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Reach outside the walls

Reach outside the walls:  Ministry and Technology

Are you a technophile or a technophobe?

The Rev. Ted Sauter from North Naples United Methodist Church in Naples, Fla., is a little of both.

"I'm 67 and not a technology person at all," he says. "I can barely check my email! But I do understand that you have to change to keep up with the times. Technology and the Internet are to churches in the 21st century what the printing press was to the church in the 16th century. If you are going to get the gospel out, it has to be in the language and method people can understand."

With this in mind, Sauter and his church staff decided two years ago to begin video streaming their worship services in real time on Sunday morning and archive them for later viewing.

North Naples is a large church with members who are, overall, tech savvy.

"Almost everyone in our church has an iPhone," Sauter says. "They keep up with changes. A lot of our older members have embraced technology as a means of keeping up with their great-grandchildren! They use computers, tablets, all of it."

As Sauter saw the need to upgrade how the church used technology, he realized some new staff would also be necessary.

"We needed to get some people on staff whose first language was technology," he said with a laugh. "I told (church leaders) that might mean hiring some young adults with piercings and tattoos, and that's OK. We need to get the gospel out by any means at our disposal."

North Naples began its streaming ministry to reach people who did not attend church in person. Streamed first were the worship services, one traditional and one contemporary. Sauter knew both needed to be done with excellence and professionalism to meet the expectations of his community.

"Naples is a great city and expects things to be done well," he said.

Prospective visitors, members watch

The church has seen a rise in the number of first-time visitors. Many have said they first experienced the worship service online.

Members tell Sauter they watch the service when they are out of town. Retirees who spend the summer in Minnesota and other northern areas "have mentioned how they can still feel like a participant in our worship when they are away," he said. "They really like feeling connected."

"We have between 50 and 75 live hits every Sunday morning and about 50 hits during the week," he said. "We don't know specifically who is watching, how many are watching or from where, but we know we are reaching people."

Sauter has seen studies saying one hit represents 2.5 viewers, but he doesn't like to inflate numbers.

For all the services they stream, North Naples makes certain to deal with copyright issues legally.

"We have a church full of attorneys, and they have been very good to make certain we have every license we need to legally broadcast music, movie clips, television clips, whatever it is," Sauter said. "Not only is it the right thing to do, but the penalties for not following the law can be stiff."

The streaming ministry now also includes programs from the church's school with appropriate password safeguards and continuing-education conferences hosted at the church.

Small size no barrier

People might say that North Naples, an affluent city church with more than 1,400 people in worship each week, can embrace technology more easily than smaller churches in rural areas.

The Rev. Brandon Moll would argue that point.

Moll has served two small churches in rural West Virginia for nine years, First United Methodist Church in Webster Springs and Barton United Methodist Church in Curtin.

Moll first experienced streaming while serving on a mission trip in Russia in 2013.

"I really wanted to share what we were doing with our church back home," Moll said. Using the iPhone of another team member, the group streamed to a laptop in West Virginia, and Moll led worship via the Internet. "The congregation watched us from Russia on a computer screen," he said. "They really appreciated getting to see what we were doing. That sparked our interest in streaming."

The Webster Springs church started streaming in earnest. Now about 40 people worship in the church building each week, and another 30 join them online. The church has created an interactive chat room where viewers can post praises and prayer requests that are noted from the podium during the worship service, thus making it even more inclusive.

One church member, who is in a nursing home, "watches us every Sunday," Moll said. "It's a huge blessing for her to feel connected again to the congregation. Another member runs a local motel and can't get away on Sunday morning to join us in person, but he joins us via the Internet and still feels a part."

Moll credits the West Virginia Conference's "Growing Your Church" workshop with helping him gain skills and confidence for this Internet-based ministry.

"They helped broaden our perspective by seeing how ministry and church can be anything if we are doing it for Christ," he said. "Streaming is just one more way for people to build a relationship with Christ and our church. This tech-savvy generation does everything online, and if we aren't willing to go where they are, they aren't going to come to us."

Share the gospel in every way

The Rev. Don Thrasher, a deacon from University Heights United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga., sees streaming as just one more way technology has opened up participation in churches through the years.

"For many years, churches have used radio and television ministries to allow people to engage in worship services from outside the church walls," he said. "Recent technology has enabled streaming as a third option to broadcast worship ministries. Using their computers, people can go to a church's site and find several ways to participate."

Thrasher said he has worshipped with churches across the South Georgia Conference, the Southeastern Jurisdiction and United States through streaming.

"God has opened up a whole new avenue of ministry for this age," he said. "I would encourage churches to explore this avenue of ministry for its blessings and benefits."

Sauter on the Florida coast and Moll in the West Virginia hills agree.

"We can't close down any avenue to share Jesus with a group of people who, for whatever reason, aren't attending church anywhere," Moll said. "I hope people who might be considering church would watch our service, see us as people they might like and want to participate more fully. For others, the online church will be the only church they are ever willing to attend, and we just have to accept that reality.

"Streaming is just one more way to show that as small as we are, we are a vital church. We're proof that you don't have to be huge to make a huge impact on the world."

"Too many of our churches live in the past," Sauter said. "You have to commit to change. You have to deal with what is obvious. And technology is just a fact. Whether or not you like it doesn't matter. If we are going to get the gospel to a world full of hurting and lost people, we have to do anything we can to reach out to them."

Polly House is a freelance writer living in Nashville, Tenn.

How to begin live streaming your service

You have a staff member who is a technophile or a church member with an iPhone. Whatever your situation, you can video stream your worship service in real time. You really can!

Here are some suggestions for starting.

For the Rev. Ted Sauter at North Naples United Methodist Church in Florida, doing a live stream was a matter of having a tech-savvy staff person to manage the technology for the service.

"I knew I needed to have someone who understood the technology involved," he said. "You have to keep up. It's never going to be 1950 again!"

The Rev. Brandon Moll, First United Methodist Church, Webster Springs, W. Va., had a church member with an iPhone and a tripod. They set up the phone in the balcony and began streaming.

"It isn't a very sophisticated setup for sure," Moll said. "But it's working for us. Right now, we can't afford special equipment, but this serves the purpose."

Polly House

Permissions, licenses are necessary

Most churches hold themselves to a high standard of morality and ethics. This standard should include respecting the law about using copyrighted materials such as music and movie clips.

U.S Copyright law (section 110[3]) states that churches (along with other religious organizations) do not have to get permission to perform or play music (or a non-dramatic literary work) during a religious service at a place of worship or other religious assembly. Beyond that, you must secure licensing for:

  • Performing music or playing recordings outside of a worship service
  • Printing or projecting lyrics for use inside or outside of a worship service
  • Streaming worship services or other events
  • Using master recordings for anything streamed online
  • Synchronizing a song to a video
  • Recording music on CDs (including practice recordings)
  • Distributing CDs or videos
  • Any use of copyrighted works (clips or full showings of movies or television programs, music, artwork, poetry, etc.).

On its website, Christian Copyright License Inc. (CCLI), offers helpful information to help your church be copyright compliant as well as licenses to cover performing, copying, projecting and recording music. A separate license that is needed if you stream your service is also available.

Churches using movies or television programs (clips or the full program) in worship or other settings need to obtain a video license available from

Dean McIntyre, director of music resources for the General Board of Discipleship, wrote "Copyright 101: Top Ten False Copyright Myths (USA Only)." The series of short articles addressing the myths about copyrighted music is at Readers can legally download the articles.

Good intentions and ignorance of the law are not appropriate excuses for being in noncompliance. Learn what you need to do and do it.

Polly House

Streaming Churches

Here are a few of the United Methodist churches that are streaming worship. Check out their webcasts and see the other web-based ways they allow people to participate.

Asbury United Methodist Church, Allentown, Pa.

Broadway United Methodist Church, Paducah, Ky.

United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kan.

United Methodist Church of the Servant, Oklahoma City

First United Methodist Church, Jackson, Mich.

First United Methodist Church, Mansfield, Texas

Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, Tipp City, Ohio

Grace United Methodist Church, LaCenter, Ky.

North Naples United Methodist Church, Naples. Fla.

St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 

Watch this video from Church Tech Today for more ideas about streaming your service. 

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