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Online Church - The rise of the online sermon during times of social distancing

With most religious organisations unable to hold regular mass and sermons due to the coronavirus outbreaks, many of these groups have taken their churches online. In particular, the use of video live streaming as a means to maintain a sense of connection with worshippers has become essential. However, smart religious organisations can use this time to do more than simply hold virtual services, by permanently expanding their digital presence.


The sudden implementation of social distancing has hit all community groups, and the communal, religious element of social lives has been impacted particularly hard. Images of the central courtyard of the Great Mosque of Mecca empty of worshippers during Ramadan, and Pope Francis reading his annual Easter address to an empty St. Peter's Basilica hit the headlines and stuck in the minds of millions. However, it is the closure of local places of worship that has had a more significant impact on communities.

Whether as a direct response to church closures, or as a psychological reaction to the global introduction of social distancing, millions have been seeking hope and spiritual uplift online. One of the ‘big three’ US evangelism ministries, Global Media Outreach, has seen a 170 percent increase in search engine ad clicks about finding ‘hope’. Clicks on ads about ‘fear’ increased 57 percent, and about ‘worry’ 39 percent. The ministry’s 12.4 million gospel presentations in March represented a 16 percent increase over the average month in 2019.


How to pivot to an online experience

As its library of content scaled, CV Global needed a video management solution that would accommodate this growth, in addition to supporting a new initiative to promote and deliver this library of content to external organisations online.


The value of community

The result has been a rush by churches and religious organisations to deliver community engagement online, whether by livestreaming specific services, uploading popular archive video and audio, or using Zoom and similar messaging and video services. The Church of England has set up a weekly national online service, for example, streamed live each Sunday, but available for viewing via YouTube embeds throughout the week. Worshippers can also access a substantial archive - the 2020 Easter Sunday service has attracted 77,000 views alone.

Ramadan celebrations in 2020 have, inevitably, switched to a heavy digital focus. In the UK, celebrities including Konnie Huq and London mayor, Sadiq Khan, have collaborated on a coronavirus advice video for the #RamadanAtHome campaign. Meanwhile, the majority of mosques are using video conferencing apps to connect with the faithful. The Muslim Council of Britain has recommended Muslims create  ‘virtual iftars’, in which “individuals or families can join via video conferencing facilities like Zoom, FaceTime or video-calling apps like Skype or WhatsApp.”

Take me to the church (online)

As well as delivering a personal connection via VC, apps or even in some cases a simple voice call, the key to establishing a religious organisation online is video content. The Church of England has formally recognised this, issuing guidelines for creating live video and archive events online. It has also designed courses and training days for those managing social media accounts for the organisation.

The guidelines cover social media account creation, basic copyright pointers, and list some of the potential types of content that organisations might already be experts in producing. Longer-form suggestions include the main sermon from a service, interviews with speakers or a member of the church, as well as potential short-form content. An example of this is a ‘thought for the day’ from the vicar or a member of the church, or a mid-week reflection or prayer for the community.

Of course, it is not just the worship experience itself that can be effectively digitised - religious organisations have huge libraries of supplementary assets as well. One example is music, which is not only rights-free (as opposed to newer copyrighted music that requires a PRS licence to use online) but is also enormously evocative and desirable year-round. Although Christmas Carols are probably the most popular example, there are innumerable pieces with significant appeal. In recognition of this, Norwich Cathedral’s organists have offered to help churches across the diocese with their own digital worship by providing organ recordings of hymns. These have been recorded on request by the cathedral’s Master of Music.

The key to content management

However, as every video-producing organisation discovers pretty quickly, creating brilliant content for your audience is just one part of the puzzle. Managing that content, archiving it effectively, and most importantly, being able to find it again, can be something of a dark art to beginners.

Not only that, but in the modern era of social platform fragmentation, the risk of storing all live video on one single social platform - whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, TikTok or Twitch - is significant. The list of potential threats to the organisation's content here is enormous, from blanket policy changes impacting certain types of content, to malicious or fraudulent claims closing or locking channels. Organisations also needed to consider platform bankruptcy or temporary hosting issues and regionalised blacklisting, such as YouTube in China.

Ditch the DIY solutions

The simple solution is to implement a cloud-based digital asset management platform (DAM) early on. This allows organisations to establish processes that can accommodate growth, as well as simplify delivery pipelines and ensure archiving is properly managed from the outset.

Imagen customer CV Global, a not-for-profit Christian body, migrated from a DIY video solution involving Google Drive, Dropbox and Canto Flight in order to scale effectively. The Imagen platform allowed them to promote and deliver a sizable library of content to external organisations all over the world. A particular boon for organisations such as CV Global is that Imagen provides backend storage, search and a host of video management tools. It also provides a front-end portal, which allows end users, partners or sponsors different levels of access to content.


How can Digital Asset Management help you?

Digital Asset Management systems allow ministries to easily manage portfolios of rich media content from one central interface, to help engage and grow your congregation.


“The Imagen platform has greatly expanded our ability to deliver our content to churches and Christian organisations all over the world,” said Dan Price, Content Manager at CV Global. “Our partners find it easy to use and appreciate that it’s free to use too. Any church can join; they just register and then the rest is self-service, which is a perfect fit for our needs.”

The long term benefits of taking your church online

There are many long-term benefits for churches and religious organisations who embrace DAM platforms, not least of which is that archive content is accurately catalogued, stored, and recalled for future use. An example application from CV Global is the ability to associate videos with supporting content, such as scripts, images and alternative audio tracks. This has helped CV Global’s partner organisations and churches to distribute content locally, for example by using the scripts to re-dub videos into other languages.

The overarching fact is that all organisations create content of one form or another that often has far wider value than is initially apparent. The ability to capture it and re-imagine related content incorporating it at a later date can be immensely valuable.


WIth supporting churches in mind, Imagen has created a specific Virtual Worship Experience package to meet the needs of ministries of all faiths, enabling them to easily manage portfolios of rich media content from one central interface. Scalable, flexible, and above all shareable, investing in video technology and taking your church online is a strategic decision that will continue to reap benefits for years to come.

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