In the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? set in the 1930s, Governor “Pappy” O’Daniel is running for re-election. As he enters a radio station, one of his aids asks him if he has given up campaigning face-to-face and will continue “pressin’ the flesh.” Pappy rebukes the aid, saying, “We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here. We are mass communicating.”
In Unity, as well as in varied churches throughout America, ministries have begun to reach out to people through livestreaming and invite viewers to be a part of their worship services. Of course, the purpose of these ministries is not to court an electorate for votes as was Pappy’s plan. Rather, livestreaming is to move through any constructs or obstacles of time, transportation, loneliness, disconnect from a current spiritual community or need for fellowship with others. It is to provide open and welcoming Sunday services to whomever wishes to connect with the Divine and, hopefully through the mystery of cyberspace, to touch that Essence within himself/herself.
Reaching out to the church shopper, the un-churched, non-religious and sick or anyone seeking to connect beyond the church walls allows spiritual centers to manifest a mission and vision of expressing God’s love with individuals they may never meet face to face. Let’s allow Spirit to do its perfect work through telephones, computers and TVs (ROKU or Apple TV). Indeed, this is God Presence mass communicating the message of love, peace and oneness throughout the planet! How great is that?
Unity of Richmond, Va., started livestreaming Easter Sunday 2013 in order to support the development of our Unity of the Rappahannock satellite ministry located on the Northern Neck area about 80 miles from Richmond, Va. This opportunity became available when our ministry was asked to support a few Unity folks who had moved from Northern Virginia and wanted a Unity presence in their five-county area.
Today, Unity of the Rappahannock meets twice monthly in community as a part of our Sunday service. This fall, we will begin weekly Sunday services and expand our presence in that area. When we began our journey with members there, we supported their efforts with speakers from Unity of Richmond. Often, our speakers would be accompanied with a member of our Unity community (board member, licensed Unity teacher, prayer chaplain, etc.). This created the opportunity for a high-touch experience and a bonding of our two communities that has now evolved into one ministry located in two locations. This is largely due to the livestreaming shown in that location on Sunday mornings that began three years after they organized.
Now, Unity of Richmond and Unity of the Rappahannock are blessed with numerous opportunities developed over the past seven years. Between ourselves, we have begun referring to ourselves as URich and URapp. URapp has been more than patient as we worked together to bring a quality livestreaming experience on Sunday mornings. And we have been blessed in the following ways because of our commitment to support and develop this ministry:
- Today there is a Unity presence on the Northern Neck of Virginia. We meet in the community library at no cost. This library has a wonderful presence in the community that helps Unity of Rappahannock have a friendly community presence.
- Unity of Rappahannock members are also members of Unity of Richmond and are assigned a prayer chaplain to contact them monthly and pray with them. I personally know each of the people who attend their services regularly. It is important to stay in touch with a satellite community and nurture relationships with one another.
- One of the major benefits of creating livestreaming for Unity of the Rappahannock is that we have significantly increased the number of other individuals attending our services via livestreaming. Currently we are reaching in excess of 100 people each Sunday morning worldwide. For example, we recently learned that five soldiers stationed in Kuwait have begun watching our services weekly from their military location. In addition, one Sunday I greeted a guest from Singapore who mentioned she had been watching our services for several months before coming to visit her mother in Richmond. After this woman returned to Singapore, her mother continues to join us.
- Because of livestreaming, we have increased our attendance and membership at Unity of Richmond. About 75% of our first-time guests have visited our website and checked out our messages prior to stepping through the door. People like to research the ministry, learn about our core beliefs and experience a Sunday service before actually attending.
- We have also found that members connect with our livestreaming services when they travel, when unable to attend due to health challenges or occasionally when they stay home in their pajamas and enjoy their coffee as they watch the service. Livestreaming has not reduced our attendance. It has been a positive contribution to our growth.
- Livestreaming has helped our congregation see our greater outreach vision as a church without walls and themselves as the expression of God’s unconditional love. Members have shown great interest in learning how to use this modern technology in order to share our vision of “Transformed Lives Transforming the World.”
- Lastly, our spiritual community is beginning to figure out how to use information provided by Google Analytics so we can connect with our audience to meet their needs. This analysis provides helpful information to identify and communicate with viewing audiences.
What Outlay Does It Take?
So, by now you must be wondering about the costs involved before you could consider making a commitment for “livestreaming” in your ministry. The most frequent questions I’m asked are “What does it cost? What kind of equipment do you need? What software is necessary? What kind of expertise is needed to broadcast services?”
- Cost: The cost for equipment, software and installation will range between $2,500 and $7,000 depending on the number of cameras, whether you have a computer available and whether you have a quality sound system already installed. Livestreaming is available through YouTube and Facebook. Livestreaming companies charge as little as $19.99 a month with the higher range for larger services at $150.00. If you hire someone to design and install your system, this would increase your costs. Over the long run, having professional support will save you time and money. And to offset costs, viewers send in donations. We receive approximately $1,000 monthly in donations from our livestreaming audience.
- Equipment: A church can broadcast with one video camera. We use three wall-mounted cameras that are controlled in our audio-visual room. A dedicated computer and two monitors are recommended.
- Software: Software is available from a number of vendors depending on which livestreaming provider you use.
- Expertise: We currently have a member who manages our livestreaming. He has trained two other volunteers to manage our livestreaming broadcasts. We have also used interns from the local community colleges who are in training to be audio/video technicians.
After reading this article, you may still not be convinced that your ministry is ready to livestream. I would encourage every Unity ministry to seriously consider the benefits of livestreaming and, if possible, to consider developing satellite ministries. Through a Templeton grant, UWM may be able to support your ministry with a matching grant that will provide the funds necessary to be a church without walls.
Today we have a great opportunity to mass communicate using the technology of the world to deprogram ourselves from the ways of this world so that we may experience, as Jesus said, Heaven on Earth. Like Charles Fillmore, let us broadcast to the world that we are “Transformed Lives Transforming the World!”