Below we've put together a guide on Live Streaming in your local church. It gives a quick overview and answers for those with little time and options & tech details for those who need them. We pray and hope this is helpful and fruitful for your church.
A quick summary for those in a rush…
With the evolving COVID-19 environment, most churches are considering how to get live streaming up and running at their church. The most important first step of getting a great live stream is having a solid, reliable, and fast internet connection (upload speed is the most important). Next, audio quality is paramount – people will put up with watching choppy video as long as the audio is clear. For most, this will mean running a feed directly from their sound desk. Finally, having a decent video feed at 1080p and a computer powerful enough to handle the processing is helpful. The setup we recommend is using OBS encoding to YouTube Live, which can then be embedded on your church website. All of these areas are unpacked in more detail below.
If you’re scrambling to get ready for this coming Sunday with very little tech resources or teams, there’s two potential options to go for:
- Either consider filming the sermon beforehand, and allow people to watch it on your website by uploading it to YouTube and then Embed it on your website.
- Use a video conferencing tool such as Zoom to allow people to join a live webinar. Zoom is fairly intuitive and allows you to take a video feed and audio feed and broadcast that via a link that people in your church can tune in to. You’ll need to communicate widely well ahead of time so that people in your church know where to go and when to be there for the live webinar.
If you go for the live Zoom webinar option, here’s what to do:
- Setup a Zoom account – buy a Pro account with Webinar functionality for the next month (don’t buy the annual plan)
- Buy a good quality webcam from a local tech store if you don’t already have one. If you want even better quality, read the rest of the article below. These should come with a built in microphone, if not, you’ll also need an external microphone that can plug into your computer. These can also be purchased from your local tech store.
- Get the Webcam as close to you as possible and setup in an environment with lots of light, with a good internet connection, and test the video and audio beforehand on a test webinar.
- Setup the Webinar meeting time and schedule the meeting in Zoom. It’ll give you a link that you can share to your church for them to join. Set all people’s audio to ‘off’ when they join (an option when setting up the meeting) so that it means people can focus on the main stream – your camera and audio.
MORE ADVANCED RECOMMENDED SETUP:
If you just want to get a quick idea of what we recommend as a setup for live streaming your church have a read of the below setup we use. This isn’t the cheapest, easiest nor simplest solution – rather it’s what we recommend on a basic budget. There are more options for cheap/easy setups outlined later in this document.
Summary of gear workflow:
Camera > HDMI Output > Elgato Camlink > USB Input to PC/Mac.
Sound Desk > XLR Mix Output > Focusrite Scarlett > USB Input to PC/Mac.
PC/MAC > OBS > YouTube Live > Embed on church website.
Key gear purchase links:
You might find cheaper or alternative options for the same gear. There are many camera options – these are later in document.
1. CONSIDERING YOUR ENVIRONMENT & AUDIENCE
The weekly sermon
It’s important that church leaders are able to continue to open the word of God with their church. Whether you’re still meeting as a church on Sundays or you are looking to pause public gatherings, allowing a sermon to be heard will still be important for many churches. How and when you do this is up to you. You might choose to livestream your Sunday, or pre-record your sermon then release it on a Sunday. You may even choose to release the sermon at an alternative time during the week.
Ultimately, try to start with your audience – your congregation – what is going to be most helpful for them? If you are still running Sunday gatherings, consider live streaming the Sunday sermon so that those at home in isolation feel a part of the regular gathering and allow them means to contribute (via questions/chat bars). If you’re pausing Sunday services, perhaps pre-record the sermon so you can release a stream with better quality audio, video and no worries about buffering speeds. You might even choose to then record from your own home, matching the environment that most people will be watching the sermon from.
You’ll notice we’ve addressed just the sermon here – but that might not be the sum total of how you would like to gather online. You may want kids talks included, songs sung, prayer requests prayed for etc. Again, consider your audience and work out what you want the gathering to look like and seek to build the online experience for your church based on that.
If you choose to pause your mid-week groups, think about how technology will help serve and love them well. Most churches who are doing this are resorting to video conferencing – be it Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. Ask leaders to poll thier group and see what people feel most comfortable with using. Love them well by not forcing a new technology on them. Ask groups to collectively agree on standards of video conferencing – i.e. try to be in a quieter environment when joining, not eating during, have your video on so people can connect and see you etc.
If you’re open to a suggestion, we’ve tried many video conferencing tools and continue to come back to Zoom for quality, reliability and ease of access & use. Ask the leader of the group to purchase a 1 month Pro package for $30 and see how it goes. This allows 1+hour sessions and the rest of the group can join for free, plus it can be recorded so members of the group who can’t make it can watch later. If we don’t need to keep using it after a month (which we pray for!), just cancel the subscription.
2. START WITH A GREAT INTERNET CONNECTION
When it comes to live-streaming the most important thing to start with is a fast internet connection with no less than 10MB/s Upload speed. You might choose to go with your existing internet at church. If you can, make this an ethernet cable for reliability compared to WiFi.
Use a speedtest to check your speed. If your wired internet isn’t fast enough, consider using your phone or a 4G dongle. When out roaming away from church, we use a Telstra 4GX Dongle with prepaid data plan for 1 month at a time (for when we have events on). (Cost Approx $50 for a month).
3. GETTING THE BEST AUDIO FEED SO PEOPLE CAN LISTEN WELL
Remember, audio quality is paramount – people will put up with watching choppy video as long as the audio is clear. For most, this will mean running a feed directly from their sound desk.
XLR feed from your sound desk
Next, get an XLR feed from your sound desk. Get your AV team to run an output mix of all sound via XLR cable. Take the XLR cable and put it into the FocusRite Scarlett and then run the USB output to your computer.
Another option to the FocusRite Scarlett is a Presonus Audiobox – we have used both and have worked really well. You may find another solution too – main thing is to get great audio feed from the sound desk.
Alternatives to the sound desk (HDMI feed from Mic)
If you are not recording within church with a sound desk or need an alternative, then you’ll need to still ensure good quality audio. The easiest way to manage this is a microphone that comes into your camera. You can then run HDMI from the camera and it’ll pull in both the video and the audio (HDMI carries both audio and video). Don’t use the inbuilt camera microphone unless you are in an incredibly quiet environment and very close to the speaker with no echo. Given that won’t be most people, ensure a microphone gets as close to the speaker as possible. Best solution is a wireless microphone.
- Best solution: wireless lav mic (expensive, but speaker can roam and you’ll use for future videos).
- Easy solution: shotgun microphone (you’ll capture lots of bad echo in a bad room, but it’s plug and play easy)
- Cheap solution: 3.5mm lav mic with 3.5mm extension (you’ll get close to speaker but they will be tethered and it becomes possible of a disconnection if someone trips on it)
- Remember, each of these are secondary to the AV desk providing the sound – that is by far the best solution.
4. SETTING UP YOUR CAMERA FEED
There are two steps to getting your camera feed sorted – the camera, and the encoder. These are unpacked below:
There are a huge number of options for cameras. The decision will likely be made for you based on your budget. The more you can afford here, the better quality experience your viewers will get. Remember, the order of budget spend is 1 – internet, 2 – audio then 3 – video. So get your internet and audio sorted first before choosing how much to spend on the camera. You might already have camera gear for church. If that’s the case, check if it allows for a clean output feed.
You’ll either need SDI (far better quality but not many cameras offer this) or HDMI. For the majority of churches, HDMI will do just fine. Some cameras will have mini/micro HDMI outputs – that’s fine – just get a cable that converts from mini HDMI to full HDMI so your encoder can receive it.
- Best solution: Canon XA55 – Allows 4k SDI or HDMI output
- Excellent solution: Panasonic Lumix GH5 Amazing, clean output at 4k with excellent lens and decent price. Will get used by your church for years to come.
- Easy solution: Canon Camcorder – good old style camcorder with clean HDMI output
- Alternative solution: Consider a security camera – these can run on ethernet as a source to your computer and can mean you get multiple camera angles.
- Cheap solution: Logitech Webcam I’d really ask you to avoid this if possible, but if you need something right now that will get you a half-decent solution, go for this.
A note on camera setup: ensure you have a backup battery, or the camera is powered by mains to ensure it doesn’t drop out mid-service! Also, ensure a tripod is used to get the best stable shot as possible.
So that your computer can receive the HDMI feed, you’ll need an encoder. This will take the HDMI feed and allow you computer to read it – likely as a USB output. You can’t just take the HDMI from your camera and put it straight into your computer – you’ll run into all sorts of issues with this down the track even if you initially get it running.
If you decide you’re keen to step things up in your streaming, you can look into a Blackmagic ATEM which can take your Propresenter song lyrics, camera SDI feeds and output SDI back to your streaming computer to get a far more versatile presentation for those watching at home. This is an expensive path, but majorly increases setup cost and requires tech-savvy hands to setup. Given this is a intro document, we’ll leave that out for now.
5. WHAT SOFTWARE SHOULD I USE?
You’ll need to start with a fast processor on your computer (Mac or PC). Try to have at least 8GB RAM to start with and a good graphics card. You’ll need to take multiple USB feeds into the computer and process these with a good CPU through the streaming software.
There are a range of options for software that allows you to take the feeds from the camera and audio desk and push that out to the streaming world. Our recommendation is OBS – Open Broadcaster Software. It should do what you need. You can pay for more fancy options such as WireCast if you want to have more features.
- OBS – This is the best given its free, open-source (meaning well updated by a large community), and fairly straight forward streaming software. There is definitely a learning curve for your tech guys to get across, but not too bad. Follow these instructions for helpful setup of OBS & YouTube.
- Wirecast – This is definitely the best streaming software solution – visual, easy to use, unlimited possibilities – but very expensive. If you’re investing in this for the long term and really want the best solution, this is the way to go.
- Zoom Webinars – This is a great solution – the quality is excellent and the options for those joining to interact and use chat/polls/ask questions are great. You can also then broadcast out this webinar to Facebook Live which is an added bonus for LiveStream and then embed that Facebook Live link onto your church website. It is expensive though – you’ll need to pay a monthly additional fee for the webinar on top of the Pro account fee.
6. PUTTING THE FEED IN FRONT OF YOUR AUDIENCE
Ultimately the decision on what live feed tool (YouTube/Facebook etc) will depend on who your audience is. Consider them first and what will most likely be used. For a quick summary, YouTube is easiest to use and replicate and works best with most streaming software. Facebook Live is less supported by streaming software providers, but allows more people to see it ‘virally’ through the newsfeed.
Our recommendation is to go with YouTube Live given how well supported it is and how well updated it says. This also fuels your video content for your YouTube channel and is easily searchable and can be embedded on your website as a static embed for anytime you go live.
A note on licencing: if you include songs in your live stream, it will be important to make sure you are correctly licensed to do so. Checkout the helpful page on CCLI’s website here. You’ll also find that your content is flagged by YouTube if it hears songs being played, which means you’ll not be able to tag the video for monetisation (make money from Ads run before/during the video). I doubt many churches are looking at this as a revenue stream, so no need to worry about this.
7. THE CHERRY ON TOP
The biggest indicator of how well your live stream will all work is practice. You’ll need to do a bunch of tests to see how the quality turns out with your setup and what things to edit and change.
To make a difference to your stream to really get the most out of allowing people to tune in from home, consider some of the following options to increase their engagement online:
- Online.Church – these guys are offering free pages where you can have a custom URL > YOURNAME.online.church and allow a chat window, prayer requests and orders of service to be posted.
- There are a range of churches stepping up their streaming by including song lyrics over the top of their songs and including kids talks and videos and allowing question time to be remotely run so those at home can ask their questions and engage with those who are physically present. If you’ve got the time to think deeply into these areas and the technical know-how in house to sustainably do this, you should absolutely do this to best love those tuning in from home.
- As a quick summary to pull this off, you’ll need an ATEM Blackmagic to manage your inhouse displays, a secondary AUX output from the blackmagic with Propresenter lyrics and chosen layers in an alpha channel with an SDI PCI Card to receive the SDI feed to your streaming PC. It’ll need to have enough RAM (go for 16GB) to process the 2 SDI feeds (1xVideo SDI and 1xDisplay SDI).
- The quick and simple solution to get much of the above without much technical know-how is to use Zoom Webinars – it’ll allow you to run polls, collect questions and share pre-prepared videos as well as record the session and take input from those at home. With the added benefit of allowing Zoom to be streamed to the Facebook NewsFeed, it’s worth looking into using this as your weekly streaming platform.
JOIN US IN PRAYING
Whilst the world adapts to the COVID-19 outbreak, it would be great as a network of churches to ensure we continue to support and encourage one another in prayer and in the conversations we have. We’ve got a great opportunity to show the difference the gospel makes in responding during this time – we get to be salt and light to the world around us. Join us in praying to our sovereign Lord for wisdom, grace, and love whilst we learn how to best do church services during this time.