We are seeing more and more churches diligently searching for ways to help their small groups stay connected during this time of mandated isolation. Kingdom First Solutions has embarked on an aggressive effort to bring a free or low cost solution to help churches facilitate virtual meetings for their small groups. There are many great tools available already that do a good job of connecting people from Apple's FaceTime to Zoom, to Google Hangouts. However there are drawbacks to each of these options for gathering a small group online, especially one that may have lots of technological diversity: Not everyone uses Apple, Google, or can keep their meeting to the free 40 minute Zoom limit.
We have landed on a strategy to leverage an open-source, free video meeting tool (Jitsi) that allows multiple people to connect using only a web browser. As long as the participant is using a computer or device that has a microphone and/or camera they can join a meeting with no account or login to slow them down. Anyone can start a meeting directly from Jitsi's website or from any other public Jitsi server, including ours: meet.kfsweb.com. Your church could even host its own local Jitsi server if you prefer. Once a meeting is started there is no limit on the number of people who can be invited or how long the meeting can be. People are invited simply by sharing the url of the meeting with them.
To take it a step further for churches using RockRMS, we've been working with Church at the Cross to craft a workflow to help automate creation of meetings and distribution of access based off RockRMS's amazing built in group features. If you are using RockRMS we encourage you to go checkout their recipe on the Rock Community. You will need a Jitsi server to target as a part of this recipe. You can use any public Jitsi server, or we welcome you to use ours at no charge: meet.kfsweb.com. If you would like help with setting your church up with its own server, we can help with that too.
There are a few limitations of Jitsi to keep in mind:
- Limited browser support. Jitsi officially supports Chrome, Firefox and Edge (the latest versions based on Chromium). Safari works with audio only, though their development group is working to bring full functionality.
- The first person to connect to a room will be granted the moderator, or host role. If that happens to be someone other than the actual small group leader or host this could lead to problems. The CATC workflow recipe linked above was specifically designed to minimize the exploitation of this limitation.
- Anyone who has the room name can connect to the room until a password is set. However if you set a room password you then have to communicate that password to all the people who are supposed to be in the room.
- If you are using a publicly available Jitsi server, it's possible for that server to be overwhelmed by the number of people using it, causing the server to crash, and well, that ends badly for everyone.
We're not finished yet:
- We are working diligently on a more secure implementation of Jitsi using some of its extended capabilities. This implementation is going to take a little more time and effort to pull off. Since the Church has a desperate need now, we elected to go ahead and get a working solution into its hands now and continue to work on making it better as we go.
- We would love to help you set up your own Jitsi server. While it still needs to be a public server so all group members can connect, your own server is much less likely to be overwhelmed by overuse than a public server. If you are interested in getting your own Jitsi server up and running contact us about our Jitsi Server Setup Package for $193.50.
Our passion is helping churches make the most of the technology they have to further the mission of Christ's Bride on
earth. If there's any way we can help, please contact us today.
Tools we're using or plan to use to make this possible:
- Jitsi Quick Install - Resource for setting up basic Jitsi server.
- Jitsi Web Token Plugin - Allows the use of JSON Web Tokens (JWT) to control access to specific rooms. We're building functionality to control and manage the assigning of moderator roles to the appropriate members of a group.
- Jitsi Moderation Token Module - Custom Jitsi module that aids in controlling assignment of the moderator as members join a room. We plan to use this to ensure only group leaders can will be assigned the moderator role regardless of who joins the group first.