Live streaming worship services isn’t a new idea. But now it’s more urgent than ever. It’s likely you were already considering the potential impact that live broadcast could have on how you deliver your message and forge connections with a growing congregation, regardless of where members are located. And now the uncertainty and restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have made that need for virtual capabilities even more pressing.
With churches forced to hold remote services, the sprint to engineer a solution has begun in earnest, putting pressure on church leaders to quickly find a way to broadcast that’s simple and easy to use, yet powerful enough to deliver the experience their congregations have come to expect.
This search doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming, even for those with little experience with these technologies.
In fact, live streaming options exist that allow you to get up and running efficiently, so you can begin not only serving your congregation now but also be well prepared to integrate those capabilities into “normal” operation and leveraging them for years to come.
Needs and Goals
When you begin the search for a live broadcast platform or provider, it’s critical to first define the specific needs, goals, and challenges of your church and congregation — because thinking these things through will really pay off in the long run.
There is an almost endless variety of conduits for your new, remote capabilities, at a price range that’s just as wide, so narrowing down the features, tools, and experience you feel will best serve your own message and church family is the most important step.
“In my opinion, one of the most important elements of healthy virtual communities is to choose a streaming provider who meets your needs. There are many solutions available in different price ranges (starting with free) depending on the features you want,” said Don Allensworth, President of The NewGround Group, Inc. and a well-respected strategic church transition specialist focused on leadership development and helping churches reach people.
“Do your research online. Ask other pastors what they use and ask them if they would choose their provider again. Find out what features they feel are valuable and which features they don’t use.”
Some key considerations include:
- The presence of ads – are you OK with having them, or would you pay a premium to deliver an ad-free experience?
- Look thoroughly for bandwidth limitations. A price may seem perfect on the surface but come along with significant surprise fees for exceeding a certain bandwidth limit. Ask around — check with pastors you know who use the service, be direct with representatives of the platform, and ensure you understand the totality of the pricing structure.
- Ensure the service has an easy, user-friendly way to schedule broadcasts and solid archiving capabilities to ensure your congregation can access past broadcasts on demand.
- Check in on how thoroughly the provider will monitor your stream, what contingencies and redundancies there are to protect you from poor-quality broadcasts, and what equipment the provider might be prepared to give you to help you get started.
- What community engagement capabilities exist on the platform? Can you engage in some of the same connecting behaviors you would through an in-person service, such as giving and commitments?
“In today’s reality, there are some beneficial engagement tools already built in many online community platforms. If you are just now starting out on this virtual connection journey or taking a few steps forward, I encourage you to look down the road while making this decision,” Allensworth said. “Ask yourself and your team about first-time guest connection. What about prayer and giving? How will you capture commitments people are making, or want to make?”
By keeping an eye toward these critical aspects of your live broadcast capabilities, you can get it right the first time and establish a powerful avenue for sharing and connection that extends well beyond the current crisis.
Let’s take a look at a few choices that might fit your church’s unique needs.
There are many options for remote production and broadcast, but several key providers have established themselves as leaders in the industry and potential best-fits for your church.
Stream Monkey: Stream Monkey offers a free, two-week trial and four escalating levels of service, from a basic plan that includes live and on-demand broadcast and analytics all the way to plans with live transcoding to allow for broadcast to multiple social media platforms and a multisite, high-power solution. Stream Monkey centers its operation and pricing on data, not time, allowing you to figure out which bitrate is right for your broadcast — with their help, of course.
Restream: Restream prides itself on helping you broadcast to multiple platforms, and, for individuals, offers a free level that offers that ability and more, including text and chat overlay, screen sharing, and more. More destinations and features become available at higher tiers, allowing for some scalability in determining which plan might be right for your congregation and operation.
Portable Church® Industries and Living As One: Streaming platform Living As One and Portable Church Industries, which designs, develops, and delivers mobile-church systems, have teamed up to offer the CODE Series of live broadcast solutions.
The idea behind the CODE Series, according to Portable Church Industries Director of Consulting Matt Groves, was to take the guesswork out of live broadcast for churches, particularly smaller ones, offering a turnkey solution that allows them to get off the ground as quickly as possible.
“There’s been a huge void in the market until recently, and that’s one thing that we really wanted to attack,” Groves said. “Our goal was a turnkey solution — ’Here it is. Press a button and go.’”
Together with Living As One, the CODE Series offers churches a custom rack with hardware and wiring already done inside that’s fully integrated with the Living As One platform.
The solution also offers built-in SDI conversion, patented, resilient stream protocol that prevents buffering, and the ability to stream to multiple places at once with only one stream coming from your church.
“We don’t want to look at this as just something that we can get somebody to look at on a screen on a weekly basis,” Groves said. “This is a part of your church family. This is an extension of your church building.”
Future episodes will feature more in-depth conversations on best practices for technical setup and production, promotion, and more. To ensure you don’t miss out on these industry-leading insights, stay tuned to our podcast hub.