Streaming Missions: Using Skype to Give your Congregation a Vision for the World
Live video conference calls between members of U.S.-based churches and their missionaries overseas. Sound overambitious? Maybe so, especially when it involves places like Tanzania, where electricity and phone service is intermittent. And that might be why the idea never had takers when missionary Gary Woods suggested it to his supporting churches.
Until last summer. That’s when Woods and La Plata Christian Church in Missouri connected for a 20-minute video conference made possible through Skype, an online phone service. Both children and adults lined up during a Sunday service, waiting patiently for their turn to ask Gary and his wife Judy questions about their efforts to plant churches in Tanzania, and life in one of the world’s poorest nations.
“My hope is that having ‘real-time’ communication with missionaries will help people to be more interested and involved in overseas missions,” Woods said.
The concept resonated with Jeremy Lobdell, La Plata’s pastor. The nondenominational church supports several independent missionaries, including the Woods family. The church resides in a farm community, and years of watching young people head to metropolitan areas for higher education and jobs has left the congregation older and in need of rejuvenation, Lobdell says. To try something new, he pegged June as “Missions Month,” which included sermons, a visit from a missionary serving in the Philippines, and the video call with the Woods.
“It gave us the feel of being, in a sense, in Africa while sitting in the middle of cornfields in Missouri,” Lobdell says. “Most farmers have never gone outside the U.S.”
The logistics came fairly easily. The Woods use a dial-up phone connection for internet access in their home, which isn’t the speediest, but it was adequate to carry the voice and video feeds. Lobdell connected his laptop to the church’s sanctuary projector with a VGA cord, and then used the laptop’s wireless capabilities to connect to the church’s network. The laptop already contained a webcam, and the church’s sound system plugged in directly to the laptop’s stereo input jack.
Making the call itself possible was Skype, a free, downloadable software program that allows users to call each other for free through their internet connections. A desktop or laptop computer with a basic microphone-and-speaker setup can handle audio calls; the purchase of a decent webcam (if one doesn’t already exist on the computer), often for as little as $30 at many retailers, makes video calls affordable.
Such an event can cost little but deliver big results. Lobdell reports that a brother and sister at La Plata who asked the Woods questions later set up a lemonade booth at a citywide garage sale and gave the proceeds to missions.
“The call made it a lot more real for them and gave them the feel of being there,” he says. “One guy said to me, ‘This is even better than having them here.”
There were benefits on the other end, too. “I was encouraged,” Woods wrote. “And when I finished, I thought to myself, ‘I wish more churches would do this.'”
The article “Streaming Missions: Using Skype to Give your Congregation a vision for the World” written by Matt Branaugh was excerpted from www.christianitytoday.com web site, March 2010.