Sunday, December 30, 2012

Using Skype and Other Free Tools in Your Ministry

There are so many new information technologies (IT) and tools that are available to religious organizations and their members. Many of these are 'open source' solutions that are available for free. Check out the links and information about many of these resources posted on the non-profit COSI 'Open' Religious Technology & Tools web site.

One of the tools available to churches and their members is Skype, which was first developed and released in 2003 by Estonian developers Arpit Gupta, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn. It developed into a platform with over 600 million users and was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion.

Skype allows users to communicate with peers by voice, video, and instant messaging using a personal computer connected to the Internet. Calls to others using the Skype service are free of charge, while calls to landline telephones and mobile phones incur a fee.

The following are some excerpts from an excellent article by Joan Huyser-Honig entitled "Technology That Redeems Downtime" on the use of Skype by their church.

Using Skype to Connect with Missionaries

Like many congregations, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) of St. Joseph, in Michigan,  “St. Joe” now connects with missionaries on Skype, software that provides free voice and video calls over the internet.

Pam Rock, worship director at "St. Joe" , says that their online conversation in church with Mitch and Tara Wimbush, who are missionaries in Tanzania, was the first time the congregation used Skype during worship.

Pam says "the church now Skypes live with missionary families several times a year. Their favorite calls are when the congregation’s children sing to missionaries with small families. Worshipers see missionaries on screens normally used for song lyrics; they hear missionaries through the church sound system. The church uses a camcorder so missionaries see close-ups of children singing and wide angle shots of the congregation."

Due to time zone differences and uneven connections, Skypeing during worship isn’t always best. Missionaries Jeff and Melissa Bos have noticed that calls from their Bangladesh home work better to Michigan and Washington (state), than to Alaska or Toronto. Morning calls work better than night ones. “We hear far more from supporters and churches now that most have switched from snail mail to email,” Melissa says.

David Oosterhouse edits Skype conversations so they’re short enough to play during monthly Faith Promise offerings. He posts videos on YouTube and links to them from the church website. Knowing their edited conversations will be shown in worship makes the Braunings feel more connected to the St. Joe congregation. “We’re able to communicate so much more clearly, fully, and directly through Skype than by sending a letter. Several people from church write us on email and Facebook after the call,” Steve says.

San Jose Christian Reformed Church in California has used several missionary calls during worship. “We place the Skype visit wherever it fits best in the liturgy flow. We’ve done it after the initial praise time and have also had it right before the message,” Mavis Moon says.

There are so many new high quality, free and 'open source' software tools and technologies churches and their members can now use to study and share their faith. Check out some of these tools posted on the non-profit COSI 'Open' Religious Technology & Tools web site.

Please share your experiences with us and links to any other tools you think people might want to know about.

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