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.

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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.

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Rolling Out a New Internet Campus Design

We’re planning to relaunch our Internet Campus this weekend.  We worked with a fantastic design company to improve our interface and arrange things so that people will have an easier time finding their way around the features.  Like normal, my good friend, Brad Roberts built out the site, and we’ve both been amazed to see the project come together.

Some of the new features include:

  • Greater emphasis on the chat room, built from scratch so that it will include all the features we’ve wanted for a while.  Most importantly, it no longer requires the Java plugin to work.
  • A map that shows all the connections.
  • Easier access to the sharing/invite buttons.
  • And some really cool transitions – opening and closing the chat window as well as “turning down the lights”.

Our biggest hope is that these changes will help more people discover the truth of Jesus and connect to the growing community of Faith Promise Church.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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Internet Campus & Home Invasion, Sacred Storm

At Faith Promise, we just finished a marathon weekend of five productions of Home Invasion, Sacred Storm, a story of one family’s struggles and the spiritual battle happening around them.

The acting and script was great, and attendance was pretty amazing. All services combined, there were over 5,300 in attendance. From the stories I’ve heard, it’s clear that God impacted a lot of lives.

But not only was it an exciting day on our physical campus, it was also a great day on our Internet Campus as well. Combined online attendance for the day was 504 – a figure that is nearly three times our normal online weekend attendance.

icampus-attendance

The graphic above is a representation of the 279 connections during our 9:00 broadcast this evening.

Some other interesting stats for the iCampus today:

  • Over 600 hours of video were streamed
  • People from five countries joined in
  • 45 connected in the chat area
  • Twelve people streamed the sign language video format
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Home Invasion, Sacred Storm

Halloween Knoxville, TN

One of the many things I love about my job is the opportunities to build out event-specific websites. The screen capture above is from the re-launch of the Sacred Storm website to promote the upcoming Halloween production at Faith Promise Church called Home Invasion, Sacred Storm.

Even if you’re not in the Knoxville area, you can still be a part of this event since there will be three broadcasts on our Internet Campus on Sunday, November 1st:

  • 9:45 AM
  • 11:45 AM
  • 9:00 PM

We’d also love it if you’d do us a favor and help us spread the word by sharing this event with your social networks. I believe God will use it to make a significant impact in people’s lives.

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Online Small Group

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I’m in the middle of trying to kick off an online small group using webcams for people to connect with each other. I think it will be a great way to build community and discipleship into the lives of people who are already connecting to our Internet Campus each weekend, and several churches seem to be using this technology very effectively.

Just in case someone else trying to do the same thing stumbles across this post, I’ve put together some guidelines and recommendations into a document. I’m sure that it will be a work in progress, but you can download it in a couple of different formats below:

Online Small Group Guidelines (pdf) (Word Doc)

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