As the dead of winter sets in, temperatures plummet, and periods of darkness get longer, the outside world has become a scary place to be.
If you’re reading this article from Gotham City or the future Detroit imagined in Robocop, the protection of a thick comforter, pajama pants, and half-a-dozen memory foam pillows probably sounds like an awfully enticing alternative to going outdoors.
Also, if you’re a resident of one of those cities, please email me immediately. I have a lot of questions for you about time travel. But for now, let’s get back on track.
Church live streaming is not only a matter of convenience for members of your congregation, but it could be the only option for those who are unable to attend due to age, distance, or disability.
Luckily, church live streaming tools have become more and more user-friendly in recent years and with this guide, even if you’re a beginner, you’ll be able to broadcast your sermons live online in no time.
Read on to find out how.
What is live streaming?
You probably already have a working knowledge of live streaming but, quite simply, live streaming means using a camera to record and broadcast an event in real-time online.
So why live stream your church services? There is a limit to how many people can physically fit in your place of worship, but that finite number can be multiplied exponentially through live streaming.
Superbowl XLIX in Phoenix was attended by 70,000 people, but the game was viewed by more than 120 million. That may be an extreme example, but it illustrates the power of broadcasting, and you can use that power to share your message without physical limitations.
Additionally, you can make sure your sermon reaches those who, due to illness, disability, or distance, wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
Here is a brief story to bring the point closer to home.
Every winter, my parent’s parish performs a Christmas concert. Because of a recent operation, my father was unable to attend in person. But he was able to experience the concert from home via live stream, offering our family a measure of joy and solace during the holidays.
Think you’re ready to roll? Hold your horses, Kubrick!
- A camera. This could be anything from a smartphone or laptop, all the way up to a professional camcorder. It largely depends on your budget and the size of your audience, but you’ll need something that can digitally record images and sounds. More on this later.
- Decent lighting. Candle light and shadows can be great for establishing a consecrated atmosphere, but not so much for lighting a set. A basic rule of thumb is “the more light, the better,” but if you’re ready for a more in-depth look, check out DaCast’s Cheap Lighting for Video guide.
- A live streaming service. This step is the difference between an audience of a few dozen and potentially millions (if you have enough puppies and babies on camera, that is). Think of this service as the video equivalent of the website that turns your church’s physical newsletter into a page online. Below we’ll get into some specific live streaming platform options.
Now that you know what live streaming is, why you should take advantage of it, and how to get started, let’s look at a few free, reliable options to try out. I chose the below popular services because they are completely free and require minimal setup and equipment for small churches.
When people think of online video, they think of YouTube. So it makes sense that YouTube provides a free live streaming tool. Formerly known as Google Hangouts On Air, the service made the move to YouTube Live in September of 2016.
YouTube Live offers advanced features like highlight reels, live chat, and multiple camera support. But if you’re just looking for a familiar name with an ever-expanding user base, YouTube Live is a solid choice. To get started, check out YouTube’s live streaming guide here.
If your church already has a strong Facebook following, it makes a lot of sense to simplify the process of live streaming by broadcasting there.
Facebook Live allows you to broadcast publicly or just to friends, and you can start a stream simply by tapping the “Go Live” button on your phone, tablet, or computer. After the broadcast, you can post the entire service to your church’s Facebook page and download the video for archival purposes, or to embed on your own church website.
Check out this guide by Nathan Creitz on How To Use Facebook Live To Stream Your Church Services. His story illustrates just how simple and quick it can be to implement live streaming.
Targeted primarily at Millennials and teens, YouNow is not as widely known as the other two entries on this list, but its popularity is growing quickly. YouNow’s defining feature is its portability, and its ad-free business model. You can broadcast live from your Android, iPhone, or iPad using a free app. Think Snapchat for extended videos.
YouNow operates on a tip jar business model. Fans can tip their favorite YouNow personalities with online currency, and YouNow takes a percentage.
Periscope is another no-frills streaming mobile app, and is an ideal option if most of your church communication is done via Twitter.
Imagine how hip your church will seem when you invite parishioners to to view a live broadcast not with a convoluted email, but with a hashtag? Just don’t use the word “hip.”
For a deeper look at some of these tools, plus a few more, check out this comprehensive guide on our Event Management blog.
There are a lot of great church management software packages out there, but live stream integration has not become a basic feature, yet. If you have a growing church and are ready to invest in a premium live streaming product, you should consider a paid service. Here are three of the most popular.
Founded in 2007, Livestream is one of the oldest and largest live streaming services in the world. The company caters to everyone from large corporations to small businesses and individuals, with plans starting at $42 per month. Looking for products with similar features? These Livestream alternatives might be what you are looking for your church.
Devon Laird, a video producer at Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco, Texas, has been very happy with Livestream’s service.
“For live streaming we use Livestream. It’s really great and they have great customer support. We stream all of our weekend services with it,” he said in an email.
You can also check out Livestream’s Ultimate Guide to Livestreaming Events eBook.
This San Francisco based company operates on the premise of “Streaming as a Service.” With plans starting at $19 a month, DaCast is an attractive option for smaller churches that aren’t ready to heavily invest in live streaming, but still want dedicated customer service and the reliability of an established company. If you are looking for similar live stream solutions for your church, these DaCast alternatives might provide what you are looking for.
DaCast even has a blog post highlighting some of their competitors in the streaming space called 7 Best Live Streaming Services for Your Church. (Spoiler alert: DaCast earned the highest recommendation.)
IBM has thrown its hat into the live streaming ring by acquiring Ustream in January of 2016. With its lowest priced plan coming in at $99 per month, UStream is by far the most expensive service on this list.
However, they do offer a 30-day free trial, which is a good opportunity to demo a high-end live streaming package if you’re just looking to take a test drive.
Advanced tips and tricks
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are a few pro tips to help you make sure you don’t come across as a newbie once you go live.
Choose the right equipment
For beginners at small churches a decent smartphone, tablet, or laptop with built-in video camera should suffice early on. But for larger churches with big congregations and a flexible budget, you’ll want to invest in a decent camera or two.
Breaking down all available camera options is a different story for a different day, and a different author, but Pro Church Tools has an excellent guide outlining The Best 5 Video Cameras For Your Church In 2016.
Spread the word through social media
If a church service is live streamed on the internet and there’s nobody around to hear it, did it make a sound?
Your parishioners can only follow your live stream if they know where to find it, so make sure to put in some work in the days leading up to the broadcast by sharing the vital info on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your newsletter and website etc.
Include the online audience
You’ve selected the right streaming service, announced the live stream on social media, and set up the camera. You’re ready for action. But once your sermon begins, don’t forget that your audience now stretches outside the walls of your church building.
The (hopefully) smiling faces in front of you are still the top priority, but the occasional nod to the camera and acknowledgement of your friends in cyberspace can go a long way. Ideally, a few of those viewers will be impressed enough to leave their living room next week.
Live streaming isn’t necessary, or even recommended, for many churches.
But hopefully this guide has taken a bit of the fear factor out of broadcasting your church services online. With a variety of free tools, and the price of high-end technology constantly dipping, live streaming is a fun, new way to spread the Word.
Have you had successes or struggles with live streaming your sermons? Let us know in the comments below.