Your church should be considering live streaming your worship services. The barriers that made this option available only to large churches and churches with big budgets have been eliminated.
The thing keeping many churches from streaming their services live on the web is the fact that they simply don’t know where to start. Let’s begin.
Before I offer the four steps, I want to provide an overly simplistic explanation of how live streaming works. I am shooting for super basic. So, if this doesn’t make sense to you, let me know in the comments and I will try again.
Let’s start with a diagram. This is a simplified view of all the pieces of a live stream setup.
The camera represents the way that you will capture your video and audio. This could range from one camera with a built-in microphone, all the way to multiple cameras running through a switcher and audio mixed through a soundboard.
The video and audio need to be fed into a computer. Most computers lack a way to capture live video. So, a capture card or box is required to receive the video and audio signal and feed it into a computer.
Once the video and audio are captured by the computer, encoding software takes that information and transforms it into data that can be transmitted over the internet.
That data is sent to a live stream platform. There it is transformed into the live stream. That stream can be accessed by your viewers through the provider’s website or your website and viewed on smartphones, tablets, computers, and smart TVs.
There are several variations of this workflow, but this should give you the general idea.
So now you are ready for step one.
1. Check your Internet Connection for Live Streaming
To have a successful live stream, you are going to need a decent amount of internet bandwidth. Think of your internet connection as two pipes. You don’t need to be a plumber to understand that larger pipes carry more. The first pipe carries information from the internet to you. The second pipe sends information from you back to the internet. Most of us use the first pipe more than the second. If you are watching Netflix, you are receiving a lot of data through pipe number one. The second pipe is only carrying enough to tell Netflix what you are trying to watch.
When you live stream, you are sending (uploading) all that information through pipe two. Unfortunately, with most internet service providers, pipe two is much smaller than pipe one. So, you are going to need to make sure you have enough upload bandwidth to stream successfully.
It is also important to remember that this must be dedicated bandwidth. Often, churches test their bandwidth during the week when things are quiet at the church. When Sunday comes, there are often more people using that same pipe. In some churches, it might be staff and/or volunteers. Some congregations have WiFi open to the congregation. Suddenly, that adequate bandwidth isn’t so adequate.
To test your current bandwidth to see if you are ready, speedtest.net is a great tool.
The following articles will help you understand speeds and bitrates:
2. Choose Your Live StreamingProvider
This could technically be the last step. In fact, I have changed providers many times. However, unless you are already an expert, it may be helpful choosing the platform that will host your stream. Many providers offer suggestions about the best hardware and software to use with their system. Also, many now offer their own equipment or discounts on equipment for subscribers.
3. Choose Your Live Streaming Hardware and Software
Here is where things get a little messy. There are infinite combinations of cameras, capture devices, and encoding software available. The trick is to make sure they all work together. This can be tough if you are new to the video realm. There are various connections, aspect ratios, color spaces, and other parameters that need to match up. There are also converters and adapters that make things tricky.
4. Set Up, Test, Test, Test, and Launch.
From experience, I can tell you that it is very likely that you are going to get all your equipment and software, hook everything up, turn everything on and, it is not going to work. Not the first time anyway. Likely something will be plugged in wrong, or a setting will be off. It just won’t work. Also, no matter how many times you test, on the first Sunday you try to stream a service, something won’t work. I can’t always explain why. It just happens.
I highly recommend a soft launch. Before you start telling everyone that you are live streaming, just start. The first week just fire up another device (a computer, tablet, or smartphone), log onto the live stream and see what happens. The second week, ask some people you know will be at home to tune in and get their feedback. I recommend about four weeks of testing. You can invite more people each week. It is also a great way to get buy-in and some early adopters! The people who help test the service might be your best ambassadors for spreading the word when you are ready to launch!
There you go. Hopefully, you have what you need to get started. I would love to hear about your adventures in live streaming. Churches tend to come up with some of the most creative ways to get things done. Feel free to share in the comments.