Getting lost in a sea of a million tiny Zoom rectangles. Trying to find the culprit of the meeting’s mic echo. Being booted from your break-out session mid-conversation.
You know the feeling. Zoom annoyances, awkward Zoom moments, Zoom fatigue. Whatever you’d like to call it, we’ve all been in those scenarios time and time again. If we’re honest, in today’s digital age, a Zoom church service simply isn’t ideal anymore when it comes to quality online engagement.
At Altar Live, we know church. And we know that creating genuine people-to-people connections is key for community building – in-person just as much as it is online.
Increasingly, people are visiting online before they even step foot into your physical church. Or perhaps your church service is wondering how to start an online church counterpart. Either way, without after-service mingling, handshakes, warm face-to-face smiles, and snacks in the lobby, welcoming attendees to your online space becomes a crucial challenge.
That’s why we know it’s key to build up your community using digital tools optimal for cultivating connection. We’ve worked with over a thousand churches, figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building community and increasing engagement online. We understand that the tools you use can make or break not only the online experience but the overall community connection in your online ministry.
Zoom has been a go-to tool for most when it comes to virtual meetings. But could your Zoom worship services potentially be getting in the way of community building? Are they preventing people from really engaging? How do you know if it’s time to change to a new platform?
Here are seven real ways using Zoom just might be hindering you from fostering community in your virtual services.
Reason #7 for Losing Engagement: Attendees can feel like just a face in the crowd (or rectangle on a grid)
The Reality: It’s hard to keep track of everyone in your meeting or to make them feel seen and heard. Church is supposed to provide meaningful connections and a sense of belonging. But upon their first visit, if someone gets lost in the sea of faces (or grid of rectangles) it's easy for their first online visit to your church to feel disconnected.
What You Can Do: That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re engaging with everyone, whether it be sending them a chat or saying hello! With more people, having more members on your online welcome team may just help get the job done.
A Step Up: Using platforms like Altar Live makes this easier. Even with the capability to have up to 500 attendees per meeting, the platform’s format creates a welcoming and energetic environment for your community. By easily seeing who else is joining your online event with visualized icons on screen, this ensures that no one gets lost in the crowd.
Whether you’re welcoming your first-time visitors or connecting with regulars, using features like Altar Live’s direct message or private 1:1 video conference make engagement warm, intentional and personal – making it easier for everyone to feel engaged in online church.
Reason #6 for Losing Engagement: Host-facilitated interactions can feel awkward or unnatural
The Reality: When the Zoom Host is the one doing all the work – turning on and off mics, arranging groups, and sending everyone off to break-out rooms – interactions may not feel very organic. Quite unlike how the natural flow of conversation should be.
Studies show that Zoom already disrupts the natural rhythm of conversation. Having the Zoom Host do all the work only adds to this. So how do we counter it?
What You Can Do: As a host, it may be helpful to have a rough idea ahead of time for the breakout groups you’ll be assigning. If you’re welcoming newcomers, you may want to consider which regulars will be more open to welcoming visitors and connecting with them. However, with this strategy, though you can do the planning, it’s still hard to predict who will be there or how the dynamic between people will be. There really is only so much you can plan for.
💡 Tip: If you’re a host for your church’s online ministry, be sure to read our article on how to build the best media hosting team if you haven’t already.
A Step Up: In the same way that small group or one-on-one interactions form organically in-person at church, we believe it should be this way online as well.
As a Host, instead of doing all the work, using Altar Live gives you the ability to let your attendees choose which breakout tables and rooms they want to join. People have the freedom to move between groups, and the Host can easily pull everyone back together when needed.
Reason #5 for Losing Engagement: Too many people for real, personal conversations
Reality: When using Zoom for your church service, trying to engage with each attendee becomes difficult with large numbers and the ability for only one person to speak at a time. If your online service is seeing an uptick in attendance, this may pose a challenge to your growth and engagement. Various points of your church service can become missed opportunities for connection.
What You Can Do: You may choose to use the chat or to split into breakout rooms, though this may feel disconnected or forced. However, if you remain in the main session you may need to sacrifice a level of personability in connecting with those in the service. It will require your team to get creative to find ways for people to connect on a more personal level!
A Step Up: Using platforms designed for both personal connection and community can be a game-changer. Here's an example of a technology platform made for church. Built with churches in mind, platforms like Altar Live offer features made for conversation and meaningful connection. Whether it’s your church’s online worship service, event, prayer meeting, bible study, or other virtual meetings, Altar Live’s table, and room features offer attendees the opportunity for genuine, personal conversation – even in the context of communal fellowship.
Reason #4 for Losing Engagement: Meeting conflicts
The Reality: We know that church life is dynamic, and the calendar gets filled up quickly! The last thing you want is scheduling conflicts, time limits, and the inability to host synchronous meetings and events. All these can mean losing real opportunities to engage with your community – in the ways you need to when you need to.
What you can do: If you’re using Zoom regularly, you may already be opting for the paid version for a longer meeting time. But what if the weekly Bible study overlaps with the youth group?... And the prayer team needs to squeeze in one last meeting before the retreat? Skillful scheduling then becomes an even more crucial aspect of meeting and event planning.
If you’re unable to find another time for your event, you may find yourself on various platforms like Skype or Meet, or in church members’ personal Zoom meeting rooms. The inability to streamline into the same platform can cause your church to lose valuable metrics in tracking growth and attendance, insights that could help you know how to better engage with your community.
A Step Up: If you’re finding that your church’s online engagement is challenged by scheduling issues, or that you’re no longer able to keep track of what meeting is on which platform at what time, it might be time to make some changes.
Consider using a platform that might better suit your needs. Find a platform with the ability to host various events at the same time with no time limit. As you look for a platform, ask yourself:
- Can you schedule both larger events and smaller meetings the way you need to? At the time you need to?
- Will you be able to host events and meetings on the platform any day of the week? Will you be able to do this for any and all of your meetings?
The flow of your church service, events, fellowship, and other online meetings are all crucial to consistently building a sense of community within your church.
“Need to host three small groups, a staff meeting, and a volunteer training all at the same time? No problem. Pay for one account to get unlimited and concurrent events & meetings.”
Reason #3 for Losing Engagement: Technical Issues
The Reality: Perhaps you’ve been just on time for a Zoom meeting when all of a sudden you are kindly met by the latest version update. Or maybe you’ve diligently prepared your slides and video links to share with the group members, when you find that sharing your screen is simply not getting your content through to the other side. Technical issues are common and inevitable, and yet they are also key reasons why online meetings can feel awkward or disconnected.
What you can do: While many people post-pandemic already have the Zoom app, it’s important to remind attendees of an update before a meeting, just in case it interferes with their ability to join in. In regard to faulty or lagging screen share, if you are the one sharing your screen, it may be worthwhile to invest in an ethernet cable to ensure that your connection is stable (at least on your end if not on theirs…).
A Step Up: Even with these mechanisms in place, the reality is that the quality of Zoom’s screenshare just isn’t up to par with the quality of audio and video we’re used to seeing in a live stream. And if you're live streaming church worship directly to Zoom in real time, there is still sadly a large compromise in quality.
Certain browser-based programs, such as Altar Live, have the ability to provide a drastically better file streaming experience for their viewers. In discussing their use of Altar’s browser-based media, one user shared, “Screen share on most platforms has terrible audio quality. On Altar, you can easily share a video or audio file for everyone to watch or listen to at the same time. Watch a high-quality video together and then discuss afterwards!”
Reason #2 for Losing Engagement: No after-service mingling – fellowship ends when the service ends
The Reality: Fellowship is core to every worship service. According to online church research, of U.S. adults who say they attend a religious service at least once or twice a month, 57% believe that being a part of a community of faith is a very important reason as to why they attend services. Fellowship is key to building community, and it’s how we can engage and grow together as faith communities.
Whether it’s before or after a service, the smiles and greetings go a long way in community building. However, after a Zoom church service, catching up over coffee and in the lobby, or meeting first-timers and bonding over common interests – it just doesn’t happen like it does in person. Instead, the Zoom Host ends the meeting, and there isn't the opportunity to chat, catch up, or meet new people like we do after in-person fellowship.
What You Can Do: Instead of ending the meeting right away, let attendees linger a while after the meeting. Here, you unfortunately run into a similar problem as mentioned before; if there is more than a handful of people, fellowship can feel disconnected as only one person can speak at a time. Otherwise, breakout rooms must be assigned and enforced by the Zoom host. Though this may not be ideal, it still opens up an avenue for fellowship.
"Previously, we used to see a 50% drop off when the “official” portion of our online event ended. But with Altar Live, 80% stuck around afterward to chat for 15+ minutes. Altar’s features afforded us an ability not possible with Zoom or other platforms." -- Adam Graber, FaithTech
A Step Up: A third, more engaging option is to utilize the various tools Altar Live offers for online church services. Users who have used Altar’s various features such as tables, rooms, chat etc. have seen the greater possibilities its given their churches. These tools are made for human-to-human connection and community building, design with churches like yours in mind. For a more in-depth walkthrough of the features, you can view our video walkthroughs or book a personal walkthrough here.
💡 Tip: If your virtual church service is looking to level up in terms of online engagement, be sure to download our free resource, the Ultimate Guide to Online Church Engagement.
Reason #1 for Losing Engagement: No way to follow up with first-time visitors
The Reality: It’s not uncommon for many first-time visitors to lurk and leave with no way to follow up. But when it comes to a church worship service, although some may be hiding in the shadows, people are still looking for an online community to feel at home.
Sometimes it takes time to find a sense of belonging. But without a way to track who’s attending and know how you can follow up, more often than not, visitors can disappear just as quickly as they show up.
What You Can Do: Zoom attendees have the ability to stay anonymous, leave their cameras off, and disappear without a trace. For you and your online hospitality team, it makes all the difference to greet newcomers by name as well as take the extra step to message and engage with them personally.
In order to continue that follow-up, it’s crucial to have them fill out a connection card, to get an email or phone number, or other means of personal contact. However, as always, you have to accept that this will not always happen. Those slower to warm up may be hesitant to leave their personal information right away. Or they may not stay long enough to get the chance to engage with you and your team.
A Step Up: With Altar Live, you’ll get notified when someone joins your events or meeting for the first time so you can follow up with them. Altar live takes note of each newcomer, adding their data to your records, not letting anyone slip through the cracks.
Additionally, this essential church metrics dashboard can integrate with your church management system through our custom integrations. This gives you real insight into how you can best increase online engagement with your congregation. Through Altar’s unique features, follow up with newcomers and nurture your church member by building up your community in real, practical ways.
Having the right digital tools can go a long way in either helping or hurting a church in its mission to carry out an online ministry. Whether it’s the technical issues, large group numbers, or not having a way to follow up with first-timers, Zoom presents a multitude of challenges for the modern church.
As your church shifts and grows, it’s important to be aware of its needs. To be able to face the digital terrain head-on with creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving – so you can continue to cultivate your faith community to be a place of community and belonging.