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:
What Kind of Internet Connection Do I Need in Order to Stream? Livestream.com
What Upload Speed Do I Need to Stream? – Boxcast.com
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.
For help on choosing a provider, check out my list of live stream providers.
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.
For help, check out this page with links to equipment and setup recommendations.
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.
You can only live stream things you have license to, and make sure you are paying for the streaming license. For those who don’t arrange their services around songs covered in, say, CCLI, that portion of the live stream has to be switched to either a commercial, a featured video loop of announcements, or something else that doesn’t violate your copyright license. What are you recommending for that? I’ve not understood, besides ignoring the copyright restrictions, what we’re recommending people do.
In terms of volunteers, you need a videographer, now, and someone to monitor the video feed. In reality, you need an audio source from your sound system unless you invest in a great mic for your camera. That’s another volunteer, ie the stream audio balance guy. Network stability even in a big church, where network performance is generally not a priority, means some network engineering. For churches struggling to keep up with tech team stuff without streaming, that extra complexity is impossible.
Besides, in this DVR world, you’re really advocating having a stream on your website, no? Whether it’s live or there hours or a day later is likely less important. I hear “it would be nice to have video of the service (with a PIP of the sign language interpretation) on the website” more than “at 8:45am I’d like to watch church live on my iPhone.” Do you see a distinction between these in terms of need?
Thanks for the reply. There are a few questions in there. Let’s look at them one at a time.
1. Music not covered by CCLI – I will be interested to hear how common an issue this is. If the music that is being performed is not covered by CCLI, or One License, or one of the other licensing agreements, how is performance permission handled? If there is permission granted for performance but not for streaming, then you are stuck. As churches make streaming a priority, they may decide to work harder to ensure that the music is licensed for streaming. In the mean time, you could switch to a video or announcement loop. Or, you may decide that your church isn’t ready for live streaming and simply edit the song out before posting recorded video.
2. Logistics – Complex but not impossible. I have worked with churches of many different sizes to find a solution that works with the current sound system, volunteer limitations, and network congestion. Often, I see a church start with a single fixed camera, and a feed from the soundboard (even though that isn’t perfect). Once they see the demand for live streaming, it becomes easier to find the volunteers and resources to expand. Network performance is certainly an issue. Sometimes upgrading to a router that will allow for prioritizing traffic will do the trick. You also have the option of brining the bitrate down a bit to start. Or, again, you may decide that your church ins’t ready to go live.
3. Live vs. Replay – I haven’t found any good general data on live vs. replay views for churches. If it is a concern, it may be worth surveying the congregation. However, this leaves out the potential viewers who might discover your church online. In the general live streaming world, there still is a preference for some to be a part of a live event. For churches, there are some who want to virtually worship with the congregation in real time rather than just watch it later. I believe the demand for both will continue to increase. Unfortunately, you will not really understand demand completely until you have some viewer data of your own.
It sounds like you have lots of things to think about.