With the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing many churches are having to rethink their Sunday services. Streaming your church service is a great way for members to stay connected, committed and encouraged during this season.
The thought of Live Streaming may seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you have never streamed before or lack the budget to call in the professionals to assist you. The Church of God in Christ has put together this starter guide to help you get along the way.
Selecting a Platform
The two most common options for video livestreaming are Facebook and YouTube. However, there are many others as well, so it is worth looking into the platforms to decide which will work best for your ministry.
- Facebook is an easy choice for two reasons. First, most churches have a Facebook page already set up. Secondly, most of your membership already spends times and is familiar with this space. When you go live on Facebook, you’ll be able to reach some of your existing followers via a notification that your church is “going live.” For a how-to guide for Facebook Live, check out this post. The most helpful thing you can do is a trial run with the privacy setting on “private.” This will allow you to test the interface before going public for the first time.
- Streaming on YouTube is another good option. Like Facebook, subscribers receive notifications when your channel goes live. YouTube plays well with websites, embedding nicely after the video is finished. A missional consideration for YouTube is that this platform is widely used across the world and spans generations, unlike Facebook which continues to trend older and older in it’s user base. YouTube provides much easier on-ramps for non-churched people to discover your livestream. Here’s an article on how to go live on YouTube.
- Depending on what kind of live format you want to pursue, Zoom is a reliable method for smaller and more intimate gatherings. Zoom is free if your meetings are less than 100 people and shorter than 40 minutes. If you go larger or longer, you’ll need to pay. Other alternatives such as Skype and Google Hangouts Meet are viable options, but issues with reliability have pushed many organizations toward Zoom.
Best Practices for Church Livestream
Once you have decided on a platform, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before going live.
What portion of the service will you stream?
If you’re doing more than singing music written before the 1920s, you are likely performing copyrighted content. There are complex ways of handling this, but for simplicity’s sake and legal reasons, you may consider omitting the musical portion of your worship service from the livestream. If there are announcements you’d like to give or specific issues you want to address, just keep in mind that you are potentially reaching a worldwide audience. You also want to ensure that your camera is placed in a way that does not capture minors, victims of abuse, and so on, for their safety and for your own legal purposes.
What format should the service be given the fact that COVID-19 has most people at home?
Consider the fact that your audience is at home. Some have been home for days or even weeks. Most churches will have 10 or less people there to be in the service. This might not be the time to stream service from a nearly empty sanctuary. Consider having a more intimate setting – such as the Pastor’s Office or even a couple of chairs with the Pastor and Wife on camera. In this type of session, you can simply talk to your members and share what God has laid on your heart. You may find this is a great opportunity to get your membership engaged. Allow them to ask questions and provide feedback in the comments.
Have you considered doing a small test session first?
If you have never streamed before, we suggest starting with a cell phone or tablet in your Pastor’s Office. Maybe even consider doing so from your Pastor’s personal page, so it is not a big deal if there are a few things you must tweak before you can go live from your church page or website.
Which camera placement will you utilize?
According to Phil Thompson, on The Gospel Coalition, “Live camera placement always looks best when the angle is eye-level with the speaker.” This allows the speaker to make eye-contact with the camera and thus making eye-contact with the audience. Try to test your lighting as well in deciding where you will place your camera. The addition of a simple lamp or ring light can make a big difference. Be careful to not have too much light behind the speaker as it can make them hard to see. Generally, your light source would be above the speaker and/or behind the camera. The good news with this is that you can take your time and play with the lighting before you ever go live.
What technology should you use?
If you are new to live streaming, here are some basic levels and budgets associated with the various options available to you. Phil Thompson (MDiv, Columbia International University) outlined these levels as follows:
“Level 1 is shooting live video via mobile phone. The strength here is in its portability and cost. It’s essentially free (you could add the cost of a $20 phone mount and a $30 microphone to improve quality), and it provides a great, informal experience that lends itself well to live video platforms, providing a personal and “behind the scenes” experience for followers that can be lost as production quality escalates.” You would be surprised at how much better videos perform on social media the less “produced” they feel. The most important aspect of this level is the camera stability. Do not have someone holding the camera as even the steadiest hand will have some movement, and this will make for a bad experience for your audience. This level will cost between $0 and $50.
“Level 2 is shooting video via a dedicated live camera. The dominant player in this space is the Mevo camera. For somewhere in the $500 to 1,000 range, the Mevo provides a great solution for live video. Production quality on the Mevo is significantly higher than the mobile phone, retains some of the informality of the platform, and provides a cheap fixed-point live video solution. Starting at level 2, you’ll be able to broadcast to both Facebook and also YouTube at the same time. This level will cost between $500 and $1,000.
Level 3 is a hybrid solution that gives you more control than Mevo but doesn’t require a substantial media budget. One of the best examples here is Boxcast. For $100 per month, you get the hardware and software necessary for streaming your service on the web. You’ll also need to invest in cameras capable of HD capture (in the $500–1,000 range per camera) as well as a high-quality microphone and amplification (perhaps what your church already uses will work). Other computer-based software solutions (such as Restream or OBS) can achieve some of the results of Boxcast with a little experimentation and technical know-how. This level will cost about $1,200 per year investment with initial costs around $1,000.”
SlingStudio is another option in this level where the upfront cost is more, but there is no monthly fees. SlingStudio also is a great option to prepare for a transition from Level 3 to Level 4 as it can manage multiple cameras.
“Level 4 involves HD video capture that is processed and streamed live via multiple cameras. Level 4 is usually only accessible for churches with seven-figure budgets or substantial media teams. Production quality is extremely high, but it’s also important to note the principle of Ockham’s razor: the more cameras, audio equipment, computers, streaming software, and so on that are involved, the more likely it is that something will go disastrously wrong. An organization should only attempt level 4 live production when an experienced team is at the helm. Level 4 could easily start around $10,000.”
Start Small and then Ramp Up
When it comes to livestreaming, you can start small and then grow from there. Your first attempt may feel like a disaster, and that is OK, just be sure to identify any issue, examine analytics, tweak your processes and make your next attempt a success.
If you have any questions or if we can support you in this process, please feel free to email COGIC’s Social Media Manager, Angela Clinton-Joseph, at [email protected]
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