your computer and internet connection.