Uh, an Online Campus service?

This past Sunday, the potential nightmare of having an Online Campus became a reality. We were unable to stream our service due to a technology failure from the streaming media company we use. In recent weeks, we had experienced a few “hiccups” with our service, but this was an all-out failure.

In an instant, Jordan Johnson and I went into salvage mode. Jordan was on the phone with the company, and I was running around, with my laptop, trying to find a fix. Two other volunteers, Jana (my wife) and Paul Graff, were in the chat trying to explain things in realtime and plead with people for patience.

I needed to figure something out quickly. The Sunday was one of the most important Sundays of the year on our ministry calendar, Promotion Sunday. (High attendance as it’s the start of the ministry calendar year.) Plus, the message was a time to give an update on what God has been doing in and through Christ Community Church since we started Double Your Impact. One of the things Lead Pastor Mark was going to highlight in his message was the launch and growth of the Online Campus.

And, there was nothing for those watching at the Online Campus.

Knowing the importance of the morning, and trying to figure out a solution, I decided to utilize my Ustream account and stream the service from my iPhone. In no way was it ideal, but it was a band-aid solution for the moment.

Who knows how many people were patient and gracious with us as we tried to fix things. By our attendance measurements, we had 310 at the Online Campus service. Who knows how many actually watched part of the service. I don’t blame them if they bailed after a few minutes.

Here’s a clip of me setting the stage for those watching online. This was roughly 20-25 minutes after the service started.

After I had set up my iPhone on the soundboard, Marc Birkey set up the sound booth so I could stream better. Birkey was directing the service at the time when he set up a monitor I could focus my iPhone on for a better picture. He also set up some computer speakers so I could get decent audio from the monitor. Huge improvement.

Once I got set up in the sound booth, and things calmed down, the people who were still with us in the chat were encouraging and gracious. I was surprised we had so many people still sticking around to see if we’d get things worked out. As Pastor Mark went into the message, it was well-received by those watching online.

Amazingly, we had one person in the chat say they were visiting the Online Campus that day. They had already visited the Old Mill and Sarpy Campuses. They said they had been looking for a home church, and decided they wanted to attend Christ Community Church. This, in spite of everything that had happened that morning, was a huge blessing. The efforts to salvage the service were a success.

That afternoon, I recorded an apology video for Online Campus attendees. I posted it on Facebook, Twitter and the CCC blog.

Now the issue was how to respond to our media streaming company. We had no notice from them they experienced an outage until Jordan had called them. Unlike previous outages, the service did not return throughout the service. I like to think I’m fairly gracious and understanding, but I was livid. That afternoon, I received emails apologizing for the outage and saying our account would be credited.

I wanted to take some time to calm down before responding. There was an event at CCC in the evening, which the family attended. It gave me some time to have fun with the boys, and interact with others at CCC. After we returned, I spent some time crafting my email.

While the apology on their part was nice, and the credit to our account was necessary, there was a greater concern about their stability and reliability. (We are in the middle of a two-year contract with them.) Also, I wanted them to know my perspective on the matters.

One of the thoughts I had when writing the message was of people who gave to the church. Pastor Mark always tells us to envision “the seniors of the church” who don’t have much, but often give out of their need for the Kingdom. I wanted to be a good steward of what had been entrusted to me.

I was also thinking of an earlier conversation I had with Pastor Mark in April. We had experienced a brief outage, during an Online Campus service, from this company. Mark encouraged me to be strong in conveying how it was unacceptable to experience the outage. When I wrote the company back in April, I don’t think my sentiment was as strong as it should have been. When I heard back, I felt brushed aside. A tough learning for me to experience. I wasn’t going to repeat that.

I’ll only put two sentences of the email here.

Regardless, we are extremely frustrated, and disappointed, with the level of service we have received the past few weeks. After this morning, I’m personally embarrassed by how I, my team, and Christ Community Church were represented because of [your] service.

How does a pastor, representing a Christian organization, respond to another Christian organization when they have not fulfilled their responsibilities? I thought about that as I wrote. I came back to I needed to be honest, fair and just. I had been gracious and understanding, but the time for that had run out.

I had Jordan proofread the email to make sure it was okay. He gave me his feedback, and I made a few tweaks. I sent it off Sunday evening. I also made sure some of my leaders knew of the email, in case I might have overstepped my bounds with what I said. They all thought it was appropriate.

Mondays are my day off, so it wasn’t until yesterday that I heard from the company. The individual I work with wanted to talk directly. When we connected over the phone, they were apologetic. They owned up to everything that had happened in recent weeks. They explained what had occurred, and what was going on to fix things so this doesn’t happen again.

It’s not often you hear terms like, “begging for grace and mercy” and “asking you for forgiveness” when working with a vendor. The phone call was good. This individual is a good person and takes pride in their work. I know they want to do their best.

After the call, Jordan and I talked with some CCC leaders to get their feedback. I sent a follow-up message to the company, and we’re at an understanding with what needs to happen going forward.

Now what?

Jordan and I are implementing a better contingency plan in case an outage does occur again. We will use Ustream, but the feed will not be from an iPhone. We hope to have it in place this weekend, but hopefully we won’t have to use it.

We are doing preliminary research into other streaming media options. There are more options available from when I first started working on this full-time in July 2011.

While for one service it may have been fun and quaint, this is not the level of excellence we expect with the Online Campus. We will have to wait and see how the outages affect the Online Campus, but I’m hopeful.

I’m grateful to work with the team of staff and volunteers that I do. It made things easier in the midst of some stressful moments.

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