At General Council 43, the Executive was mandated to explore ways of supporting rural churches through the use of technology. This led to the creation of the Rural Connect Project.
The Rural Connect initiative uses a hub/satellite model (or a Host/Partner model) where a hub church hosts the technology needed to connect up to three satellite partner churches in a fully interactive service, where all the churches participate and contribute to the worship.
Here in Living Skies, we have purchased a number of small boxes that include all the necessary technology and can be affordably rented by satellite churches. They only require plugging in and turning on – no technical skills needed at all. A cellular hotspot ensures sufficient bandwidth no matter what the local internet may be. In addition, we are providing loans for congregations to become hub or host churches, with an easy and generous repayment schedule. Hubs can charge for their services and this provides a revenue stream for repayment and then income for the church in subsequent years.
This initiative is meant to be affordable, accessible, and require virtually no technical skills on the satellite side. If you know how to use the remote control on your TV, you have the technical skills to use the equipment.
In Saskatchewan, the hub churches are (so far) Broadway United in Regina, and McClure UC and St Martin’s UC in Saskatoon.
How it works
This video offers some explanation. In this set-up, each church community offers leadership in the service. One person in one church might lead a prayer; another person in another church might read scripture; the minister or a lay leader in another church could preach.
This is different from watching online through Zoom or YouTube, because people in each congregation lead a part of the worship service, and all the other churches see each other’s participation.
All of this works even if you don’t have great internet access in your community, as long as you have cell connectivity or decent Ethernet connection. Some specialized equipment is needed for this, which is provided, and includes a video camera, a projector and sound equipment. All you have to do is plug in the machine, point the camera at the front of your church, and aim the projector at a blank wall or screen. The “hub” church manages all the technology from their end.
The Regional Council is giving interest free loans for the equipment, and the fee structure for Rural Connect is set up to allow the monthly cost to be less than pulpit supply fees, while helping the hub ministry pay off the equipment in a few years or less.
St. Martin’s (Saskatoon), McClure (Saskatoon) and Broadway (Regina) United Churches have all become “hub” churches with Rural Connect. They would like to partner with some rural congregations who may not have a minister or regular worship leadership, or who might want to give their lay worship leaders a break on a regular basis.