Web Church Proves Popular in Florida and Beyond


(system) #1

Delwin Finch is the Web Church Pastor for the Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida. He talks to Spectrum about church ministry in the 21st century and how he and his team are working to bring the Forest Lake church to a bigger community than ever before.

Question: Your church has been known for using technology in your outreach efforts. What are some of the things you are doing?

Answer: We currently stream all three of our church services in our main sanctuary every Sabbath live over the Internet. In between services we stream our announcements and then run a video of the Web Church Pastor welcoming those attending online, which plays just before each service begins.

All of our sermons are archived and available for viewing on our website after each Sabbath. We also stream and then archive our church business meetings as well as any funerals and weddings (if requested).

When my father-in-law died last summer, we streamed the funeral service so that people back home in his native Jamaica could attend online. We later had reports from people who said that they dressed up to go to his funeral and then went to someone’s home to watch the service online.

We also film a weekly Sabbath School discussion, called Hope Sabbath School, which airs weekly on the Hope Channel and is then available via our website.

Our young adult service, Deeper, also archives its sermons and has developed a podcast as well. Both the sermons and the podcast are available at deeperfaith.org and also on iTunes.

We recently launched a church photo gallery, which is hosted on Smugmug.com. There are over 1900 pictures already in various galleries showcasing various aspects of Forest Lake Church life and ministries and it is growing weekly. Besides the usual photo sections there is a section of vegan recipes (with pictures of what your dish should look like when you are finished) and a collection of photos of Web Church participants.

Question: What audience are you targeting with your live streaming sermons?

Answer: The original intent for our streaming services was to provide a way for local members who can’t attend church to be able to join us online. So we only had enough bandwidth for around 50 connections. But then we started getting complaints from people who were attempting to connect online and couldn’t and we realized that this was no longer just a “local” webstream audience.

So now our target audience is anyone who wants to attend an Adventist church service from around the world. We don’t just stream the sermon but the entire church service. We have three services and each one is unique in its style, so it isn’t just the same service repeated three times.

Question: What sort of feedback are you getting on your church website?

Answer: We get our greatest amount of feedback whenever the website goes down!

We get letters all the time from people in various parts of the world and in our own neighborhood thanking us for providing the service via our website. Some people are physically prevented from attending locally while others are in a small town where there is no Adventist congregation or perhaps in a country with very little Adventist or even Christian presence. Question: Have you met any resistance from church staff members or congregants?

Answer: We haven’t had any resistance regarding the streaming of our church services. The congregation is very supportive of the fact that we stream our services and the church staff has really embraced the concept and mission.

However, the congregation has been very clear that we not become what they consider a “TV church.”

For us this means keeping our cameras unobtrusive, not “playing” to the cameras from the front or stopping our church service if we have a technical issue with our webstream. If we lost our Internet connection, the church service would continue.

Question: What kinds of technology are you planning to use in the future – or do you wish was available to use?

Answer: We have toyed with the idea of having a live chat during a church service for those attending online. We’ve debated whether this would be a help or a distraction.

We are planning to do a lot more with video content and podcasting. Our SmugMug photo gallery allows us to post video clips of up to 2.5 minutes of SD quality video and I have plans to develop a whole series of short video clips highlighting ministries such as Adult Sabbath Schools, and special groups such as our quilting ministry, so people can get a glimpse into what each group and ministry is like.

I would like to expand our current Deeper podcast into other ministry areas and we need to start podcasting our sermons (currently the archives only streams off the website) so that people can subscribe to them via iTunes or other RSS feeds.

I’ve also been setting up websites for various church ministries using blogging software rather than standard website software so that people can have more control over their own web content and of course blog about their area of ministry.

And then of course there is the whole realm of high-definition video content. We currently have one HD video camera that we use in the main sanctuary as part of our webstream, but we would have to upgrade the other three cameras and purchase HD lenses as well. Someday we will do that. In the meantime I will purchase another HD camera for my podcast productions and then drop the quality down to SD for now.

In the very near future we will be converting one room into an audio and video production room so we can get more serious about developing more podcast content.

Question: Has using new media stressed your church budget? How do you pay for it?

Answer: Having new media has certainly stressed our budget but God has always provided a way for us to continue growing and expanding. Just having a full-time Web Church Pastor (I was a volunteer for the first two-and-a-half years) has been a new thing, and in order to hire me the church dipped into some strategic reserves that they had set aside for just such a project. So having me on full-time is another significant commitment that the congregation has made to the web ministry area.

As people have gotten excited about our web ministry they have been contributing specifically to the ministry. We have received several rather sizable gifts that have allowed us to add additional lighting, purchase a fourth camera and so on.

We pay for our bandwidth and web hosting out of our regular church budget and the church has been very intentional about budgeting for media ministries and web ministries, but because this ministry has such a high profile, people are very willing to give to it.

Question: Where have you gotten your ideas for using new technology in your church? Where have you borrowed from?

Answer: The core elements of the media ministry were already in place when I came on board. The idea of filming and then streaming the worship services was the idea of one church member who had been professionally trained in video production and was a member of the church audio/video team. The audio/video part just grew from there.

I get my ideas for using new technology from the youth and young adults of my church. I also do a lot of reading myself on technology in magazines such as Wired or Collide and online at all the usual technology websites such as Engadget and Gizmodo. I subscribe to several technology podcasts.

Because I am just getting started full time, I really haven’t had much of a chance yet to attend any technology conferences, particularly conferences that focus on using technology in churches. There is one technology conference in the Adventist context that I have attended called the Global internet Evangelism Network (GiEN), which meets alternately in the US and outside the US every year.

The biggest source for ideas is the team of people that I work and worship with from week to week. There are about 50 people on the church AV Team and I am now developing my own Web Ministries Team and between the two groups are a lot of technically-savvy people who are always curious, always looking for something more or something better that we could be doing. Question: What do you think using new media has accomplished so far?

Answer: Using new media has changed the Forest Lake Church from being a witness in the local community into a church that can share its message and resources worldwide. It has caused our congregation to realize that we are a part of something much bigger than just our central Florida region. Because of our web church audience people now realize that they are not just worshipping in isolation, but that other people want to have what they have. And we are just beginning to realize how much more God has in store for us.

Question: What is your background? Did you study IT?

Answer: My background is both as a pastor and an IT person. I have a bachelor’s degree in theology from Walla Walla College and an MDiv from Andrews University. I pastored for 12 years on the West Coast of the US and then changed careers and went into governmental work for a non-profit organization.

From there I went into the IT field. I went back to school and got industry certifications from both Microsoft and Cisco. I’ve worked in both helpdesk and network administration for several companies in Florida.

I’ve had an interest in the intersection between ministry and technology for many years – from the time when 16mm projectors and/or a Dukane were standard issue to the present state-of-the-art equipment.

So when the opportunity arose for me to finally combine the two areas—theology and technology—I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

Question: What advice do you have for other churches who are thinking of making greater use of new media?

Answer: This is an excellent time to be getting into the area of new media. So much of the software or development platforms for web development are low- or no-cost. I can make a decent podcast with nothing more than the software that comes on my Macintosh. Web hosting doesn’t have to be expensive. The biggest expenses can be the equipment, but then again, you don’t have to start with all sorts of fancy equipment; instead, start small and work your way up as people start to get excited about it.

People in North America, at least, have come to expect to find out about community resources via the Internet. And it isn’t enough to just have a website; you need to have something of value on that website. I think it helps if you have something of value that keeps people coming back as well. And new media technologies allow you to have more content, both audio and video, without nearly as much expense and/or effort as it might have taken in the past.

However, no matter how much hardware or software you may have, there are two ingredients that I think are crucial to utilizing technology in a church. First, it takes a team to develop it and make it work. One person can’t do it all and if one person is trying to do it all then they will soon be overwhelmed and give up. Besides, it really isn’t about the technology; it’s about building a small group around this goal of communicating via technology.

And second, not every church should be online. Or, to put it another way, you can’t share what you don’t have. If you are planning to stream your worship service, then the worship service needs to be something that someone would want to see. The sermons need to be appealing to a broad cross-section of people. The worship service needs to be planned out and not just a haphazard collection of worship elements. It doesn’t do much good to sink a bunch of money into technology if there isn’t something there to share.

Question: Where do you see the Forest Lake Adventist church in 10 years?

Answer: I hope to see the Forest Lake Church in a new worship center building in ten years. If that is the case then our worship services will look a lot different than they do now. Moving into a new building will allow us to plan for the next generation of technology while leaving some room to expand to the next 40 years of growth.

I have no way of knowing just what or where technology will be taking us in 10 years, but I fully expect the Forest Lake Church to be trying to do more with whatever is available.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/904