More than 500 churches are using a telephone-based streaming service to allow members to listen to live worship services if they don't have internet access to watch online.
Known as PhoneLiveStreaming.com, the service was launched in March after churches were ordered to close during state lockdowns in response to the coronavirus. As many as 550 churches are now using the service.
The audio service allows people to listen to a livestream of a church worship service on a traditional telephone line instead of watching it online.
Hugh Plappert, whose son David developed the system while on spring bring in March, told The Christian Post that people can “just pick up the phone and they're in church.”
“It actually does streaming across the internet to a server that then converts the signal and then puts it on a phone line,” said Plappert.
“So people with traditional phone lines are receiving streaming. People with poor or no internet access are the main audience.”
Plappert also told CP that churches that've used the audio service have mentioned that they intend to keep the streaming system even after they reopen post-pandemic.
“The surprise, a lot of churches say, is they didn't realize how many people were not able to watch their livestreaming, when they thought everybody was,” he explained.
He compared PhoneLiveStreaming.com to a handicap ramp, noting that while a lot of church members might not use the service per se, some will find it necessary.
“You could kind of look at it as the technology handicap ramp for churches. You don't have a lot of people using the handicap ramp and you didn't build it for a lot of people, but you build it for some key people and so you're going to take care of it and maintain it,” said Plappert.
Initially, the audio service was created for a limited number of churches in the Great Lakes region, with Plappert and his son sharing it with a few people on social media.
However, the audio service got a serious jolt in attention when Pastor David Platt of the megachurch McLean Bible Church in Virginia promoted it on Twitter in late March.
“If you know someone without internet access, we don’t want them to be left out on Sundays. So spread the word!” Platt tweeted at the time.
Since the spread of COVID-19 to the United States earlier this year, many Christian organizations and churches have adjusted their outreach in response to state lockdowns that forced many churches to close.
These have included expanding their online presence, adding outdoor worship services to their agenda, and even giving various sacramental rites over the phone.
For example, in April, Virginia Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary launched “Dial-A-Priest” to allow clergy to give last rites to people in the hospital over the phone, especially for COVID-19 patients for whom access might be limited.
VTS Dean, the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, said in a statement at the time that “Dial-A-Priest” was a way to make sure the dying do not feel alone.
“In a season where hospitals are overwhelmed and where pastoral care is limited because of ‘physical distancing,’ the seminaries step in to suggest a way forward,” said Markham.
“Our goal is to make sure that the dying do not feel alone at this time. It is a simple idea: we provide this free service to support those who are most in need.”