In the last 8 weeks, several thousand churches have taken their worship services online, and the reach of these digital platforms is simply staggering. Life Church reports that its free Church Online platform has over 20,000 new users and millions of viewers in the past several weeks. Talk about taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth!
It's May 5. Some states are lifting stay-at-home restrictions related to Coronavirus, some states like Ohio are extending them, and no one is sure how any of this might change day to day.
West Virginia (WV) is allowing churches to gather for worship as early as May 17. And I know of a few other churches around the country also planning to open on May 17, but not without a lot of discussion both internally and from the community.
I do not expect the church that I attend to think about starting to meet again until at least mid-June, but we’re already talking about what we need to do to get ready. And you should, too.
Once you make that decision to worship together again, what steps do you need to take? We can’t comment on disinfection, spacing of people, building use or programmatic changes, but we can help with your audio, video and lighting systems.
Here are some questions that you will need to answer, no matter what.
Will all of your members come back the first week? If so, how will you accommodate them? Multiple services, distancing, having multiple venues around the building? If not, who do you think will attend and who will choose to stay home? You might have to take some surveys and be prepared to be surprised.
Will you be required by your state to use social distancing and masks? We are told that in WV that seating is required to meet the “6’ Rule” for general social distancing, and that all in attendance must wear masks or face coverings.
Sounds pretty easy, right?
In the case of the church I attend, the 6’ Rule would eliminate about 75% of the seats in our auditorium. That’s a big problem. We do not know what Ohio’s rules will be, but if that’s the case, we need to be prepared for over half of our weekly attendance to experience worship in another way.
My church already employs video streaming, and from the numbers we’ve seen during the Covid crisis, the streaming audience is actually larger than our average weekly attendance, so we’ve chosen to make improvements there with a better switcher, and upgraded cameras. Embracing streaming for the long-haul makes sense. And we’re a church of 200, so don’t think that it has to cost a fortune.
In addition, we expect to need to use the Fellowship Hall for overflow space, but that adds maybe 20 people at reduced capacity. To serve the Fellowship Hall, we’ll need an HDMI distribution amplifier (splitter) and a length of cable or HDMI extenders to reach the projector from the tech booth in the main auditorium.
We’re glad to have installed a new projector, screen and related equipment in the last year or so. And we have distributed video with audio in a couple other areas already.
Even with all of that, we’re still only able to accommodate about half our normal weekly attendance inside the building.
So what are some other options?
We could add a second service with times staggered enough to permit people to arrive and depart separately. Sadly, that makes seeing each other more difficult, and that fellowship between friends is a large part of the weekend service for any church.
A lot of that depends on how many people will feel like coming back when Ohio gives the green light. Be prepared to be very fluid and for expectations to change.
We’ve discussed having outdoor worship or having audio available outside the building, too, so that people can drive up and listen. If it doesn’t violate a noise ordinance, we could use a sound system (weather permitting) or audio over wi-fi in the parking lot.
Some have suggested a radio-type transmission as an option for folks who do not want to come inside the building. Again, do not be surprised if a member of your tech team who is young father would be willing serve and not care about masking up, but who would also choose to have his family stay outside or at home.
There are a couple options for radio-type audio. Many people wanted low-power FM transmitters for Easter weekend, but found them hard to come by and not very reliable.
The better choice is to have an outdoor wireless access point (WAP) and wi-fi servers that are reliable up to 250’. You’ll need someone with experience to do some minimal IT work, but the wi-fi server and WAP do NOT need to be added to an existing computer network. That’s about $1500 for 100 users plus $600 per 100 additional users after that. Call us for more info on that type of solution since those products are not on the website yet.
One of these days, you’ll be back to church, in person, and you probably need some extra equipment to make it a reality. Let us help you get ready before things are urgent and equipment runs low like it did for video streaming equipment and FM transmitters from mid-March until today.
And don’t forget that if you are already streaming, that may be the best way to keep some people connected at home or in general. We feel like better streaming is here to stay, so give us a call for cameras and custom streaming solutions.
If you have ideas about how to get your church back to worship that are different from anything we’ve mentioned or if you just need to ask some questions, please call. We’ll be glad to work on creative solutions for you. But please do not wait until the last minute. If the return to church is anything like the ramp up to streaming, you may end up disappointed.