Eugenio Hernandez envisions a new online video platform for the Great Plains Conference as a modern-day version of the circuit rider.
“This is a new way we can look at the church, at the new quote-unquote cyber church,” said Hernandez, multimedia production specialist for the conference.
The Great Plains United Methodist Television Network, at greatplainsumc.church, would provide a one-stop menu of churches in the conference, organized by districts and their assigned churches individually, with easy access to their livestreaming worship services and activities in one place instead than being scattered all throughout different platforms on the web.
“The focus of the Great Plains United Methodist Television Network platform means to pioneer again the spirit of yore and rekindle the passion for reaching new people wherever they live, and to be committed to connecting with people who do not have a church home while embracing connections among United Methodists and Christians throughout the United States and the world,” Hernandez said.
“We have developed this single-platform to gather every church's separate worship streaming service on the web into just one platform. Think about it as a network where your congregants and anyone from across the US and the world will be able to connect to,” he continued.
The more churches that participate, according to Hernandez, the lower the cost would be for local churches that take part — as low as $20 per month, he said. In comparison Vimeo, which many of the churches in the conference use for their streaming, charges $75 per month.
“We have the same quality that Vimeo has,” Hernandez said, with 1080p resolution high definition, the industry standard.
To set up the service is a 1, 2, 3, process where churches sign up through the platform, they are provided a software to stream their video, and a URL and a stream key to connect to the platform, he said. Assistance in setup — usually remotely — will be available.
For viewers the platform’s interface, “is super user-friendly”, Hernandez said. “Going through each church channel is like clicking on your remote control or browsing through your favorite video streaming platform.”
Todd Seifert, conference communications director, said the platform makes sense to churches from an economic standpoint.
“Most churches can afford that,” he said of the $20-a-month price tag. “It’s still $240 and it looks like a big number. But 20 bucks is a lot better than 75, because that’s a bill you carry in your wallet.”
The pandemic, Seifert said, has caused churches to rethink the way they reach out to seekers in their communities.
“We know we were facing declining numbers of attendance in person even before the pandemic, but we are seeing increasing numbers of people online because of the pandemic,” he said. “What churches are telling us is that the number of people watching online is not going down.”
The concept, Seifert says, accepts the reality that how we consume media has changed in the past few years.
“We live in a Netflix world, where streaming is a norm now,” he said. “The church can either try to butt up against that, which has never in the history of the church been successful to butt up against anything, or we can embrace it and use it as a tool for evangelism and maintaining connection for people who are just not going to leave their home.”
Hernandez said he is excited about the outreach the platform can have, not only within Kansas and Nebraska but beyond.“This network provides an open door to possible congregants beyond the Great Plains Conference,” he said.
The conference will take care of all the licensing requirements and provide technical support, Hernandez added.
“This opens up a great opportunity for churches to fulfill our vision — Great Churches, Great Leaders, Great Disciples — and within this platform, all in one, we can instantly or better transform the world,” he said.
To save costs to churches through the platform, churches will have to archive all of their worship services locally to later upload them on their own website. “We are capable to record as it happens but the cost of storage hours of video on the cloud will increase the cost of the service very much” Hernandez said.
A donation button will be added in each channel for virtual offerings directly to the church or through the conference.
The platform also can promote other aspects of each individual church’s life, Seifert said. By drawing people to a church’s website for viewing, the visitor then can find information about youth ministries, opportunities for children, mission work, justice ministries — anything the church displays on its website.
“It allows us to help market other things local churches have going on,” he said.
Hernandez has been an award-winning video producer for the conference for more than six years, after working in the television news industry in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years for renowned organizations as The Associated Press and Thomson Reuters where he served as a news assignment editor and manager for their North American and Latin American television operations, and The Broadcasting Board of Governors -- The Voice of America, where he served as the Spanish Service Chief -- among other organizations such as CNN and Telemundo as a television news producer and video journalist.
Seifert said Hernandez approached him with the idea of a network more than three years ago.
“Eugenio is a big dreamer and thinker but has tremendous background and skills in video editing and video shooting,” Seifert said. “He’s got patience and he’s got know-how and he’s got charisma. His personality lights up a room when he comes in it.”
Seifert said that for the past 18 months, while trying to negotiate deals that would bring the cost of the platform down for participating churches, Hernandez was working with churches as much as three hours at a time trying to help them perfect their livestreaming capabilities.
Hernandez said churches that do not subscribe to the service can still have a link from the greatplainsumc.church page while providing their embeddable video-player code to be part of GPUMN.
If successful, Hernandez emphasized, the platform could reach beyond the conference for other churches.
“Live streaming isn’t just shooting a video and posting it for view at a later date. It is live. It is happening right then. The viewers are seeing what the people at the service are seeing, at the same time. And for those who are unable to be at the service in person, they can still participate and feel a part of their church community. Those who are homebound or in the hospital can continue to participate and people who are traveling for work or vacation can still be connected to their church and community. It fits perfectly within the mission of The United Methodist Church,” he said.
A series of Zoom meetings to further explain how the platform will work is being scheduled for later this summer, after the appointive year begins in July so pastors and congregations making transitions can get settled a bit before exploring the possibilities with this new streaming option. Any pastors or lay persons interested in learning more can contact Hernandez at email@example.com to be added to the list of people to be invited to these learning sessions.
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.