Why a Small Church is Committed To Online Services

For The Table UMC, digital ministry was never a priority until the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. Now they have a dedicated staff for their online folks. Because of this commitment, Molly shared that so many people who never thought they could do church again have been able to safely tiptoe their way back into church.

Maeve Brooks

June 9, 2022

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One of the easy mistakes churches make when streaming online is trying to reach everyone on the internet. 

The problem is there are a lot of people on the internet.

Not everyone who finds you online is going to resonate with your church. Some aren’t going to be able to participate because they haven’t updated their internet since 2005. Some just prefer in-person.

While online church may not for everyone, it doesn’t mean you should disregard the phenomenon entirely– you could even try it out yourself!  

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Molly Knappen of The Table UMC, a church located in Sacramento, California, to talk about their journey of committing to online ministry and seeing it as more than just a band-aid solution. 

For The Table UMC, digital ministry was never a priority until the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. At first, their commitment was like almost every other church across the globe: “It was a need–there had to be a way to reach people, we had to keep this community going.” 

According to Molly, The Table UMC initially tried other live streaming methods like Facebook and soon realized the impact they were making, “it became obvious that there are folks that just cannot make it to a physical worship (service.” Their online services also ended up also bringing in people that weren’t locals or familiar with their church. “Online worship became like a front porch to bring people into our ministry and the discipleship formation series we have set up. Once it was set up, it became a necessity.” 

Throughout our discussion with Molly, it became clear how committed The Table UMC continues to be to its online campus. Their online expression isn’t seen as “step brother” to the main worship service but as a whole ministry. They accomplish this by being fully staffed, having intentional production value, and taking the time to speak directly to the people watching at home. Molly put it beautifully: viewers are not tuning into the worship, they are a part of the worship. 

Here are a few ways The Table UMC intentionally designs services for their online community:

  • A Welcome video specifically for people online with suggestions for ways to prepare their space at home to connect meaningfully with the service such as using speakers or headphones, and even lighting candles!
  • Two chat hosts that welcome each person by name and help explain what’s happening in-person. What is communion? Why do we sing? What does discipleship mean?
  • Guided tables and rooms after the service to continue the conversation in the Altar Live Lobby space.
  • Allowing people to stay anonymous and choose to log in when they're ready.

Because of this commitment to online services, Molly shared that so many people who never thought they could do church again have been able to safely tiptoe their way back into church.

Towards the end of our interview, we asked Molly to share some tips and tricks for churches that are hoping to launch Altar Live with their community. Here’s what she had to say: 

“If it’s making a difference in your community, commit. There will be bumps, and that’s ok.”

Online church may not work for everyone in your community, but it doesn’t need to work for everybody. If you are seeing that creating an alternative worship space online is having a positive impact on your community, why not go for it? 

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