Even though online church is the way of the future, we are still striving to bridge that gap between a streaming church service and a true online church community. Viewers and attendees feel like they are just streaming content, while pastors and church leaders feel the loss of the congregation.
Some churches however, have cracked the code and have been able to create flourishing, interactive, and truly engaging online church communities using Altar Live. One church in particular is Crossway Baptist Church’s South East campus in Berwick, Australia.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sam Taylor, the pastor of Crossway’s South East campus to discuss and celebrate their Altar Live journey and how they have maximized the platform to enhance their church community.
Crossway first heard about Altar Live early this year in an online church cohort run by Steve Fogg, a digital marketing and communications professional, Crossway’s former director of communications, and friend of Altar Live. “We jumped on board and were really exploring the greater depth of what it looks like to develop an online campus.” The cohort would meet every three weeks and listen to different speakers talk about digital campuses.
“I came across Altar Live in the cohort, and it piqued my interest. Then someone from our campus who is in the live streaming profession sent us a link to Altar as well saying ‘hey check this out, this looks kinda cool!’ I found it really interesting that other people were seeing Altar as well!”
Even with the initial draw to the platform, a valued member at South East’s campus challenged their decision, really wanting to know why they should choose Altar. What sets Altar Live apart from other live streaming platforms?
The answer: Community
For Crossway’s South East campus, Altar Live was the perfect solution for regaining their sense of community and local expression.
During lockdown and before switching to Altar Live, Crossway was able to pivot quickly to online services “we had all the equipment and resources to transition online pretty easily, the biggest challenge for us was church being a one way content stream. You really lost that sense of community, which is a core part of church life.”
“we had all the equipment and resources to transition online pretty easily, the biggest challenge for us was church being a one way content stream. You really lost that sense of community, which is a core part of church life.”
Because Crossway is a multi-campus congregation the only online services available were through the main campus in Melbourne, causing the South East campus to lose their local expression. “You can put content anywhere but there is something about being connected to the community. A lot of people are just consuming content, but it’s in a community where we really grow and are challenged. That was and still is the main selling point of Altar Live.”
“You can put content anywhere but there is something about being connected to the community. A lot of people are just consuming content, but it’s in a community where we really grow and are challenged. That was and still is the main selling point of Altar Live.”
Once Crossway’s South East campus added Altar Live to their community, Sam Taylor soon realized he and his team needed to get creative. Only having quality content will not engage people. “You don’t have the atmosphere of the (physical) room to create the engagement!”
Their ingenious solution? A midweek interactive worship service.
Every couple of weeks at 8pm the Crossway South East campus gathers on Altar Live for a mid-week service. While each week plays out a little differently, the service is entirely designed around engagement. “We are always trying to find ways to mix up the content and try to create engagement.”
“We are always trying to find ways to mix up the content and try to create engagement.”
Using Altar Live allows Crossway to kick off their midweek services with a time for fellowship, mingling, and even playing games by sending attendees to breakout rooms and tables to connect. As for the service, Crossway has been experimenting with a mix of sermons, pre-recorded worship, and interviews with special guests to tell their testimony and how God is working in their life. During the service, they hold a live Q&A in the chat to make people feel like they are in the room and a part of the service.
According to Taylor, many families really appreciate the service and the church leaders have seen a lot of engagement and growth of attendees.
When I asked Taylor what advice he would give to churches switching to Altar Live, he brilliantly and succinctly revealed some pieces of wisdom:
1. Engagement is Key
Just live streaming a church service is not going to help grow and strengthen your community. True online communities encourage people to engage with the content and each other.
2. Mix it up
There are no rules when it comes to online church! A typical structured service can be too predictable and won’t encourage people to respond and interact. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new, creative ways to get people to form connections and strike up a conversation.
3. Make a plan
Like Crossway, you have to ask yourself why you are going online, why you are choosing Altar. Once you have a solid answer, the next step is figure out how creating an online community will best serve your church. For Crossway, it was to regain their local expression. What are you using Altar Live for?
4. Build your Team
On Altar Live, it is essential to gather a trusted team to make your church services flow. Take time to recruit and train your welcome team. Encourage your welcome team to utilize the chat, reach out to new attendees, and offer assistance whenever needed. As for the tech team, give them some time to get used to the platform and make sure everything tech-wise is in order ahead of the service. Remember, your teams are the life source of the service.
Towards the end of our conversation Sam Taylor commented that Crossway has “only scratched the surface of Altar Live.” From a church that has certainly maximized their Altar Live experience, it inspires so many possibilities for future online church campuses.