The Future of Hybrid Church -- Making Sunday Happen podcast

Andrew Mahon

January 4, 2021

Altar Live CEO Stephanie Antonucci Leathe, and Technology Evangelist Andy Mahon, sat down with church media specialist Carl Barnhill recently and discussed what they have seen among churches who have embraced a hybrid church model.

Carl Barnhill: Let’s start with having you guys introduce yourselves, and tell us what Altar Live is all about. 

Livestream is a one-way broadcast. Churches are about two-way relationships.


Stephanie Antonucci Leathe
: Thank you, Carl, for having us. It’s been great to get to know you over the past few months as we navigate this disruption Covid has caused in the church world. Andy and I are both entrepreneurs. Back in April we started seeing a trend in churches, and started looking at how faith communities were reacting to what every other institution and people group were doing -- which was to go online. 

Churches are not traditionally known as early tech adopters, and the transition ranged from great creativity to painful and everything in between. I and our team of software engineers started speculating, and asking questions. What was this experience like for churches?

The number one thing we heard was that churches can get online just fine. Livestream has existed for a while. Things like Zoom have been alive and well for the last 8 years. But, livestream is a one-way broadcast. Churches are about two-way relationships. There started to appear this great gap between the ability to just give content, and the ability to have relationship and community online. 

We saw this gap widening. In June we started writing our first lines of code, designing a platform that could bring together the best of in-person interaction and the best of livestream in a seamless experience. Altar Live is exactly that. We are designing to bring human interaction back into online worship. We really see incredible benefit to what online worship has been able to do, and doors it has figuratively opened to people in the world who may not have been able to participate in church community before, as well as to keep communities together who have not been able to meet physically. 

Beyond that, we see this as an opportunity for churches to use what they’ve invested this time and resources into for long-term, sustainable online ministry. 

Our platform does that. A seamless integration between the livestream and also the human-to-human interaction. 


Carl: Let me ask you. We talked a couple months ago about the platform. I want to get into some of the specifics. From a practical standpoint, if I am in a physical worship experience, I can bring in a Zoom call, I can bring in people from the digital environment. And vice versa -- I can be in the digital and see into the live setting. Walk me through that. 

That’s the goal we have. How do you deliver the content, and keep the interactivity among the congregation?


Stephanie: Yeah, I’ll paint you a picture. You have two scenarios. 

In one, you have an online community that gathers online primarily. In the other scenario you have some both in-person and online.  We serve churches across that spectrum around the world. 

The online and physical combination is a challenge for a lot of churches, because once you do begin to gather in-person, which is great, you have a community that you feel you are leaving behind online. Our platform allows you to bring in people from home into the service, and vice versa, so you can create an experience where people feel like they can have an active part even if they are not able to be in the building. 

The second part, which we’ve really started seeing -- once a church begins livestreaming, there’s an engagement gap that has begun to happen. Livestream lacks a certain human-to-human interaction dimension. The second piece of our platform is for churches that have invested a lot into livestream and are doing a great job at it. Our platform wraps around all that to allow people to do Watch Parties, mix and mingle coffee hour afterwards where you can choose someone to talk with, go to a breakout room together, leave breakout rooms, virtual classrooms -- all the stuff that happens in the 15 minutes before and after the service. 

Andy Mahon: There’s a story we tell a lot. A pastor was talking to us. They livestream, and there are a couple people in their congregation who are in an elder care facility. When Covid hit, of course, the elder care facilities closed all their doors -- the inside doors as well. Everybody had to stay in their room. There s’ this one woman who is in community with a friend just down the hall. They actually didn’t see each other during the week. But they also didn’t see each other during the livestream. They were both attending, but they weren’t seeing each other. 

So, that church, just like a lot of churches, had a Zoom pre-church for half an hour, and then a coffee hour afterwards. They [the elder women] would get on that, and that’s how they would catch up. 

The rest of the church was getting on the Zoom as well, and they’re like, “Oh! Remember those two ladies! We haven’t seen them in a couple years.” And the two women are very chatty, very charming, they talk about their grandkids, they are very funny. And everyone in the church started enjoying their presence. So, it wasn’t just a blessing for them now that they could be together. But the rest of the church was blessed by them. These were people who were part fo the church community, but hadn’t been a vibrant, integral part.

So, that’s the goal we have. How do you bring these things together?  How do you deliver the content, and keep the interactivity among the congregation?


Carl: Let’s zoom back out a bit and talk about the future of where you think church is going. Obviously, if a church did not have an online presence before Covid, and now they do, for them to go back and not have an online presence is not an option. They really need to do both. Do you agree with that? And, how do you think online church is here to stay?  

When we talk to pastors, they have two concerns -- “how do I keep the people that we’ve got?" and "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach the unchurched."


Andy
: Yes, well, of course, we agree. We’ve built the whole company around that prospect. In addition to people who are out because they have to be out -- they are frail or are vulnerable to the virus -- at some point the virus goes away. Can they go back to the church? Sure. But there’s a lot of people who prefer it. Maybe just because it is convenient, maybe they have rambunctious kids, maybe they are an introvert and kind of like it; or maybe they’re a newcomer and actually stepping across that threshold is a big big step. So there is always going to be a part there. 

When we talk to pastors, they kind of have two concerns, and it depends on which one is top for each one. One is, “how do I keep the people that we’ve got? We don’t want to lose them. We’ve seen statistics that show people who are regular churchgoers, but who have not been to church in the last month -- even online. It’s distressing. 

And then there are others who are more growth-oriented who feel this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach the unchurched, or people who have fallen away from church and bring them back. We feel strongly that both of those communities come to the online for the service, for the sermon, for the worship. But it’s just not keeping them there. 

We believe that content -- people come for the content. But they stay for the people. And the way to connect them… that will make hybrid -- some in the church, some online -- that’s going to make that thrive. 


Carl: You mention a good point. At some point the virus is going to go away. I don’t think you guys are. And I think the model is still there for taking hybrid church into the future, and almost becoming normal. Stephanie, do you have any thoughts on that? 

From a church’s perspective, engagement means more than just to Likes, Shares and Comments.


Andy: We never disagree!

Stephanie: I’ll echo what Andy said. The reality is, online livestream, even before Covid, was always a one-way broadcast. People would use the livestream to catch up on a sermon they missed. Or, share it with a friend. Or, for some people, that was the way they experienced church -- they would come to the church building rarely, but they felt like they were part of a church because they were watching the church.

From a church’s perspective, that means engagement just boils down to Likes, Shares and Comments. What Andy and I are saying, beyond this, it’s an opportunity to move beyond one-way broadcast into having dynamic, online experiences. 

Carl: Interaction. 

Stephanie: That human interaction piece is critical, both for churches who are worried about how people are feeling connected, and also for newcomers. Why does anyone go to church for the first time? Certainly because there are messages of truth there, and a relationship with Jesus that brings them in. But they stay because there’s relationship. And that’s what we have, the opportunity post-Covid, to bring that into online platforms. 


Carl: Let’s get real practical.  If I am going to accept as a church this new reality of hybrid. What do I need to do to prepare? If I am not there yet, what do I need to do?

The technology you choose will shape the way you do church and the environment you create online. 

Andy: I’m going to presume they are already online. If they are not online, there is just so much to catch up on. Really, it is “take what you’ve already got.” Don’t try to reinvent it. Take what you’ve already got. You’ve had some great advice, Carl, on where to set up cameras, how to get different camera angles, how to train the pastor to preach to the red dot. Those are nice practical things, we could probably list off a half dozen things between the three of us. 

Another one, though, is training your staff and the volunteers. It can’t fall all on the pastor’s shoulders, or even on the pastoral staff depending on how big the church is, where there are four or five people who are running everything. Most churches have some sort of 80-20 anyway -- at least get the twenty! Get the 20% who love to volunteer. The Welcome team isn’t doing anything anymore at the church. But they’re probably pretty good online, engaging with people, looking for who’s new, and things like that. “Can I introduce you to someone?” Getting other people to shoulder some of the burden. 

And there’s probably a whole bunch of new people -- not new to the church, but people who are really good at online who were not good at church.  There’s a woman at my church, an introvert, not shy. She’s a faithful believer for many years, single mom. Very powerful woman. She’s an introvert -- she doesn’t go to the coffee hour afterwards. Her name, her face -- people don’t really know her. Oh my gosh! She’s online! She’s chatting up in the sidebar chat on YouTube all the time. And she has become so well known, she now has been named an elder at our church. 

So, there are other people in your church who probably -- their light can shine in an online way. So, see who’s within that chat, see who’s doing that, and go, “hey, there’s a new person, someone we haven’t seen ‘volunteering’ as part of that 80-20 mix before. Let’s see if we can bring them into it a little more.”  For a pastor, that can actually be a very fun thing, beginning to leverage more of the community. 

Stephanie: And I would add to that, Carl. As Andy is saying, look within your own community how people are going to help make this more than just the responsibility of the pastor to create content, content, content, but to build life online in your community. Practically, on the technology side, the technology you choose is very important. We obviously have a bias because we work in this space of technology. The technology you choose will shape the way you do church and the environment you create online. 

Which is why we feel so passionate. Churches lack good options beyond the one-way broadcast. They need options to go deeper. And some churches do their full service on Zoom, which is great. We’ve talked to a lot of those churches too who have chosen that option. There’s obviously limitations to Zoom because it was built for business conferencing, and at scale it gets a bit more difficult. 

At the broad level, I would say, think about your technology. Are choosing platforms that are going to promote only one-way broadcast? Or are you choosing a platform like ours that is really going to let you do that two-way interaction? Think intentionally about how you are going to invest in those resources.


Carl : That’s a good point. A lot of churches’ budgets turn over either in August or in January. Why do you think it’s important to budget for this coming year, knowing that I’m going to be spending more on technology and equipment to execute a hybrid situation? 

The investment in resources up front gives you the ability to not have to react week by week.


Stephanie: My first thought is that churches have felt -- we were just talking to a church about this today -- this whiplash back and forth. We’re doing pre-recorded, now we’re doing live, now we’re outside, now we’re inside but we’re in a different building where we can be more spread out, now we’re back inside the main church, and now maybe we have more restrictions coming. You’ve had to go through so many different models. 

The investment in resources up front gives you the ability to not have to react week by week. You can actually plan ahead, over next six months, to develop options and models that are going to last you despite whether you have to be all online or all in-person, or some of both, or inside/outside. Budgeting it early allows you to actually think through peace of mind that you don’t have to keep flip flopping back and forth. 


Carl: Do you want to speak any more about community over content? Is it more important to lean into technology that builds an experience based more on community, or one based more on content. 

People come to know themselves, have personal transformation, reordering of their heart, soul and mind, not only through introspection, but through dialogue, learning together. 


Andy:  I’ll avoid trying to put these two in opposition to each other. We think of them more as two hands clapping. We have a phrase we love to use: “It’s okay to talk in church now.” We spoke with this one pastor who sort of mused, “why would we want people to be talking while I’m preaching?” He wasn’t hostile to it, he just couldn’t get his head around it. And then he himself, after a few minutes of thinking, said, “you know, I have heard of some churches where people gather together on someone’s porch, and they do a watch party, and they all talk during the service. And I’ve heard that works really well.”  That’s a great example of content and community coming together. 

In my church, where everything is pre-recorded, the pastors will often stop two or three times during the sermon, and they put up some sermon questions on the screen. You see a timer set for two or three minutes, and they instruct us to talk among yourselves, or if you are alone jot in your journal. They are very probing questions. Some people respond for everyone to see in the chat, others are at home with kids to talk about it in their context. So, it’s the sermon, and now there are reflection points for the community to participate in the sermon all coming together. Sometimes it’s a private, personal thing, sometimes it’s the full community, and sometimes it’s a small group. 

Stephanie: People come to know themselves, have personal transformation, reordering of their heart, soul and mind, not only through introspection, but through dialogue, learning together. 

Digital viewership is decreasing rapidly. We theorize that it’s like Netflix. If Netflix stopped putting out new content on its platform, their viewership would stop growing. Their audience’s attention demands more and more content. And we see pastors struggling with this, wondering how they are going to keep their congregation’s attention. One way is to create more and more content, which in and of itself is not bad. But on its own, you still haven’t hit the core problem that people are feeling. “What do I do with everything I am ingesting?” It’s like swallowing without chewing. 

Andy: There is a Barna statistic that shows that church people, when asked if they’ve been to church in the last month online or in-person, half have said they have not. And later in the same questions they were asked have you watched online church, they respond that yes, they watched online church last week. For them, they’ve watched online church, bu they don’t feel that they’ve been to church.   

Carl: Mm hmm. 

Andy: There’s something else. They got the sermon, they got the worship, they got the announcements -- there was something else lacking. Now, Barna doesn’t say, and those people didn’t say, “I miss the people!” But, that’s what we think the answer is. 

Carl: Yeah, of course it is. 

Stephanie: I empathize deeply with churches that have seen the way we define engagement is so different online. Churches have thought a lot about what real engagement and personal life transformation means in-person. And now online, some of those things translate, but the online world has other statistics. I see this pivotal moment where churches have the opportunity to go beyond defining engagement just as Views, Shares, Likes and Comments. Those are one measure of engagement. But to really think of engagement beyond that in terms of two-way dialog, in terms of interaction that people are having, in terms of questions that are being asked. I love it when pastors are really engaging, like Andy said, by asking questions back and forth. It’s really helping people go the step further beyond just listening to actually embodying and hopefully then doing, which is the cycle we hope to see in real, true engagement. 


Carl: I was saying this way early -- and I’m a video guy; I love great content, and I love really good worship experiences. I love spending time making those great. But one thing I said earlier, especially when Covid first hit -- get online, and get online fast. It doesn’t matter how it looks. Just get on with your iPhone or whatever, and get out there. Do you guys have any thoughts about that, and also about participation, about engagement and participation over production quality.  

For a newcomer, the high production value is going to be more important. Their first step is not going to be a Zoom. They’re not going to jump into a Zoom with 30 people   


Andy: We’ve heard a lot of people having pretty good success with Zoom, which usually means pretty low production value. It’s just everyone in their living room, and sometimes the pastor in the church, or sometimes in an office or a study. So, not very high production value. And they like that. 

They do struggle. Zoom wasn’t made for church, so you’ve got 30 people and you’re competing with the mute/unmute. Some populations have trouble with that. The quality of that leads to some teeth-grinding. But, they’re very happy with that. When we meet with them, we ask ‘what do you want to keep from that, and what do you want to leave behind?” 

For a newcomer, the high production value is going to be more important. Their first step is not going to be a Zoom. They’re not going to jump into a Zoom with 30 people   

Carl: 30 people who they don’t know yet. 

Andy: They are going to watch online. And, if it is clunky, I think that can be a stumbling block for a newcomer. So, I am not answering your question directly. I’m voting on both sides.

Carl: No, I am with you. I mean, when Covid first started, that was my view. I was just, ‘get on.’ But at some point, there’s got to be a 2.0, there’s got to be a 3.0. You gotta keep moving and getting better. 

Andy: I read one of the things you posted, Carl. Each week, or maybe each month, try to do one thing: maybe get a second camera; or, remember to call out to the people online by name. Just do one thing that’s different, just incrementally keep improving. 


Carl: Let’s talk about some situations where the hybrid model is really going to work, and hit people who would not necessarily get to come to a physical location, or minister to people who would not be ministered to. Do you have any stories? 

We've heard from a mother of children with behavioral challenges. She loves going to church, but she is always anxious that her children are causing disruptions. Sometimes she is embarrassed, sometimes she is annoyed herself... One of the things online church has done for her is the ability to press the Mute button.


Stephanie: Oh, we have so many! Hybrid is an investment in the church, in-person and equally as much in online. Online is not just that some views online, but there are real, full people behind the screen that you are intentionally trying to bring together in a community -- even if that community remains solely online. And, the other part of hybrid is when you try to bring the in-person and online communities together in the same space, at the same time. 

Churches of different sizes are finding how hybrid is going to work for them. If they are a church  under a 100, the ability to bring those two communities together -- online and in-person -- is a little easier than if you are a church of 1000+, where you already naturally break down the congregation into small groups. 

Hybrid has opened doors for people with disabilities. We’ve heard amazing stories of parents with children with disabilities. We heard this one story of a family in the U.K. with two children with different types of disabilities who tend to, when in person, make unexpected noises and sounds that are not usual in a quiet church environment. The mother’s personal reflection was that she loves going to church, but she is always anxious that her children are causing disruptions. Sometimes she is embarrassed, sometimes she is annoyed herself, and she doesn’t always know how to react. She says that one of the things online church has done for her is the ability to press the Mute button. Like, that mute button for her is a saving grace. Now her kids can have an active role. Her church uses a model very much like what Altar helps churches do -- they bring people in from home and in-person, and vice versa, and create spaces where they can do breakout rooms online, more easily than they do with Zoom. And her kids can participate in that. They get engaged and now have a voice and feel like they are participating. 

Another church in the U.K. -- the churches in the U.K. are at a different stage than churches in the U.S. -- there is a woman who has been going to church for 20 years whose spouse never attended with her. When the church went online, they started pre-recording, and this woman would record herself reading scripture or sharing announcements and prayer requests. Each week she would struggle to get the phone exactly right on a stand, and her husband would see her struggling. He said, “let me help you, let me hold it for you.” And he would hold the phone. After a few weeks he said, “can I read scripture this week? I want to try this out myself.” So, he started reading scripture each week, and eventually he said, “I want to watch us and see what it looks like in the church service.” And then they would sit down on the couch and watch church together. And after a while, this guy who has not attended church in 20 years is suddenly a part of this community, hopping on the Zoom call, meeting people, engaging -- all because he was given a role. 

I think this is what hybrid ministry is about.  It’s about more than how you capture views online, but to go beyond to how you engage those views, how do you give them participation, a sense of ownership, a sense of agency, that they are able to make real connections, and that this belongs to them and not just to the pastor who creates content. 

Andy: We find that a church that has a very big emphasis on passing of the peace, where, I guess, everyone can shout out [online] ‘peace be with you, everybody!’ But if everyone can make a direct connection with someone, that seems to be important.  

Another one is corporate prayer, where they do a sort of popcorn prayer, where people in the church walk up to a microphone or speak up loudly enough with a mask to have their prayer heard.  And then there is someone who runs the Mute button, and you can do this with Altar. So, I see Stephanie at home has indicated she has something to pray for, so Stephanie, you’re next, and he pushes the button, and now she can offer her prayer, and it can be heard in the church building. So if that is an important part of the liturgy or the flow of Sunday morning, we find that’s a really important part of our offering. 

The majority of adults still prefer physical over digital -- with the exception of millennials, who are an equal split. They are saying “I can do either and it would be just as meaningful and valuable to my life.” That’s really important for churches to know.  


Carl: I think that’s a huge piece that you guys provide -- the integration of the digital into the physical, and vice versa. That’s a big key. Whether it’s someone doing a scripture reading, or doing announcements, or sharing a testimony or a story, we can bring those people into the physical environment and share and be part of the worship experience that way. 

You’ve shared a few stories here -- the shut in, the unchurched spouse and other family members who are watching, the introvert. Some people really thrive in the physical environment, and some people thrive at the keyboard. 

We mentioned Barna earlier. What are some things you’ve heard from Barna that resonate with you? 

Andy: Stephanie already alluded to some of it. Online viewership skyrocketed in April, and it is down now, down below pre-Covid levels. 

Stephanie: pre-Covid in-person levels. 

Andy: That’s right. 

Carl: Do you think that’s because most churches are opening back, and more people are going?  Or is the research showing that physical attendance is down as well? 

Andy: Physical attendance is down. So, when you add it up, you had that big spike for online, people were seeing 2x, 5x, 10x viewership. It was amazing. And a lot of it may have been people who watch for 10 seconds. But even that is good, visiting church for 10 seconds. And now the total number of attendance, including online and in-person in the church, that is down. I think I saw a number is 40%. That is distressing. 

We think that what we’re doing will help bring that up. We have debates internally, all the time:  what are we doing? Are we helping insider people, your current congregation? Yes, we are, because you are losing some of that. Well, are we trying to get newcomers? Yes, we’re trying to attract newcomers too.  

I’m optimistic. I think there will be a resurgence. I think as churches figure out what it is people come for in the first place, and then why do they stay? Let’s get those things.  I’m not sure if I answered your question about Barna.  

Stephanie : The stats from Barna show a few things. First, the majority of adults still prefer physical over digital -- with the exception of millennials, who are an equal split. They are saying “I can do either and it would be just as meaningful and valuable to my life.” That’s really important for churches to know.  

Secondly, there’s digital weariness. Like Andy said, there is a decrease in viewership. You alluded to it earlier. You can look at it from so many different angles. Just our general context here in the U.S., there’s a lot going on….

Carl: Screen fatigue.

Stephanie: Yeah, there’s also screen fatigue. 

And then the last one, which I think is the most interesting part of the Barna study, is this question they asked, “Can online church be about more than just sermons?” Most churchgoing adults report that their church really only offers their sermon online. So, when you look at decrease in viewership, if all you have online is your sermon, of course -- just like my Netflix analogy -- most people are going to stop watching after a while because it’s ingesting without doing that thing kept you coming back to church week after week -- which is people. It’s taking the truth you hear in a sermon and living it out in your life, and living it out in relationship with each other. 

That is really where hybrid and online ministry for churches needs to start moving is moving beyond engagement of just numbers and statistics. How do we define engagement as something broader and then choose technology in that way. 


Carl: Let’s get in the time machine and jump two or three years from now. I still think hybrid brings some great benefits. And the people that we’ve mentioned -- you’re going to have shut ins, whether they’re not in church because of a global virus or not, you’re still going to have people, maybe in the hospital, the nursing home; you’re still going to have missionaries; you’re still going to have people on vacation. 

Stephanie: Snow birds!

Carl: Right! You’re still going to have those people. And if you have a model in place that can reach those people, they can still be heavily involved in your church each week and not have to be physical. You have any thoughts on that? 

Livestream used to be a billboard sign that would help people come into the physical building. But in the new model you can be equally a part of a church whether you are online or in-person, and as you fluctuate between the two.


Stephanie: Yes, I think this is a big mental shift we are making. We used to think livestream was kind of like the billboard sign that would help people come into the physical building. But what we’re seeing now is the new model of churches: you can be equally a part of a church whether you are online or in-person, and as you fluctuate between the two. It doesn’t have to be a compromise between one or the other. 

We’re the technologists, we’re going to build those platforms that allow churches to build an online community that’s amazing, and gives them dynamic features that they can really do those in-person things online as well. I’m excited to see how churches get creative with it, how we develop community online, and bring life into that space. 

Andy: I’m sure there’s some sort of a bell curve. We talked with a church out in Palo Alto. They have increased their attendance throughout the pandemic. I forget the percentage, but let’s say it is 25% of their church is now online attendance -- these are new people who had not been part of the church. And now they are preparing to go back into the church building, and everyone is saying, “wait a minute, what about Mauricio in Miami? He’s part of our church now.”

And, that’s 3,000 miles away! So, they are building their concept of what their church is that includes ‘only online’ people who have not been in the church and who may only visit once over the course of five years. 

And there’s a Presbyterian church here in Boston where -- same thing, exactly the same dynamic -- their pastor was telling us they are looking at their elder board to make sure there is at least one person who is from the ‘online’ portion of their community on their elder board. We had never heard that one before. That had never occurred to me. There are going to be a lot of things like that. You know, as churches pursue diversity, online is not part of their diversity. 


Carl: Yeah, we saw a lot of pastors who were either a little bit older or just not up with the technology; they were surprised by the amount and size of the audience they got online. “Wow, I have 200 people in my room, and I have a thousand people watching online, this is incredible.” And that has fluctuated over the past few months, but the question to them is, “If you have a thousand people coming to the church, and you can see that 200 of them are local, and 800 are not local, what is your plan to minister to those 800 people who are still involved in your church? You’re obviously not going to be shutting down your online. So, be thinking, pastor, how can you continue to minister to them.

Tell me a little more about the features of Altar. If I am thinking about moving in that direction and using your platform for my church, what are the features I should consider. 

One of the coolest things we’re excited about is the ability to recreate a church’s virtual cafe or lobby.  


Stephanie: Easy question for us to answer, Carl. We offer two platforms. Our first is our Engagement platform. This is specifically designed for a church that has already invested in their livestream system, they’ve been up and running maybe using Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo. We take their stream and stream key and host it on our site. We handle the engagement all around, with a lobby before the service starts where people can start joining; they can see who’s in church today. You can have a hospitality team who can start welcoming people. 

The other thing you can do before church starts is pick your seat. You can choose to watch church alone, or you can watch with other people, you can form watch parties. So you can watch a service, talk with other people if the pastor puts up discussion questions....

Carl: ...I can choose to be in the community room where I can talk with other people, or not, right? 

Stephanie: You can choose one or the other. People have different preferences. Some people come into church, just like in real life -- they’ve had a hard week, and they’re there to worship, to be with God, and they don’t need to…. They’re waiting for the coffee hour for that. Then there are other people, they learn by digesting together, and talking with somebody about it and reflecting on those questions or worshiping and praying together. So, we offer both abilities. You can join watch parties by choosing your seat. 

Another great feature as well is if you are inviting first-time visitors. If you’ve invited somebody, nothing is worse than getting a link and going, “oh, this is interesting.”  But, what if you could actually watch with the person you’ve invited and actually walk them through the experience? 

Once the event is live, we have Q&A, engagement opportunities where people can be on their keyboard online and participate in that two-way fashion. 

And one of the coolest things we’re excited about is the ability to recreate a church’s virtual cafe or lobby. Imagine a screen full of tables where you could see who is seated where, and you can click on any seat and join a pop-out videoconference session with those people. You can say hi to your friends. You can leave and go say hi to somebody else. You can have one-on-one videoconference breakouts, or groups together. 

Andy: You can imagine the Welcome team using this to help introduce people who haven’t joined a group to someone or are here for the first time, they can say “oh, let me introduce you to Carl, he’s a great guy.” 

Stephanie: So, that’s our Engagement piece of our platform. We have many more features we are working on. We are a product born out of Covid, and we are learning and developing alongside church partners as we really learn what are the pain points and challenges for churches, and what are the opportunities they’ve discovered along the way, how do we build those into features for them. 

The second piece that we offer that we’ve alluded to throughout this conversation is the Altar Producer side. This is for churches that don’t have a current setup, or maybe they’ve been using something like Zoom, or using just a phone and streaming to YouTube or Facebook Live, and they want to go that step further, keep it really simple. We’ve designed it for the volunteer staff. Our Altar Producer side is all the back end; it uses the Altar Engagement side with a few different features. That’s the ability to create that two-way interaction in the service where you can really pull people in from home, push them live, and manage all user controls.