Comparing Church Online and Altar Live

Andrew Mahon

December 21, 2020

For better or worse, every church has now become something of an expert in the world of live streaming. If your church already had a side project producing a livestream that played in parallel to your in-house worship, you were miles ahead of the game when the pandemic forced us all to close our doors. And, if you didn’t have live streaming before March… well, you do now. And, it’s not just a side project, it is becoming the main project. 

Many churches selected the Church Online platform, and for good reason! It has been battle tested, is used by lots of churches around the world, has some strong advantages over streaming on social media sites… and it is free! Who could ask for more? 

Actually…almost every church that uses Church.Online does ask for something more. 

“After the watching the service with Church.Online,
join us on Zoom for fellowship and virtual coffee!” 

Church.Online is missing an entire dimension of worship and community: face-to-face, talk-out-loud fellowship! 

Does that sound familiar to you? Is your livestream experience the sound of just one hand clapping? 

Altar Live combines the broadcast reach of church live streaming with personal intimacy of face-to-face videoconferencing. 

If that sounds like you and your church, you’ll want to see how Altar Live can replace Church.Online, and give your church a fuller experience. 

Here are things to consider as you look at moving to the next phase of your online church. 

#1. See who is at church today

Part of the in-person church experience involves simply being present with fellow believers. There is a warmth, a sense of belonging when a congregation gathers, even if it does not include a direct conversation. 

For some folks, also seeing who is not there today is important. Not only do they notice someone’s presence, they also notice their absence, and take it as an sign that perhaps someone is in need of caring, direct contact.

 
Church.Online

Mostly invisible and anonymous

 
Altar Live

See, and be seen

 There is no way to see who else is attending church via the livestream. Only when someone speaks up in the chat do they become “visible” to everyone else.

And, even then, some people identify themselves with a nickname or pseudonym, not their actual name, so it is not immediately apparent “Joseph” is actually your acquaintance/friend Joe, or some other Joe. 
 When a participant enters your church event in Altar Live, their name and picture show up in the Contacts panel. Just like in a physical church, they are visible. They can see, and be seen.

You can scroll through the list of attendees, or search for someone by name. Hover your cursor over someone’s name, and you see their full name and photo.

#2. Sit with family and friends

Most of us sit together at church with someone -- either by habit and intention, or opportunistically when a seat in a row is available next to a friend, neighbor or acquaintance. Sitting on a sofa at home with a spouse, children, roommates approximates this experience, but still lacks a fuller sense of community.

 

Church.Online

Passive experience

 

Altar Live

Personal and interactive experience

 There is a moment of delight for some when a friend’s name shows up in the chat pane, especially someone we haven’t seen in a week, or month, or longer!

But even when that happens, there’s no way to have a private conversation, no way to make “eye contact” online and send a subtle wave hello. Everything is out in front of the entire congregation. That’s… okay. It just isn’t highly personal. 
 In Altar Live, you sit together with someone in a row. Invite specific individuals to sit with you, choose a seat next to someone you know, or find a spot with someone new.

And you all see and hear each other.

Sit and say hello, chat briefly, respond to sermon discussion questions together. Maybe even whisper something during worship, the reading, the message, and announcements.

#3. Passing of the Peace

We all miss this -- turning to your seat neighbors, making eye contact, and offering a physical gesture.

 

Church.Online
Holy chaos

 

Altar Live
Musical chairs

 Some churches call it “Holy Chaos.” A few, or dozens, or sometimes a hundred people all of a sudden show up in chat, offering peace to everyone, or calling out someone in particular.

People who prefer not to say something in front of the entire congregation remain silent. 
 In Altar Live, you have been sitting with a handful of people the entire time, and now you can all speak your greeting of peace to each other.

If time allows, get up from your row and visit other rows, find people you know and make a visual, audible connection with them, and then return to your row afterward.

#4. Mingling during coffee hour

You go to church to worship and connect with God. You stick around at church to connect with people. 

 

Church.Online
Move to Zoom

 

Altar Live
Stay where you are

 If your livestream ends with a message that says “join us on Zoom to get together!”, then you know something is missing.

There is often a steep drop-off rate from the full viewership on Church.Online to the attendance on Zoom.

Changing the mode of participation, unfortunately, invites many people to head for the exit. 
 When the service ends, everyone in attendance automatically moves to a social lobby -- a digital room full of tables for four.

Invite someone to a table for direct, personal, visual, audible connection. Gather with people you know -- or are getting to know better.

Naturally move from one table to the next, meeting and greeting with members of your community.

#5. One-to-one prayer

Now that almost everyone is online, an amazing thing happens. People are much quicker to get intimate, to share real life stories and circumstances, and to be more open to intercessory prayer. 

 

Church.Online
Text

 

Altar Live
Face-to-face

 This is one of the crown jewels of Church.Online. Newcomers and regular attendees can click a button to ask for prayer, which notifies a designated greeter. The two enter a private space to pray together using text-based chat. When the praying is over, the attendee can simply leave, or can talk with their partner about next steps.   Text-based chat is...ok. Wouldn’t it be more natural to pray with someone face to face? For those for whom sight and sound is an important element of prayer, it is not an ideal medium for prayer.

In the social lobby in Altar Live, specific tables are designated for prayer, where two -- or more -- can gather, hear each other, and see each other.

Naturally move from one table to the next, meeting and greeting with members of your community.

#6. Bringing newcomers

Some people find it hard to invite others to their physical church building. And others find it hard to accept an invitation to the church building. But, an online church service lowers the threshold considerably to offering (and accepting) an invitation.

 

Church.Online
Send invite

 

Altar Live
Host a guest

 Attending a church service is as easy as clicking on a link in an email or a text sent by a friend. But, the person who invited the guest has no way of knowing if that person is present.

When a newcomer arrives, they can remain “in the back,” anonymously. Even when they interact with an online greeter, they can offer a nickname or pseudonym. It’s safe, and if the message is inviting, the path to next steps is easy. 
 Yes, in Altar Live, there is the same one-click entry to attend a service anonymously.

Altar Live takes this to the next level. Go ahead and invite a friend or neighbor directly into your watch party at church, or to your table for the after-church social time. In this way, the guest can ask questions during the event, and you can offer explanations or help make sure your guest is comfortable all the way through. They are also less likely to leave part way through the service.

This dynamic avoids the experience of walking into a big church, visible to everyone; and it preserves the personal connection between host and guest.


#7. Welcoming newcomers

Some seekers find your church even without a direct invitation. They discovered your church on social media or through a Google search, and they come to your livestream. 


 

Church.Online
Guests make the first move

 

Altar Live
Greeters make the first move

 Guest-initiated welcome. When a newcomer says hello in the chat pane, a designated greeter can welcome them to church via text-based chat.

If necessary, a greeter can remove bad actors who are disruptive. 
 Greeter-initiated welcome. When an anonymous guest joins the livestream, they are assigned a temporary name (e.g., Scarlet Shoelace, Purple Rhino), and greeters can welcome them via text-based chat.

If necessary, a greeter can remove bad actors who are disruptive.

In addition, the greeter can invite a willing guest to log in, which enables the guest to join a watch party with others. Where appropriate, the greeter can suggest a watch party that will be particularly hospitable to a newcomer, and make a discrete introduction as the newcomer joins them.

In this way, real connections begin on the very first visit, not in a hoped-for return reply.


#8. Giving 

 

Church.Online
Link to third party apps

 

Altar Live
Link to third party apps

 Church.Online includes the ability to add “Moments” within the chat stream. Attendees click/tap on the Give button in a Moment to launch a web page where a third-party giving solution walks them through the process.   Altar Live includes an Announcements tab, where you can push out a link to any third-party giving application. During your offering time, greeters can push out the giving link to the congregation. (Coming January 2020)

#9. Cost

Everyone has a budget.  

 

Church.Online
Free

 

Altar Live
Cup o’ coffee

 Free.

But, you have to use another paid video-conference platform like Zoom for face-to-face connection. 
 Altar Live brings all the tools of Church Online and video-conferencing into the same platform, and has been priced with small and medium church budgets in mind.

Altar Live is comparable to the monthly cost for coffee, cream, sugar, cups and napkins. For a church of 70, that’s about $1 per person per month. For a church of 150, even less; about 69 cents per person per month.

And, there’s no need for clean-up afterwards.


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