Even during these COVID-19 times, it is essential that church families meet together in some capacity. Whether it’s to hold a prayer vigil, coordinate meals for seniors, meet in our small groups, conduct the basic business of the church or myriad other church activities and ministries, faith communities must now embrace the virtual meeting technologies like web conferencing.
While Zoom is getting all the press these days – both good and bad, there are several other platforms available. These digital "meeting rooms" that you create using a web conference tool, typically open in a web browser and allow people to stream a video of themselves, share a document, speak to one another and use text chat. Most laptops and computers now have webcams, microphones and speakers built in, so meetings can be as simple as "click and go."
So, which is “The Best” web conference tool?
The best solution is the one your church will use. Microsoft Teams is a very powerful and free tool, but that's irrelevant if people can't use it. Webex has been around for a long time, and some people love it, some not so much. Google Hangouts brings all that the familiarity that people have with Google, but some folks don't see that as always a good thing. Try out a few and see what works best for your team. Remember that the quality of the experience depends on the quality of your computer and internet connection.
Here's an overview of the more popular and widely available platforms. Please note that the Central Texas Conference does not endorse nor provide tech support for any of the below or other platform not listed.
Microsoft Skype (FREE)
- Hold virtual meetings and collaboration in real time.
- Create and share your online meeting in three clicks.
- Utilize on desktops, mobile, tablets, Xbox and Amazon Alexa devices.
- Collaborate with up to 10 participants on video calls.
- Can provide live captions and subtitles to help the hearing impaired.
Microsoft Teams (FREE)
- Comes as part of Office 365. This powerful tool has a bit of a learning curve but can be very useful to help coordinate activities for the church.
- Manages real-time collaboration and threaded discussions by creating teams and channels. You could have a "First UMC Team" with all members and then separate channels for each committee (ex. Staff Parish, Trustees, etc.). Channels can be open to all or made private to a select list of invitees.
- Lets you start a video call with everyone in a channel or a team by hitting "Meet Now" at the bottom of the screen. It also supports private chat and calling.
- Has a strong connection to Office 365 and OneDrive to allow easy collaboration on next Sunday's worship PowerPoint, annual budget Excel spreadsheet or the latest bulletin.
- Connects with apps like Trello, Evernote and other productivity apps to keep your team coordinated.
Google Hangouts (FREE)
- Benefits from the familiarity with Google and the popularity of Gmail, making this a good choice for churches.
- Hosts virtual meetings of up to 10 participants.
- Allows chats, phone calls and video calls.
- Use it on computer, iOS and Android devices.
- Supports the use of calendar invitations to future meetings.
Zoom (Free for limited use. $14 per host per month for more capability.)
- Supports large meetings and church services easily.
- Join from anywhere on any device.
- Creates calendar invitations to help people remember when to join the meeting.
- Integrates with collaboration apps like Slack, popular browsers and Microsoft Office 365.
- Offers a free plan for webinars for group meetings of up to 100 participants. The free plan limits meetings to 40 minutes. Other plans start from $14 per host per month.
- United Methodist Communications now offers free on-demand training, Zoom for Churches.
BlueJeans (start at $9.99 per host per month for up to 50 attendees)
- Brings together features like screen sharing, polling, Q&A, recording and text chat to make collaboration easy.
- Connects from any computer, iOS or Android device.
- Includes dial-in numbers allowing people to call into the meeting without a computer or mobile device.
- Uses Smart Meeting in-app intelligence to capture the most important discussion points, assign action items and catch-up quickly with time-saving highlight reels.
- BlueJeans plans start at $9.99 per host per month (billed annually).
Webex (Free for up to 100 participants. Other functions require a subscription.)
- Allows for meeting with 100 participants, HD video, screen sharing and a personal room for as you like.
- Requires subscription starting at $13.50 per month per host for application sharing, recording and other functions.