We shut off Church Online, and survived!

You’ve got good viewership -- but not so much engagement -- on your Facebook livestream, and on your Church Online Platform page on your website, and on YouTube. 

Combine them all, and your viewer numbers are healthy. 

You’ve urged and cajoled people to contribute to the online text-based chat. But, week after week, it’s the same 5-10% of attendees and who do most of the chatting.

You’ve thought of trying something else that has more engagement potential.  But, until you are confident people will take to it, you don’t want to shut off your existing channels.  

Keep them all open, and your community is fragmented, and engagement is unlikely to improve. 

Here is how one church “ripped off the band aid” in one move. They shut down their Church Online Platform, and went all in on internal promotion of Altar Live. The early results have been promising. 

“We switched to Altar Live because we sensed people wanted a community experience – to have the casual conversations that happen when you run into people in our Atrium,” says Jaclyn Widenmaier, Connections Leader at Elim Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 

“Altar Live allowed us to have that interactive, engaging platform without having to lower the standards of our service. We had looked around but couldn’t find a platform that we thought would work – or would require so many changes to our online service production that it wasn’t worth it. We found out about Altar Live through a staff member who had been in a meeting or conference using Altar Live and signed up that week!"

So, how did they make the switch from Church Online Platform to Altar Live?

Getting ready to launch

After a few weeks of conducting dry-run events with the staff, the Elim team expanded its scope to include a handful of active church members who would later serve as Hosts and Greeters. 

By the fifth Sunday, Elim was ready to usher its online audience away from Church Online and into Altar Live. The YouTube channel remained open for real-time viewing and as a sermon library. To introduce Altar Live to the congregation, Elim used a variety of elements: 

  • Pre-service announcements. To make sure no one misses it, Elim includes not just one, not two, but a trio of pre-service slides announcing Altar Live.
Pre-service slide 1/3
“We have launched a new way to see familiar faces and make new friends at our Sunday 10:15am service.”

Pre-service slide 2/3
“All you have to do is… Join us for church through our new website and create an account to choose your seat.”

Pre-service slide 3/3
“And the best part… Stick around for coffee in the ‘Atrium’ following the service.”
  • Recorded invitation to engage on Altar Live. Each week, one of the staff includes an invitation to join on Altar Live as part of his/her online opening greeting: 

"If you’re watching us on YouTube right now, we have a more interactive way for you to join in our service. Go to our website; click on the 10:15am service. Here you will find our virtual church service where you can sit with other people and watch the service together. Once you’ve created an account, join a row and participate in our service.

When it’s over, our online host will everyone into the virtual lobby where you can sit around tables and video chat with each other just like you would in the atrium of our church building.  If you would like prayer or someone to talk to, please reach out to one of our pastors standing by in the chat right now."

  • Website promotion. Altar Live gets prominent placement on Elim Church's home page. Promotion includes awareness and a set of instructions to register an account and how to get the mobile app.
  • Personal invites. With the knowledge that many people have to hear the same message at least 10 times before it registers, the initial team of greeters sent out personal invitations to select members of the congregation, along with a link to the Sunday service.  The invitation let the recipient know that they could all “sit together” during the service, not just watch it at the same time in their separate homes. These 'ambassadors' kept an eye open for their invited guests when they arrived in Altar.
  • Post-experience survey. The staff also sent out a survey to all the registered users on the platform to get their sense of the experience.  For those who had already attended, the survey allowed them to feel more buy-in to the platform. The registered users who had never attended were shown the results, which generates a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) and drives adoption. 
  • Facebook announcements. Elim continues to use Facebook all week long to post snippets of the Sunday message and worship, as well as announcements that point members to Altar Live.

Impact on their community

Each week, the number of attendees gathering in Altar Live increases.  The greeters stimulate participation by offering hello’s and helpful instructions in the general chat, and inviting anonymous guests to go ahead and log in so they can choose a seat. 

The dynamic of seeing people’s names (even if they are not chatting), and sitting together with a small set of people in a row or at a table, has led to some delightful experiences. 

  • From filling out a Connect Card to meeting the pastor: An altogether new member to the Elim community signed in, and responded to a Greeter’s invitation to join her in a row for a face-to-face experience during the livestream. This was her first time at any church, and she is now enrolled in the next steps program at Elim, along with two other first-time visitors. Some of the newcomers sat with the Lead Pastor, Marvin Wojda, for coffee at a table in the Atrium. 
  • People checking out the church: A citizen of Brazil who is planning to move to Saskatchewan for a PhD program at the nearby university attended from a continent away to check out the local churches. After spending some time getting to know several people thru direct messaging, he is now planning to attend Elim online, and then join in person when he arrives in the fall. 
  • Regular attendees making new friends: Two people who have been involved and attending Elim for 15+ years met for the first time on Altar Live. Somehow their paths had never crossed until two weeks ago but now they’ve sat together on Altar Live for three weeks.
  • Even a way to connect youth! Two girls in separate grades who had never met discovered each other as they sat next to their respective moms -- the mothers had joined a table in the Atrium, and the girls sat alongside. In the process, the two girls discovered that they both love reading were able to talk about their favorite books.

Next steps

Elim is a large church, with around 2,500 who call it their home church. Elim has recently registered for Altar Academy to explore, along with some of their church peers, the types of digital ministry they might establish in the coming months and years.