Live video is everywhere — on television, computers, smart phones — so why not live-stream church on Sunday mornings? It’s something local churches are capitalizing on with the widely available technology.
Church on the Rock in Palmetto is breaking into social media and using its website to its advantage on a bigger scale. Zac Sopak is now the church’s new full-time creative director, making sure the Church on the Rock’s online presence is ongoing.
“My job is to make sure everything from our website, social media pages and the app we have, is relevant and up-to-date. Using our audience and reach to keep people informed of things that are happening at church,” Sopak said.
It’s not only effective, it’s cheap, too.
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Since Sopak started the full-time focus on social media, the church’s Facebook page views are up 56 percent, it has 19 more likes which is a 111 percent growth, and has seen a 33 percent rise in post engagement, according to a summary of the account in the last 28 days provided to the Bradenton Herald by Sopak. The page has more than 1,100 likes.
The church has a congregation of about 300 people.
The goal, he added, has been to keep people engaged while they’re not within the four walls of the church.
“My youth pastor used to tell me that there’s however many hours in a week and when people are here, they’re here for an hour, two hours max for the week. I like the idea of taking time in between to stay connected and be encouraging,” Sopak said.
Updates can range from an inspirational quote to a photo from a recent event or general information about the church’s upcoming activities. The Facebook page often receives prayer requests, he added.
“The overwhelming majority (of people) that only come once a week, we want to make sure we’re staying engaged with those people. What better way to use platforms and things people are on constantly?” Sopak said, referring to people’s smart phones.
The Family Church at Christian Retreat has been slowly but surely transitioning into their growing online presence over the last eight to 10 years, communications director Joanne Curphey said.
“We just see that that’s the way we have to go. We’ve been a church for many years, the ministry was established over 60 years ago, and we still have a lot of people that are older, so we’ve retained a lot of mailings because the demographics are that way. But we’re doing much less of that now with the younger crowd,” Curphey said.
The Family Church’s website shows they have several social media pages, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages tallying hundreds of followers. They also have a mobile app.
Each Sunday, an average of 100 people attend The Family Church Online and 2,000 more view the simulcast on Facebook, according to Kim Gerhart, online content manager for The Family Church at Christian Retreat. She manages the account while working in India.
“Online interactions often result in people eventually connecting in person. Streaming increases overall participation by giving shut-ins, winter residents, those who do not attend church, and our international affiliate churches a way to participate with live chat and personal prayer moderated by our online pastor, Kelly Poole,” Gerhart said in an email.
Another way Church on the Rock, Family Church at Christian Retreat and other local churches are finding ways to reach out is by live streaming their services.
While not every church does so, many have links to past sermons or lessons on video or audio recordings. Church on the Rock live streams their services, and Christian Retreat live streams to their site as well as using Facebook Live.
This allows for people streaming the service to interact and communicate with the pastor in real time, even though they’re not physically in the pews, Curphey explained.
Curphey said she’s even been to a church that uses a live video feed in the sanctuary when their shared pastor is at their partner church out of state.
The act of recording sermons to make them available to others is nothing new, churches have been recording services for years, but now they’re available to an online audience.
“Times are changing and we have to keep up with the times,” Curphey said.
“It’s a really great useful tool for people. At their leisure they can have access to that,” Sopak said.
Church on the Rock has also recently started an Instagram page to share photos and uplifting messages for a whole new audience. It’s all part of the effort to spread the church’s message.
Don Sturiano, pastor of Kingdom Life Christian Church, chaplain for Bradenton Police Department and a columnist for the Bradenton Herald Faith section said, “Jesus said go into all the world and preach the gospel of the kingdom. Social media allows you to reach a lot of people internationally.”
He added their Facebook page gets more visits than their website, and it allows for more interaction. A recent Sunday message posted to the Facebook, had more than 31,000 views, some from all over the world, Sturiano said.
Sturiano shares the church’s posts to his personal page, growing the audience even more.
“It’s this chain reaction, if you have 1,000 friends and you share something, it’s just this domino effect,” Sturiano said.