Part 1 - Live streaming tech options for small churches
Updated: May 8, 2020
Wth social distancing, churches are needing to rapidly get online for live streaming services and other content to connect regularly with their members. Over the last 10 years our church has been producing short 5 minute videos that we use in our small groups so have learnt some lessons about producing video content – mainly through lots of mistakes that we got feedback on – but we are doing an ok job of it these days.
Based on this I thought I’d take the chance to provide some help cross the following areas in 4 separate posts to try and fast track your set up.
1. Live streaming tech options for small churches (this post)
2. Tips for presenting well in a video
3. What engagement metrics matter for church content online
4. Ideas on adding creative content to your live stream service
So in this post we are going to focus on tech options – and while the other posts are relevant for any size church – this post will focus on helping smaller churches.
There’s obviously a lot of content around on this right now, but in many cases if you don’t have a technical team or high budget it doesn’t translate to a small church (under 300). I’m going to assume that you have a phone, a laptop and an internet connection.
The most basic option is to download the Facebook app, point the camera at yourself and turn on Facebook live. Of course this will get you online, give you some content and is great for quick snaps – but in a world that is highly competitive for online engagement and where we will need to hold people’s attention for more than a few weeks - I’m assuming you are reading this because you want a step up from that.
I also want to make sure it is clear – there are no affiliate links in these recommendations and I’m not getting paid in any way – these are just the best of what we found works.
Before we get started - here's a pic of our set up. Its affordable, everything is wireless making it portable, and it will give you a step up in the quality of your content.
1. GET YOUR AUDIENCE ONLINE
Before you even think about producing video content you need to make sure that your congregation is connected with you online. I won’t jump into details here as its not the point of the post, but if you’ve been lagging a bit in this area then maybe social isolation is enough to get you moving :) If you’re still not convinced here’s some good stats to help.
At a minimum you need to have this happening:
A. Collect the email addresses of the people in your church. For the cheapest option store them in an Excel spreadsheet but to get some other functionality (including automatic integration with Mailchimp, which we talk about next) then get a Church specific database – we use the Breeze Church Software.
B. Use an Email marketing tool. This helps give your emails a nicer design but has other features like allowing you to schedule emails, also track some metrics etc. We use Mailchimp.
C. Pick a social channel and set up a page for your church. Facebook is the most widely used. (Then email everyone and ask them to follow your page :) You can check out our page here.
D. Pick a video channel that you will use to store your videos online. There are options like Vimeo but YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google (and is owned by Google) so that is what we use. You can also directly load your video content from your phone to your YouTube account.
2. THE CAMERA
If you have a phone that is less that 5 years old that is all you need.
You can point and shoot but for a small budget you can add a tripod, lighting and audio that will 10x the quality of what you produce.
This obviously keeps the camera steady – but also allows you to hang the light and microphone off it. You want to make sure your camera is pointing straight at your eye line level and not tilted so the tripod helps set this.
We use the Joby Gorilla Mobile Rig for Vlogging. Very sturdy and portable but also connectors for your lights and mic.
You can use the inbuilt microphone of the phone and its ok if you are close but over time the quality of the audio will reduce engagement. Rode make great audio gear and have developed microphones specifically for phones. For the most flexibility we use the Rode Video Micro. This doesn’t need batteries, plugs straight into the phone and comes with a clip to attach directly to your tripod.
Just keep in mind if you have a new phone that doesn’t have a 3.5m jack input you’ll need an extra adapter cable here.
To level up your microphone kit you can go to a wireless lapel system. We use a combo of each depending on requirement. Our wireless lapel kit is the Rodelink Wireless but suggest you go for the Rode Go.
You can go without lighting but if you do make sure there is more light in front of you than there is in behind you (ie. more light behind the camera). You can achieve this if you record during daylight hours and use a window – this is a good video to help with that.
Otherwise you can get a wireless LED rechargeable battery to connect to your tripod. We use the LituFoto F18.
Before you actually start recording make sure you look at our post on tips for presenting well in a video to get the shot set up in the best way. Once you have that, it is then a choice of whether you are streaming live or pre-recording or we have an option for a hybrid.
If you are pre-recording content then the next step is to do a small amount of editing. We won’t go into this in detail here – but to add just a slightly more professional look you want to do things like:
Trim the beginning and add a fade in from black effect, and trim the end and add a fade out to black effect.
If the software allows for it auto balance your colours and audio.
Depending on the vibe of the video you may also want to some quiet background music.
Many cameras come with an app for you to do this as do laptops. If we are editing on the phone we use iMovie and if we go to the laptop we use Final Cut Pro.
B. LIVE STREAMING
We would not recommend this option over the hybrid option below, but if you do need have a requirement here’s the simplest low cost option without needing to buy encoder hardware and more. You can stream direct from YouTube – but to use the mobile app you need to have over 1000 Subscribers on the channel which is unlikely for many small churches.
I won’t explain the technical details here but here is an alternative option where you need a few additions:
On the phone you need an app that can record live and send data to a RTMP server. We use Wirecast Go. In that app you will need to enter the RTMP details from your live video streaming host.
You will then need a live streaming service. We found the most affordable and reliable to be Dacast.
Once you have those connected you will need to choose where to stream to. Dacast provides the code to embed into the web location you are live streaming to.
C. THE HYBRID CAST
If you want to give the experience of streaming you can do this by pre-recording your video and then playing at a pre-scheduled time, using a platform that allows for real time engagement like online chats. This takes away the pressure of the live stream and getting the technical aspects right. We’ve only just started doing this and used the Church Online Platform for this which amazingly is free. It also comes with some cool extras like private chat rooms for prayer and access to the Bible online.
In case you prefer a visual representation that all the words this diagram gives a summary of how we set up:
Now that you've got your video set up with camera, lighting, audio and publishing platforms read our next post on tips to present well in a video.