Case study: Parkside Church livestreams services online

Screenshot of the Parkside Church website livestreaming a service from their archives

As social distancing became the United States’ new normal this month, most churches have temporarily canceled in-person services. Some churches are holding “drive-in” services that allow attendees to remain in their car while coming together for worship. Others are livestreaming services or making recorded services available on their websites. And still others—those who don’t have the technology or resources available to provide online services themselves—are directing their members to other churches’ online resources for worship.

When social distancing recommendations began in earnest mid-March, Parkside Church in Ohio made the decision to discontinue in-person church services. Instead, they urged their members to attend a recorded livestream online. Their goal was to stream a recording from a previous service at a specific time for their members.

Because Parkside regularly streams their services on their website, they didn’t anticipate any technical difficulties. However, the traffic on that day overwhelmed their server. (This was likely a combination of their own members plus traffic from other churches all being directed to one livestream.) At the peak of traffic that first Sunday, many visitors were unable to connect.

We’ve had the privilege of working with Parkside Church for the past six years, designing, building, and hosting their website. Before their second weekend of online services, we partnered with them to brace their server and site for the new influx of Sunday traffic.

On the surface the answer may seem as simple as adding more resources or tweaking the settings on their server. However, the process for optimizing a server is actually a bit more complicated. We try to avoid simply “throwing more resources at a problem.” This practice offers a bandaid without addressing the underlying issue, which can lead to more complicated problems later on.

Instead, Luke and Peter worked with the Parkside team to identify what had happened, what needed to happen for future services, and how best to accomplish that. Luke collected data and isolated the pages where we could add additional caching and optimization. He then ran tests to confirm the optimizations were working as expected. The Parkside team also made the decision to livestream at their three regular service times rather than just once. This helped reduce the peak traffic.

This past Sunday, Luke was on standby to ensure everything was running smoothly. We were pleased that the site served almost 18 times the amount of traffic it normally does without error.

These are unprecedented times, both in social distancing practices and in technology available to us. Parkside adjusted quickly to continue to serve their members, and we’re honored to be a part of helping them do that!

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