COVID-19: Websites are Free for the First 90-Days

Coronavirus and Your Digital Ministries [Updated]

by | Mar 17, 2020 | COVID-19, Featured

Latest update: March 30, 2:20 PM CST; Check Back for More Resources

Quick Answers and Tips for These Challenging Times

If you are a pastor or church staff person, we are betting you have had numerous conversations with your staff, leaders, congregation members, and other colleagues about how you should respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19). We know this touches every aspect of your ministry, from worship services that may need to be cancelled to community outreach efforts to the vulnerable populations you work with.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be adding recommended resources and links to this post. If you have created or come across something that you think would be useful to others, please send it to us. We’re particularly interested in items related to digital ministries, including (but not limited to) your website, digital communications, streaming worship, online small groups, and so on.

Also, we know that figuring everything out quickly can be very stressful. We’re here to help. Our free weekly webinar for clients is one option that’s open to you (see below). In addition, for the next four weeks, you can schedule a 1-hour consultation or training with us for just $50. Shorter sessions are possible too. We’ve helped people like you make decisions about communications processes, website design, online worship, online learning, and much more. Send us a message to get started.

Support Webinars on Coronavirus

Our March 26 webinar included Q&A about online prayer groups, ways to “be a blessing” right now, some streaming worship questions, and more. Watch the video here.

Our March 19th webinar focused on doing church online, especially based on our experience with the creative worship services at Darkwood Brew. Watch the video here.

Our weekly support webinar on March 12th focused on websites and Coronavirus. We covered making cancellation notices in Divi that can be easily turned on and off, how to get started with streaming worship using Facebook Live, copyright issues related to streaming worship, and more. Watch the video here.

Ideas for Your Blog

  • Pin a post to the top with essential information about your church’s cancellations, safety practices, special online events, and so on.
  • Create a post for parents in your community with free and inexpensive things to do at home while schools are cancelled.
  • Share prayers and devotional reflections for people to use.
  • Tell what is happening within the denomination – both at a state, national and global level. Link to relevant articles or videos.
  • Offer tips for self-care to people who are fearful and stressed during this time.

Streaming Your Worship Service

Facebook Live is a great and easy place to begin doing streaming! Facebook recently made a change the allows anyone to view or hear the stream, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. You can get started with a smart phone, tripod and Internet access, though adding at least an external microphone is a good idea. Here’s facebook’s easy guide to Facebook Live.

Nona Jones is the Head of Global Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook. She has written a helpful post for church communicators looking to use Facebook Live and other facebook tools.

Want to pre-record a service and then stream it at a certain time? Facebook Premier is a perfect tool for that. An excellent walk-thru is available here.

We have an extensive post about experience with streaming worship at an online-only worship experience called Darkwood Brew here.

Copyright Issues

Church copyright is a big topic, but here are the essentials you need to know when it comes to streaming and/or podcasting your worship services.

Music Licensing

You cannot simply start streaming the music in your worship services or providing a podcast for people to listen to unless you have a streaming license. For example, a streaming license is NOT the same license you use for projecting song lyrics in your worship space. A license to reproduce music for use within worship is NOT necessarily the same license you need to stream audio in a podcast on your website.

Complicating matters is the fact that different licensing companies cover songs by different publishers, so you need to look at everything you do – hymnals, choral music, prelude music, contemporary songs, and so on. The three companies that will cover the vast majority of church-related music include:

  1. CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International). This is by far the largest and most popular source. It does not cover everything in many popular hymnals, though. Here’s a post about their temporary changes in response to COVID-19.
  2. One License. This company covers many newer songs in popular hymnals that are not covered in CCLI. One License is offering free licenses to new users to help cope with COVID-19 challenges, valid through April 15.
  3. Christian Copyright Solutions

Each of these companies does a great job of providing thorough information about their license types, so we encourage you to read through them thoroughly to get information appropriate for your needs.

Some publishers are modifying their licensing for certain resources. For example, the United Methodist Church is offering temporary permission for some of their worship and ritual resources. Check with the publishers you rely on most for updated information.

Video licensing

In short, there are far fewer options for streaming videos. Our recommendation is that you should assume you do NOT have the rights to stream a video unless you have explicit permission to do so. Popular video licenses such as CVLI do not include streaming rights, generally. And while you can usually embed videos from places like YouTube and Vimeo onto your website, that doesn’t mean you are free to stream them in an online worship service.

Inclusive Ministry

As you move more ministries online, don’t forget to think about those who live with disabilities.

  • Here’s a helpful article about including deaf and hard-of-hearing members.
  • Here’s the best place to begin learning about making your website friendly for visually-impaired people.

Online Giving

In general, churches that have moved to online giving have discovered that their giving goes UP, not down. There are many companies that offer online giving services, and it’s worth comparing them before you choose one. There are three key issues to consider.

A) What payment gateway you’ll use.

This is the company that processes the credit card or ACH transaction. PayPal for Nonprofits, Stripe (with nonprofit discount), and Authorize.net are three popular choices. (We generally recommend PayPal for Nonprofits or Stripe.) Each transaction will have a fee associated with it, which gets deducted from the amount a person gives. However, churches also usually find that – when given the option – people are willing to give extra to cover this small fee.

B) What product you’ll use to connect to the payment gateway.

This is the website or tool you’ll use to collect donations. There are many solutions available. Third-party solutions will generally have a monthly fee associated with them. In the case of Aboundant, we offer two different options to those in our Transform (and Lifetime) plans: Charitable (our newest option) and Seamless Donations (our more limited, legacy option.) If you are using Seamless Donations and want to switch to Charitable, just send us a message and we’ll help you get started.

Some tools offer few options, others many. Some offer a mobile app, while others work with your mobile-friendly website. Some offer ACH (automated checking withdrawal), while others only work with credit cards. Decide what features you need and then use that list to compare your options.

C) How to get people to give online.

There’s no magic method, but it doesn’t have to be hard either! Communicate the opportunity regularly, including the process for giving and the reasons the church is doing online giving. Get feedback from those who give to find out what their experience was like, then use that feedback to make your process better.

Create a giving page that gives the essential details, along with the form. Offer the option for recurring giving. Include a button or link in your menu so that it’s easy to find. Also include a link to your giving page in your church emails, your signature, your printed materials and so on.

Digital Learning, Small Groups, & Meetings

Keeping people connected is important in a time of social distancing. I’d argue it’s FAR more important than any content you share or studies you do together. We are social beings, and we need one another.

The good news is that you can get started with simple and free tools. Obviously, creating public or private pages for your groups is a first step. There, you can share files, offer discussion boards, provide links for video chats, and so on.

There are many services that offer video conferencing.

  • Zoom is probably the best-known of these, and you can use their free account for meetings of up to 100 people for free, as long as your meetings are under 40 minutes. The $15/month account adds a number of worthwhile features.
  • Whereby is one of the simplest tools. You simply open a link in a browser – there’s no software to download, as there is with zoom. The free version doesn’t provide a lot of bells and whistles (and only allows for up to four participants), but it’s great for basic needs and for those who want a super easy option.
  • Google Duo is a free and simple option for up to 8 people to use at one time.

Get Your Accounts in Order

One of the most common support situations for us to deal with is churches that have not managed to keep site administrators and payments updated in their account. An expired credit card, a pastor or congregation member who leaves, a domain name that expires, or a death can all cause your site to go offline for a period of time.

Now would be a good time to review the following.

  1. Update your list of website administrators. Delete church members, pastors, and staff members who no longer are part of the congregation. You should have a minimum of three, non-related people who have full control of your site in case of an emergency.
  2. If your website is charged to a credit card, make sure you update your credentials when they change.
  3. Check to see when your domain name will expire, if it is not controlled by Aboundant or another church website provider. You can do that at https://domaintools.com/yourfullSiteURLHere
  4. Make sure that any other major tools your church uses, such as your social media accounts, a church management software, or a Google for Nonprofits account, has three, non-related administrators on the account.

Mass Email and Texting

If your church is not using a mass email and/or texting service, this is the week to finally set one up. There are many services available, and it can be hard to choose between them. Here are a few starting points.

Email only: if you’re only wanting to use a mass email service, then MailChimp is worth strong consideration. It has a free account that is sufficient for many churches, at least at first, and nonprofit pricing too. The forms are generally easy to embed into websites. And it has lots of flexibility and power when you’re ready for it. We have used ActiveCampaign ourselves for a few years, which also offers a texting service. Some other popular options include Constant Contact and SendInBlue.

Texting: The two biggest benefits to using a bulk texting (SMS) service is that your messages are highly likely to be read, and they’ll be read quickly. There are, again, many options. App-based services, such as Signal, Whatsapp, and GroupMe, are simple and free. A church-specific tool we love is Flocknote, because it offers both texting and email in one easy-to-use and affordable platform. You don’t have to get one that is marketed just toward churches, though – many mass email services will work very similarly.

Creative Digital Ministry Ideas

  • Try doing a “Drive-in Worship Service,” as this church did.
  • Offer “drop-in office hours” via whichever video chat service you use. Try to offer them consistent times that will work for different people, like noon and 8:00 PM.
  • Encourage your congregation members to create their own “Circle of 12,” a list of 12 people who they will commit to checking in on regularly. These people might be elderly neighbors, single family members, or others – i.e. persons who are more likely to be isolated, vulnerable, or suffering in some way. Some of these individuals may be persons at retirement centers who pastors regularly visit but now can’t visit in person.
  • Update your signage and put signs on your doors with a phone number people can call if they need assistance.
  • Make sure all of your staff are getting paid via direct deposit.

Additional Digital Ministry Tools to Check Out

Here are links to apps and tools we recommend or know are very popular among churches.

  • OBS – Open Broadcast Software – a free, open-source software for video recording and livestreaming.
  • Zoom has created a terrific set of resources for working remotely, doing online education, hosting virtual events, and more. Most of the resources could apply to other streaming services as well.
  • Mentimeter is a free tool to help you get real-time input from remote teams, online students, worshippers etc. with live polls, quizzes, word clouds, Q&As and more.
  • Virtual Church is a curated set of articles about the ins-and-outs of doing church online.
  • School Closures is a helpful site for the parents in your church. Your digital ministry right now can and should focus on the real needs people have, and school-related challenges are top on parents’ list right now.
  • Want to check out examples of what other churches are doing with their streaming services? Here’s a list of about 80. You can add your own church to it!

What are your questions?

We know you have other questions about digital ministry in a time of a pandemic. Ask them below – we’ll be updating this post regularly.

By Tim Gossett
As the Director of User Experience Aboundant.com, I do a variety of things, from sales and marketing to support and SEO services for churches. If any time is left over after that, I do freelance writing in the areas of spirituality, technology, education, picture books for kids, and more.

Follow UnBound, The Aboundant Blog, to get more useful posts like this one.

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