Movie and TV studios aren’t the only Hollywood players looking to expand their audience with online streaming services.
Case in point: Services at One Church Los Angeles are streamed live on the Internet and that’s not only increasing worshipers from around the globe but also giving the Hollywood church a bump in donations.
While a total of about 3,000 people each week attend the nondenominational church’s four services, held at a former movie theater on La Brea Avenue near Melrose Avenue, the house of worship draws about 30,000 online viewers a week.
Those e-worshipers come from 150 countries and the ministry’s YouTube channel has tallied 2 million views in just two years.
Services are streamed for free and carry no advertising, but they’re helping One Church, a nonprofit that relies on donations to cover expenses, boost its weekly take in the collection plate. Toure Roberts, founder and pastor, declined to give revenue figures but said 20 percent of the church’s donations come from out-of-towners.
Regina Birdsell, president of the Center for Nonprofit Management in downtown Los Angeles, said One Church is just one of many nonprofits using streaming video and social media to boost their reach – and income.
“This church is using a new and increasingly popular strategy for getting their message heard and driving donations,” she said. “It involves marketing themselves on social media as a way for audiences to find them and their content, just as media companies and others have been doing lately with great success.”
Roberts runs One Church with his wife, Sarah Jakes Roberts, a veteran of the Bible business. She’s the daughter of televangelist T.D. Jakes, leader of Dallas megachurch Potter’s House, whose sermons are broadcast on the Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network and other channels.
But while Jakes and Potter’s House have long been a fixture on cable television – his weekly TBN broadcast started in 1993 – One Church is focused exclusively on the YouTube generation.
As with the streaming media companies it is emulating, One Church targets a young demographic. The church’s average member is just 27 years old and the majority of its local congregation – the ones who attend services in person – are entertainment industry professionals, Roberts said.
“Our sermons are relative to what the younger generation is going through today and they can relate no matter where they are located across the globe,” he added.
That aims to not only keep young members interested in its services – three on Sunday and another Wednesday evening – but also to draw online viewers after the fact. For instance, Roberts’ sermon “Five Keys to Identifying Your Soulmate” has had more than 500,000 online views.
Roberts grew up in Watts and worked as a speaker at universities, religious and corporate events before starting his church in 2004. Back then, it had just 19 members. One Church started streaming services in 2011, trying to expand its reach.
“We wanted to continue this modern movement by making the One Church experience available to more people by expanding the audience and were able to do so by utilizing our digital content,” he said.
The online services drew few viewers at first, but One Church has lately stepped up its social media efforts, posting and sharing more to bring attention to its online content.
“Social media is a world within itself and one that our key demographic partakes in,” said Roberts, who points to plentiful posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as big drivers of the church’s audience engagement.
Each service is currently a single-camera shoot but as more money comes in, the plan is to upgrade to a multicamera shoot to better capture the live experience for online viewers. Roberts and Jakes Roberts try to directly address online viewers during services to make them feel more included and to try to keep the audience growing, the pastor said.
“We felt One Church was one of the city’s best-kept secrets and the experience needed to be made available to more people,” he said. “By going digital, we’ve not only expanded the audience but believe by focusing on that online strategy we’ve now improved the lives of young people around the world.”