Can I Start An Online Church And How Do I Do It?
Ever wondered what it would take to start an online church and how you would do it? This special 5-minute guide will tell you everything you need to know from hardware to software to marketing and more.
Stephanie Antonucci Leathe
September 19, 2022
The age of COVID-19 sparked the beginning of a technological movement for churches. Services offered via live streaming, small groups meeting online - as the world isolated, these online connections kept congregations in touch with each other and the message of the Lord.
Now that the worst of the pandemic has passed and churches are meeting in-person again, many churches have opted to go for a hybrid model, offering services online and IRL for those that prefer a live connection.
For church leaders that have not considered going online yet, knowing where to start can be daunting. What will be needed to run a smooth service? How will the congregation join in and is true engagement possible?
There are seemingly hundreds of decisions to make, and making the wrong ones can scupper the whole project.
So if you have been wondering if you can start an online church yourself and how to go about it, this special five-minute guide is for you:
Step 1: Choose Your Base Of Operations
Just like you have a physical church building, you’ll need to find your church a virtual home too. This virtual home should ideally be able to host your online services, fulfill your one-on-one ministry needs and offer you some kind of metrics so you can see if your online offerings are working.
Some churches use their Facebook pages or Zoom as a basis for these services. This can be ok as a starting point, but you’ll soon find they can be limiting as your online church presence grows.
Try to think long-term here rather than just short-term. You want to build a lasting online home for your church because the chances are good that digital church is the future. So you should choose a solution that can scale with you as your congregation grows.
In this case, it’s best to go for a platform that was built specifically for churches. Some churches opt for Church Online while many have already found their homes in Altar Live. You can get a better idea of how these options compare (and why so many ministries love Altar!) here.
Quick tip: make sure the platform you choose integrates well with your community’s level of technical ability and any apps your church is already using.
Step 2: Build Your Media Team
Your next step will be choosing a team to run your online services on a regular basis. Some churches do this on a volunteer basis, and this can work but it’s best to work with people that are dedicated enough to attend consistently as well as have the technical know-how to live stream, run small groups, and other events for your online church.
If you use an all-in-one platform like Altar Live, you can actually run all of your virtual services with a team of fewer than three people. This means unlike the intense productions needed to broadcast on television, you can run a tight-knit team that will keep costs and time investments lower.
Before putting out the word that you need people, make sure to take the time to determine exactly what your church media team will be responsible for. Do they need to help with live streams alone or do you also need them to run your church’s social media community?
The longer your list of to-do’s for your media team is, the more people you will need. Since you’ll just be starting out, keep it small but iterative as your online church grows.
Step 3: Decide What You’ll Offer Online
Once you’ve thought about the platform and team, it’s time to get a little creative and brainstorm some ideas for what your church can offer online.
Yes, you get your usual Sunday service, but why stop there?
At Altar Live, we’ve seen churches use our platform for a variety of uses, from running their usual services to special small groups in the week to speaking events with Q and A’s and even youth groups. The sky truly is the limit, and going online also means that you can engage your congregation every day of the week versus only seeing them on Sundays.
Put together some ideas, create a loose schedule and see how much interest there is from people in the different options you have. This will tell you more about what people are looking for in an online ministry and what will help them feel more connected to your church and the rest of the congregation.
Step 4: Remember The Importance Of Chat
In a normal Sunday service, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with your peers. You greet your neighbor, praise and worship together, and can get together after church for a nice coffee and a chat.
Online, this becomes a bit more challenging. Sure you can reach your congregation by streaming, but how do they feel connected and actually engage with you? Otherwise, you might as well pre-record your services and call it a day.
This is where chat options come into play and why it’s such a key feature for us at Altar. Individual conversations, the ability to break off into smaller groups, and enjoying that back-and-forth are essential to the growth of your online church presence.
Our experience has been that if you provide the space for your congregation to connect, you’ll see the returns twofold in the relationships that form.
Step 5: Decide On Equipment
This step is always challenging since it requires you to make decisions about the hardware you’ll be using to run your online church services.
The good news is, that you don’t need to have a full production set to run your church online to make it feel high-quality. At the same time, you don’t just want to run it from your phone camera or basic webcam either.
Our suggestion is to start with a good quality streaming camera and microphone. Some digital pastors also make use of green screens to make their backgrounds more visually appealing during services or help them show slides, but this is something you can build up to.
Once you’ve streamed for a while using your equipment, you’ll get a better feel for what is working and what you can improve on as your services grow.
Step 6: Promote, Promote, Promote!
Finally, you have everything you need to live stream your first church service…Except for an audience!
This is the step that curtails many online churches - having a lack of audience over the long term can be very discouraging. And with good reason! A lot of effort goes into coming up with great online services and it's a shame when no one joins them.
Your final step before hosting your first online church service or event is to start marketing them. Using social media, email blasts and other online approaches can be very effective, as can making announcements in your physical church building.
Remind your congregation it's a great option for the days they can't make it into church or are traveling. Make sure you give yourself enough leeway in terms of timing so that everyone has good notice about your first service taking place.
And then…Run it.
It probably won't be packed the first time. Or the second time.
It'll likely take a while to build.
But since your church is thinking long-term and this is an investment for the future, remember consistency is key. Soon word will spread and paired with regular promotions online your virtual congregation will begin to grow.
Using Altar Live To Run Your Church Online
Why do so many churches choose to use Altar Live?
Because it’s shown churches how they can use this comprehensive all-in-one solution to grow their number of returning visitors, improve online engagement, and provide them with metrics about their services.
But that’s not the only reason churches love us. We make it easier for your congregation too.
Joining is as easy as clicking your link on any device they own. Despite being one click away your hosts and congregation will get access to powerful moderation and chat features that make them feel like they're meeting in person.
Altar Live now powers over a thousand online churches, and it can do the same for yours too.
We offer a free two-week trial to churches wanting to experience Altar Live before committing, so there is literally no reason not to try it! We even offer an included Altar Academy to help you and your church media team get up to speed on all the incredible features available to you.
Start your free trial by clicking here.