Everything you need to know to get your service live streams up and running
2020 changed everything. It really did. It has made our society re-evaluate everything we do. From how we work, how we communicate, even how we socialize. One of the areas of our lives which will be hardest hit is physical events.
Leading scientists are predicting that many events will never happen in person again because we've learned what can be done with live streaming.
Don't worry, we're not suggesting that you abandon your physical services and move entirely online. No, however, we do strongly suggest making the most of this technology to make your church more accessible than it has ever been before.
Live streaming services aren't new. Churches like Hillsong, North Point, and our own church have been doing it for years. America's biggest Church Life.Church has been live streaming for over ten years and now boasts a weekly congregation of over 70,000 people.
Why Live Streaming
Live streaming church services isn't a new thing. It existed and was thriving long before local lockdowns and quarantine made them necessary. Our church has been in the business of live streaming for over 6 years now. And we wouldn't go back to a world without.
It's hard to put into words all of the benefits we and our congregation have experienced since we started live streaming. Neither of us has time to go through all of it. So, we'll narrow it down to four of the top benefits we have experienced over the years.
Makes the Church More Accessible
The church is for everyone. It must be. However, only having physical services closes you off from a lot of your community.
In the same way that the 'work from home' era has opened the world of work up to people who had never been able to work before. Being able to attend church from home will allow a whole new wave of people to experience church for the first time.
Our local communities are filled with people who are too unwell (both mentally and physically) to attend church in person. Viewing a service from home removes the expense and stress of traveling. It allows people with extreme anxiety to attend your church.
You will also open up your church to people from further afield. People whose local community doesn't include a church whose message they align with.
Finally, one of our favorite benefits of live streaming, and archiving our live streams online, is that the members of our congregation who work on Sundays can still attend our services. Our congregation is full of people who can't get Sundays off regularly but thanks to our live streams they are able to stay involved with our church.
Attracts More Visitors
We all have to accept that the world is changing. But that doesn't make our message any less relevant, perhaps it's needed now more than ever. However, it is our role as the church to share the good news in the most accessible way.
The young people of today are growing up in a world that is vastly different from the one we grew up in. They have the ability to shop around and research churches, in a way that wasn't even possible 10 years ago. They are no longer limited by geography or timezone.
That doesn't mean that live streams will replace in-person services, community is still one of the major appeals of joining a congregation. However, many young people are reluctant to join a church that doesn't have an online presence.
A recent survey showed that the average Millennial watches 6 of a church's live streams before deciding to set foot in the building.
Not having a live stream (and an archive of your streams) is like hiding the front door of your church, you're making it harder for new worshipers and visitors to find you.
Marks Important Events
Live streams are a great way to mark important events, look at how many people watch live TV New Years' Eve specials every year. Things don't have to be any different for your church.
It is up to you to decide what events you think are worth live streaming. As you will know the interests of your congregation best. This is important to remember throughout this whole process. What works for other churches may not serve yours. It is important to find a process and system that serves your needs.
Ideas of events you can live stream, other than your Sunday morning service:
- Charity projects
- Book clubs
- Visiting speakers
- 24-hour prayer events
- Nativity plays
- Prayer meetings
- Midweek services
Access a Larger Crowd
Physical events have so many limitations:
- The size and capacity of your building
- How many people are free at the time of the event
- How many people are able to travel to it
- How many people are willing to travel to it
- What the weather is like on the day
- What the traffic is like in your area
The factors are really endless.
Live streaming your service will mitigate the majority of these factors, and open up your church to many more people. People from anywhere in the world can attend your service. People are not limited to watching your service live on a Sunday morning/evening.
Another benefit of live streaming is people are more likely to discover your church online. None of us get many people wandering in off the street because they were looking for something to do on a Sunday morning. However, online people could discover your live streams while they are looking up a passage you are covering that week or while looking for churches in your area.
What Would I Live Stream?
The process of starting a live stream normally happens as follows:
Step 1 - decide that as a church you want to start live streaming
Step 2 - step up the technical side of the process
Step 3 - ahhhhh! What should we live stream?!
You'll notice that we are talking about what you should live stream before we are discussing how to do. Why?
Well, the answer is pretty simple. What you are planning to live stream will affect what you need to do it.
Sunday Morning Service
Okay, let's start with the obvious. If you only live stream one thing a week then it should be your Sunday morning or evening service. This is the highlight of most churches' weekly calendars, and it will be what most people are looking to stream.
We would recommend streaming the entire service - start to finish. This will make your online audience feel more connected to what is happening. It will also allow the people who cannot make it to the physical service to participate in the notices, worship, and bible readings as well as the sermon. This is the easiest way to capture the experience of attending your church.
When you archive the live stream you may only want to archive the sermon.
A Thought for the Day From The Pastor or Member of the Church
If you have the time, as a pastor, you may want to consider sharing daily content.
Many pastors have started to treat daily live streams as a modern alternative to devotionals. They are more interactive and easier for people to engage with. Studies have shown that people are more likely to watch a video on a topic than read about it when given a choice. If you want to make your message more accessible then you have to make it watchable.
This type of connection works really well during periods like lent or advent. Or even when you are reading through a book as a church. If you were reading through Psalms as a church, you could share a daily thought on each psalm. This fosters a great feeling of involvement and community with the people keeping up with your live streams.
A Reflection of Prayer for the Community
In days gone by emergency prayer events were difficult to organize, and most of the attendees spent more time travelling than praying. Live streaming a prayer meeting can take most of the hassle out of these situations.
These streams allow people to attend from their homes, it allows them to dedicate more of their time to their prayers, and it gives them privacy if they feel like they need it. Holding prayer events for a sick member of your community or after a major disaster can be emotional, and many people can benefit from the privacy of praying in their own homes.
Events are great things to live stream. They're an opportunity to bring new audiences to your church.
Whether you're looking to live stream a visit from an out-of-town speaker, the award ceremony of your summer soccer school, or even your annual conference - these events will help to show off the different things that your congregation is involved in.
An Update or Good News from the Community
Doing a live stream on your social media to share good news or an update is a great way to reach more people, more quickly.
Whether you're starting an update from a church member out on a ministry mission or a change in time for the knitting social - keep your live streams short, sweet, and entertaining.
Interview with the Community
We don't always have enough time on a Sunday morning to share everything that is close to our hearts. This is where live streaming can really come into its own.
Why not do a live stream with someone in your community so they can share the good work they are doing. Not only will it bolster their cause, but it might also inspire others to take up actions.
Here are some examples of interviews you could live stream:
- An interview with church members about to set off on ministry missions abroad
- An interview with a local charity that is trying to collect enough hats and gloves to give to the homeless people in your city this winter
- An interview with your youth pastor before your youth group live on $1 a day to raise awareness of extreme poverty
Picking Your Platform
Now that you have decided what you want to live stream, you will have to pick what platform you want to live stream on.
There is no one right answer to this question as every church has different needs. You may find that you end up using multiple different platforms throughout the week as some are more suited to longer streams, while other platforms are designed for short, snappy streams.
Live streaming and uploading content to Youtube is perhaps the easiest way to start your live streaming journey. Many stream encoders allow you to broadcast straight the platform without you having to convert any of the footage yourself.
Youtube does offer you the opportunity to earn money if enough people are watching your stream. This could be a great opportunity to funnel money back into the process and upgrade the quality of your streams.
Live streaming with Youtube means that you can benefit from some of their pre-approved licenses, which include allowing the live performance of worship music.
The one downside of their platform is that they have very strict community guidelines, and videos can often be taken down without warning.
However, if you're looking for the widest audience, then Youtube has very little competition.
If you're looking for a less restrictive platform then Facebook is the best place to live stream. The downside of doing this on Facebook is that people will have to actively seek out your live stream to find it. Whereas on youtube there is a chance viewers will be recommended the stream based on other things they have watched.
Instagram is very similar to Facebook, except that it has a much younger set of users. Live streaming can be done on both platforms with a single click of a button. And both platforms will notify anyone that follows you when you go live.
Periscope is a platform exclusively designed for live streaming. While this platform has some great features and is very user friendly, it has a very small user base compared to the other three platforms we have mentioned.
Livestream is the streaming platform owned by online video giant Vimeo. If you have it in your budget to subscribe to one of their plans you will be treated to easy to use software and professional looking streams. It even facilitates adding graphics to your live streams.
If you are looking to live stream in a more private manner then you really cannot go wrong with Vimeo's platform.
Dacast is one of the leading business-to-business streaming platforms in the world right now. They offer both free and paid streaming services, and even offer easy ways to archive previous content.
This is not an ideal system for streaming church services, as it was not made with mass broadcasting in mind. That being said, its free platform options are not a bad place for beginners to start streaming from.
Church focused streaming companies
So many churches have begun to stream their services that there are now many stream companies that exist exclusively to stream church services.
These platforms are a great option if you are concerned about losing your platform on other social media. As changes in policies have led to the big 5 (Youtube, Tik Tok, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) cracking down on different groups. Some of the most popular church focused streaming services are:
These types of streaming services are worth considering if you are looking for (a) a way to create a more private stream, and, (b) an easy way to create an archive of all your previous streams and events.
What Equipment Will You Need?
Live streaming is a skill that you learn over time. The more you practice, the easier it will be. There are many tech companies out there that will tell you that their equipment will solve all your problems. It will make live streaming a breeze. This is not our experience, not feel like you need to invest a lot of money to be able to live stream.
Below we have put together two lists.
A Bare Bones list that contains the minimum equipment you need to start live streaming. This is a great place to start, particularly if you're looking to dip your toe into the world of live streaming and aren't ready to commit to it yet.
Our second list is the Upgrade list. This is designed for those of you who are already live streaming and want to take things to the next level. Feel free to come back to this list after you have outgrown the Bare Bones checklist.
Here is the bare minimum of what you need to start live streaming in 2021:
- A computer - You will want a desktop or laptop computer with at least a Pentium i5, and 16Mb of memory or more.
- Smartphone camera or a consumer grade camcorder - Whichever option you pick needs to have a clean HDMI output.
- Microphone or Headphones with Built-in Microphone
- A Tripod
- An HDMI to USB capture card.
When you are upgrading your system, the main factor that will affect what you purchase is who many volunteers you have available to operate the cameras and supervise the stream.
- A Prosumer or Professional Grade Video Camera or Camcorder (MULTIPLE CAMERA OPERATORS)
- A PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) robotic camera/s (SMALL NUMBER OR SINGLE CAMERA OPERATOR)
- An Auto-Tracking Camera - these cameras will follow the person speaking automatically (NO OPERATOR NEEDED)
- A video switching station - this will allow you to switch between camera shots
- A streaming encoder - this will allow you to stream directly, without running it through your computer. Steam encoders are available as software or stand alone hardware.
Before we send you out into the world of live streaming, we want to cover a few other issues that might crop up during your first few streams.
You may want to use mixing software that allows you to run more complex streams with ease. Here are our three favorite mixing programs.
OBS (Open Broadcaster Software)
OBS is a free mixing software that was created and is maintained by volunteers to make live streaming more accessible to all. It can be used on Linux, Windows, and macOS machines.
While this software is not perfect, the creators are open to feedback and are always upgrading it. This does everything you want it to do and more, all for free. You really can't ask for much more than that.
Wirecast is a really useful tool if you want to do more than a single camera stream. It acts as a control center and allows you to switch between multiple camera angles, mix sound levels, as well as layering videos and captions over your stream.
It is available on both macOS and Widows
VMix is a very similar system to Wirecast, however, it is only available to Windows users.
You will want to do at least two test runs before you go live for real. This will allow you to get to grips with all the new technologies you are using. This testing will also help you to prevent any accidents happening on the big day, like accidentally going live too early, or having the camera pointing in the wrong direction for the whole stream.
You can never do too many practice runs.
The key to a successful live streaming enterprise is a good internet connection. Without it, nothing is possible.
A good rule of thumb is to get an internet connection that offers double the upload bandwidth you require to stream. For example, live streaming on Facebook uses 1.5Mbps bandwidth, so you should be looking for an internet connection that offers a minimum of 3Mb.
Remember that if you are uploading on multiple platforms at once, then you will need double the total required Mbps.
If you're a beginner then we recommend starting with a connection that offers 10Mb, and then upgrading as your streams get more complex.
Copyright and Consent Issues
Our final tip is to be aware of any copyright or consent issues you may encounter by live streaming.
Some of the resources we use in our church are subject to copyright laws. Even some of the photos on a slide show might get you in trouble. And let's not even mention that catchy new worship song the youth band is planning to play.
To avoid the hot water of copyright infringement you will want to pick yourself up a live steaming license to go with your general license.
Filming and Consent
Not everyone wants to be filmed and broadcast on the internet. As overseer of the live stream, it is your responsibility to make sure everyone's wishes are respected.
This may sound like a daunting task but there are some simple tricks that you can employ to smooth out this process. We've been using these techniques in our church for the past six years with no issue.
Make it clear that you are live streaming the service. Mention in your service program. Put signs on the church door and hang another sign in the entrance. Mark the seats that will be in view of the cameras. This may sound like overkill, but it's the best way to get through to everyone.
When you begin the service, announce that you are live streaming, and let people know which parts of the audience can be seen on the camera. You could color code the seats to add extra clarity. Give anyone who has mistakenly sat in view of the cameras to move.
At the start of your service welcome your online viewers. Not only will this let people in the building know you are live streaming, but it will also make your viewers feel appreciated. Studies done by Vimeo and Youtube showed that greeting your audience drastically improved video engagement and increased watch times.
You should get the consent of anyone who will feature more prominently in the live stream (volunteers, church staff, the worship band, etc) than just a wide, crowd shot.
Letting People Know
Now that your live streams are set up and ready to go, it's time to make sure you have an audience to watch them.
Below are our top 4 tips to get as many eyes as possible on your streams. One thing to note is that these types of technological changes tend to take time. Don't be discouraged if you do all of this and your first few streams have very low viewing numbers. Momentum will soon build.
Share the Link on Social Media at Least 48 Hours Before Going Live
When it comes to advertising live streams there is a balance you have to find. If you advertise too early people are likely to forget the event before it happens. If you advertise it too close to the event they won't have time to prepare themselves to attend.
When it comes to advertising live streams our churches can learn a lot from businesses. Particularly those who make their money from online conferences. These businesses tend to practice a policy of advertising around 48 hours before their streams begin.
We adopted this policy at our church and found it to be the perfect sweet spot for our audience.
Share to Your Website
Now that you know when you should be advertising, let's talk about where you should be doing it.
Most churches do a pretty good job at advertising their streams on their social media accounts. But, we've found one of the most effective ways to advertise streams is on our website.
Social media is fast paced and ever changing. Information quickly gets lost, overshadowed, or pushed halfway down the timeline.
On your website, you can set up a clean, clear, and simple page that gives the reader all the information they need about your live streams.
Send Out Emails
If you have an email list then you should be using them to maximize the attendance of live streams.
You can send an email out around 48 hours before the event. In this email, you can include a brief description of the event, a plugin to allow the reader to add a reminder to their digital calendar, and a direct link to the live stream.
Keep them simple but attractive. You could even include some clips from the last live stream you did.
Be Creative with Your Descriptions and titles
When you are trying to reach out to new audiences online you have to take a more creative approach than you would in person. You don't have the benefits of using your tone or passion to bring people to your pews.
The easiest way for us to make this point is to demonstrate the difference a creative title can make. Which of the following two services would you like to attend?
'10 am, family church service'
'What is Love - Exploring 1 Corinthians 13, 10 am service'
We know which service we'd rather stream. Simple tweaks to the way you present your services and events can capture the attention of new viewers.
Streaming your services and events can open up a whole new world to you and your church.
It can provide unrivaled opportunities to expand your audience, reaching people you would have never been able to reach before. To strengthen the bonds between your community, both inside and out of the congregation. And it can provide you with new resources you can re-user at later points.
By following the guide above you will have no problem setting up regular live streams at your church. Whether you use this technology to stream services, prayer lock-ins, or events is up to you.
Live streaming from your church really has never been easier. It's time to mic up your pulpit, put on your best dog collar and get streaming!