Under the Hood of the Faith Promise Internet Campus

From time to time I get emails and phone calls regarding our Internet Campus setup at Faith Promise Church, so I decided to put together a post to serve as a starting point for people who are interested.

Video Encoding & Broadcast

  • We simultaneously capture and encode the service in real-time using Flash Media Encoder on a couple of PC workstations (one to capture the regular video feed, and one to capture the sign language video feed).
  • Files are captured via BlackMagic Design DeckLink cards being fed an SDI signal from our switcher (thanks to Matt James, and the rest of our awesome tech team).
  • Encoding settings: 720 x 486 pixels at 500 Kbps
    29.97 frame rate
    quality: best with lower framerate
    keyframe: 5 seconds
  • PC specs: Win XP, Dual Core 2.19 GHz with 2 GB RAM
  • From there, we upload the video files to LightCast Media.
  • From our own Internet Campus backend, we update the LightCast consoles to the current week’s date, time, and video file.

Development

  • Our website and Internet Campus are both built on ColdFusion & MySQL.
  • I’m not a coder, so all the heavy lifting has been done by my great friend and volunteer at Faith Promise, Brad Roberts.
  • I add upcoming sermons and series directly through our MySQL database.

Chat Room

  • We tried a ton of third-party chat solutions, but every option had significant drawbacks, so we ended up just developing our own chat room.  It runs on AJAX and ColdFusion, so it doesn’t require plugins, and it’s built so that the admin can log in through the chat window.

Live Prayer

  • Prayer support occurs through PhpLive! support software that we’ve installed on one of our servers.  Using this, logged-in volunteers can connect one-on-one with people who need someone to pray and encourage them.

Volunteer Base

  • Although I personally coordinate several services each weekend, we also have a couple of volunteer service coordinators who oversee particular service times online each week.  As we expand to additional services, my plan is to continue using volunteers to head those up.
  • We also have prayer volunteers each service (see above) and volunteer greeters who help keep the conversation in the chat room lively and who greet everyone as they enter.

Design

  • We faced several challenges with regard to incorporating new features while still maintaining a clean interface, so we hired LiftUX to help us create the current design.  Honestly, I couldn’t be more pleased with their work.

Online Groups

  • One of my biggest regrets has been that we didn’t launch our Internet Campus with online groups from the beginning.  We’re late to the game, but I’m committed to quickly building up opportunities for people who attend online to connect into online small groups.
  • Our groups use Tokbox.com to see each other as they connect via webcam.
  • Because of the challenge of webcam microphones and the propensity for feedback, we opt to mute our webcams and call in to a free conference call line instead.  A few services we’ve used are FreeConferenceCall.com, Rondee.com, and Google Voice.

Attendance Tracking

  • We track our attendance through LightCast’s live viewers panel.
  • Attendance is recorded by the maximum number of simultaneous connections per service.
  • We maintain our weekly online attendance figures in a Google Docs spreadsheet that is shared with our service coordinators, Internet Campus volunteers, and Executive Team.

And while I’m at it, here’s some info on the rest of our website:

Multiple Campuses

  • Since each of our campuses has the same approach and philosophy of ministry, we decided to use class tags in the HTML to show and hide content based on the campus selection.  We’ve not been using this for very long, but at least for now, it feels like the right approach.

Online Giving

  • We use FellowshipOne Technologies for our church management software, and we utilize their online giving module to make this happen.

Group Listings

  • FellowshipOne Technologies also powers our groups directory.  We’ve already migrated a few of our groups to their very cool Groups 2.0 module.

Calendar

  • We use EventU to schedule resources across our campuses, and we use their API to pull calendar data to our website.
  • Featured events are added manually to the home page and events pages of the site, and they feature start and expiration dates, so we never have out-of-date events.  We coordinate these events with our weekly printed worship guide, which we limit to five things each week.

Maybe this information will be helpful to someone.  If it is, or if you’d like more info, I’d love to hear from you.

Major Updates to the Faith Promise Website

(This is a repost from my guest post over on the Faith Promise Blog earlier this morning.)

Over the past few months, we’ve made plans for a major update to the Faith Promise Church website as we prepare for the launch of our Blount County Campus in October. As Brad Roberts and I worked through the process, here are a few things we had in mind:

Let’s help people easily find information that is accurate for their campus.
While the vision, direction, teaching, and core ministries will be consistent across campuses, there are many small variations between campuses, such as different location and contact info, different service times, and different ways of getting integrated into groups. We set out to make sure that people get the correct information based on the campus they attend or plan on attending. This means that depending on your campus, certain page contents, graphics, and menu options will be different.

Once people have chosen a campus, don’t make them pick again.
Rather than the annoyance of having to choose your campus every time you visit the site, we’ll store that information for you and take you straight into the site.

Make it easy and intuitive to switch between campuses.
Forced selections on a website make us feel like we’ve stepped into a choose-your-own-adventure book. (One bad choice, and you’re trapped inside a spooky house or dragged off into the woods by Big Foot.) Instead, we tried to make the campus selection feel like a light choice that can be easily switched at any time.

Provide a solution that scales well with additional campuses.
Rather than build a system that will only accommodate three campuses (Pellissippi, Internet, and Bount), we’ve built a system that will scale as we continue to add new campuses in the future.

While we were at it, we also enabled mobile video and overhauled the blog.
When you visit the Series Media page on your HTML5 web-enabled mobile device, you can now watch sermon videos. In addition, our church blog got a significant facelift.

As of this evening, we’ve rolled out the update. We’re still in the tweaking process, but you can check it out!

Baptizing a Friend From Church

This past weekend, I got to baptize one of my friends from church.  I’ve known Carol for several months now, we’ve talked on the phone about salvation and theology, and she’s a member of the Tuesday night small group that Keri and I lead.  Despite all that, yesterday was our first time to meet Carol face-to-face.

Carol lives in Utah, attends Faith Promise Church on our Internet Campus, and attends our online small group.  Yesterday, she was in town, so we had a cookout at my house then went to church together, where Carol was baptized.  It was an awesome day.

Check out the video here:

Finally Starting an Online Small Group

Tonight, I ventured into a new realm of online ministry as Keri and I kicked off an online small group.  We already attend a local group each week, but I wanted to begin providing more connections to those who worship online on our Internet Campus.

Here are a few benefits to meeting online:

  • We can meet later in the evening – after the kids have gone to bed.
  • You only have to clean the part of your house that will be in the webcam window.
  • People outside of Knoxville and Tennesee can meet with us.

Things that were confirmed in just one meeting:

  • Meaningful connections can happen online.
  • Having the video feed of the other people in the group makes it much easier to connect.
  • Tokbox is a fantastic free way to get multiple people in the same room together.
  • It’s challenging to get all the webcam microphones working without feedback.  A simpler solution is to use a free conference call line.

Thinking about starting an online group?  Here’s some extra info.

New Internet Campus Service

For a few months now, we’ve had three three worship service times each weekend on our Internet Campus. Starting in May, we’re changing a time and adding a new service to our Sunday lineup:

  • 9:00 am
  • 10:20 am
  • 11:45 am
  • 9:00 pm

Father, please use our church and Internet Campus to bring glory to yourself. All our efforts are for you – that more may know and worship you.

Service times are changing at our Pellissippi Campus too. You can read more about the changes here.

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year since we first launched our Internet Campus at Faith Promise Church. Since then, we’ve seen God work in a powerful way, and we’ve heard many stories of lives being impacted as a result. Although I haven’t included the numbers for the snow weekend where our church met only online (about 750 connections during peak times for each service), this graph does show the increase in people attending online over the past year.

This coming weekend we will have seven performances of Sacred Storm: Final Exam on our physical campus and six broadcasts online. I pray that over this weekend we will break new ground and see record numbers of people attend online and make important spiritual next step decisions.

Doing Church Online

The other day I happened to have a phone conversation with the pastor and author Douglas Estes. When I got off the phone, I knew that I needed to check out his book, titled SimChurch. I finished the book last night, and I have to say that it took me by surprise.

Honestly, when I first came across the book, I thought it was just another debate about whether or not the church can really meet online. I was very wrong.

This book has challenged me in a huge way. He brings up so many important concerns and ideas that hadn’t crossed my mind before.

Here’s one of many quotes that really made a bit impact on me:

…a recent survey of virtual-world citizens found that 50 percent of people surveyed don’t even believe the virtual world has sin in it. Why? Because it’s not real. Here the church is poised to fail big-time – to drop a ball of monumental proportions. Here’s how it will play out. As tens of millions of people flock to virtual worlds, traditional Christians who fear change in the church at large will see alarmist headlines about the virtual world and will dismiss the virtual world as one big sinful fantasy, as being not real. They will turn the virtual world over to its own devices, and tens of millions of people – with no true ethical compass – will embrace greater free agency and then write their own rules on what is right and what is wrong. Before long, sin in the virtual world will start to redefine [people’s perception of] sin in the real world; what’s permissible in the virtual world will start to seem less wrong in the real world. After a generation passes, new church leaders will ask, “How did we get into this mess?”

It’s a well-written book, and it has bolstered my passion for the Faith Promise Internet Campus. I’m very grateful for Douglas Estes’ thoughtful observations, and I’d highly recommend it to any pastoral staff who are interested in making a greater impact online.

Worshipping Together, Despite the Snow

Less than a year ago, Faith Promise took a new step of faith and started an Internet Campus. This weekend, because of ice and snow, we were forced to cancel our services on our Pellissippi Campus, and all of our weekend services happened exclusively online.

Here’s how it all played out: On Thursday, the weather report predicted massive amounts of ice and snow for the area, and since Pastor Chris already had the message ready to go, we set up cameras in the Worship Center, and he preached to four cameras and an empty room.

After he was done, our video guy, Matt James, edited the video to include the weekend announcements as well as several songs from a recent Wednesday night worship service. All of this was done before the weather got bad – just in case the weather forecast was right.

When the ice made our hill-top campus inaccessible, and we canceled all Pellissippi Campus services, Brad Roberts helped me rewire the iCampus for six worship services.

The services online went very well, and Pastor Chris got to experience the iCampus for the first time. It was really great to see he and his wife take an active role in the chat room over the weekend.

Online numbers are difficult to judge since each video connection likely represents multiple people – especially when people are snowed in at home. From what I can tell, I’d guess that at least one third of our congregation (and possibly over half) connected online over the weekend.

Crazy stuff! Who would have ever guessed that a whole congregation would be worshiping together online?

In Case You Haven’t Noticed…

I’m a rather huge fan of the Faith Promise Internet Campus. We’ve added a third service at 9 pm, and this online ministry continues to gain momentum.

The ministry happening online continues to blow me away. Just this weekend:

  • People were connected from four countries outside the United States (Canada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and El Salvador).
  • One family connected from their hospital room the day after their new baby was born. (Yay, Crass family!)
  • One family connected while traveling on vacation to Disney. (I think to make the rest of us jealous.)
  • Our worship staff connected while traveling home after the roads were closed on their way back from a mission trip in NYC.
  • I spoke on the phone with someone who gave his life to Christ three weeks ago while watching the iCampus and now wants to follow up by being baptized.

And that’s just the stories I heard about this weekend. Many others attend anonymously until they are ready to take the next spiritual step.

My favorite part of the iCampus is that although the staff has provided this tool, it’s people leveraging their social networks via email, Facebook, and Twitter that has spread the word. If you haven’t already, you’re help letting people know about this would be appreciated and could even make an eternal difference in someone’s life. Just make sure that you include http:// so that the link will be clickable, and posting right before or during an online service is the most helpful.

To those of you who already play a part in spreading the word and who serve online as volunteers… thanks so much! You guys rock!