Want to Stream Your Church Service? 3 Questions to Answer First
We began streaming our services earlier this year. Live streaming is a great way to connect with homebound, traveling, and prospective members. It’s nice to be able to connect with your home congregation from anywhere there is an internet connection. We also find many new members have joined us online before they visit in person.
However, once you begin, you will have an obligation to your audience to be available at your regular streaming time. That means someone in the congregation needs to own it. Which brings us to the first of 3 critical questions you need to answer before diving into the stream.
Who is going to own it?
By “own it,” I mean an individual must be responsible for making sure the streaming console is staffed for each event. You also need to set production standards (shot framing, shot dwell time, lower thirds titling, fonts, logos, intros, outros, etc.), create documentation, and train the staff so your audience receives a consistent production quality regardless of the streaming operator. The training must also include the do’s and don’ts of copyrights. Sure, you may have a CCLI license, but that doesn’t cover your use of ALL content such as recorded original artist music played before service or used in videos. YouTube and Facebook have very sophisticated technology that listens for copyrighted material and will err on the side of shutting you down until you can prove you have the rights to use the content.
How are you going to capture it?
This is the next question that must be answered. Which and how many cameras will you use? My recommendation is to start simple. In most cases a couple of HD resolution pan-tilt-zoom cameras are more than adequate. PTZ Optics and Marshall both have some great options here with very intuitive controllers. As the streaming operator becomes more comfortable with the system, you may want to add some POV cameras on the stage like the Marshall CV506.
Next is audio. You can have great video quality, amazing framing, and ESPN-like motion graphics, but if your audio is awful no one will watch very long. A lesson we learned at our church was that the stream needed a different mix than the front-of-house mix. Remember, your online listeners don’t have the room acoustics of your sanctuary. We created a separate feed for the stream by using two aux channels off our FoH board to create a LR mix. Then we tweak the individual input channels on those auxes to get the mix we want for the stream including some ambient mics to capture congregational singing.
Finally, you will need a good production switcher. This is where it all comes together. This is also what will allow you to add effects and transitions to create that polished production look. Whatever system you choose needs to be easy to operate and reliable. While terms like “lower thirds,” “Alpha channel,” and “motion graphics” may seem intimidating, systems like the SlingStudio Hub or BlackMagic’s ATEM series make it easy and affordable to look like the big boys.
How are you distributing it?
There are many choices here. The proper choice should be driven by your target audience. Unless you are targeting “gamers,” you probably want to start with either YouTube live or Facebook Live. If you use a content distribution network (CDN) like StreamMonkey or LiveStream from Vimeo, you can post to both at the same time.
The advantage of Facebook Live is automatic notification to your followers when your live stream starts. An advantage of YouTube is the ability to organize your content into sermon series or by topic. However, probably the biggest advantage of YouTube is that it is owned by Google, so your content will show up in search results. The best option is to use a CDN to stream to both.
As you can see, there are some critical questions that need to be answered before diving into live streaming. Once you do, you will find it a great way to connect with an audience beyond your walls.