How to Get Started with Church Live Streaming
Churches everywhere are constantly looking for new ways to engage with their audiences and increase their reach. For many, live streamed services are the new norm. Whether they use it as a replacement for or in addition to traditional in-person gatherings, church live streaming has become a must-have for congregations wanting to reach and stay engaged with modern audiences.
However, getting started with new live stream technology for the first time can be difficult. That’s why we’ve put together this guide containing all things live streaming to assist churches of various shapes, sizes, and denominations.
Church Live Streaming Best Practices
Invest in high-quality church live streaming resources.
The quality of your church live streaming resources directly impacts the quality of your services. Thus, if you want to ensure your ability to create and distribute a high-quality live-streamed church service, you’ll need to do your research and invest in the right tools ahead of time.
Church live streaming resources boil down to two categories: equipment and software. We’ll cover each of these types in greater detail below, but each one is critical for maximum live streaming success.
Another important consideration before jumping into church live streaming is ensuring you have the internet speed capabilities you’ll need for high-quality streams. As a best practice, the host of the live stream should be hardwired in or on a separate network—meaning not Wi-Fi. Be sure to check your upload and download speeds with a free online test beforehand. Experts recommend between 15–20 Mbps, with 10 as the absolute minimum.
Your church’s size and environment plays a significant role in the types (and price points) of the equipment and software you need, but the most important thing is to make strategic buying decisions. We’ll talk more about equipment and software below, but start thinking now about the goals your church would like to reach and the amount of your budget that can go toward setting up a quality, long-term streaming solution.
Jumping into research with guides like this one is a great starting point, as we’ll suggest some of the best solutions for churches like yours.
Do a practice run-through before going live.
Getting started with live streaming can be a difficult undertaking, especially if the technology is new for you and your team. Make sure you’re prepared for any scenario by doing live stream rehearsals before going live for the first time. You’ll want to do at least one rehearsal, but we recommend doing it more than once if things don’t seem to go the way you expected. Don’t unleash your inner perfectionist, but do your best to avoid losing your congregation and guests with technical difficulties.
Practice speaking, positioning, lighting, backgrounds and transitions, as well as using your equipment and software before you have an eager audience awaiting. Then, make any adjustments as you see fit!
Promote your church live streaming beforehand.
It will be a pretty huge disappointment if you dedicate substantial time, resources, and energy into ensuring a top-quality church live stream only to have a few (or zero) viewers worship with you. However, it’s a real possibility when you neglect your communication and outreach that need to take place before your stream starts.
If you’re exploring church live streaming for the first time, keep your congregation informed about why you’re streaming your services and how they can join when they can’t attend in person. Plus, you’ll likely want to ask some of your most welcoming (and moderately tech-savvy) members to welcome visitors using your live stream software’s chat function.
You can accomplish all that by promoting your upcoming live stream in your regular church newsletter, on your website, through your social media platforms, and anywhere else your members usually get their church updates.
Track and analyze key engagement metrics.
When you start using new digital tools (or even improve upon existing ones), it’s important to discern your successes and opportunities for improvement. And when it comes to church live streaming, data can tell a really interesting story—it can show that people were engaged until announcements started, or that you’re reaching a lot of new people you haven’t met yet, or that people watch later because they can’t join you live. It can even reveal how you’re ministering to people who live in other parts of the country or the world.
Here’s the kind of data you will want to collect, track, and analyze:
• Live audiences as compared to on-demand viewers
• Average duration of views, or how long people watched
• Unique visitors as compared to repeat traffic • Audience engagement and interaction (joining the chat, giving, and other metrics)
• Geographic location (you can’t drill down to identify individuals, but you may see some high-level trends you weren’t expecting)
Keep in mind that a live-streamed service will always feel and work a little differently than in-person services, so you may want to make some small adjustments to avoid losing people worshiping with you online. For example, if you notice that the majority of your viewers have clicked away by the 60-minute mark of your 90-minute live stream, you might decide to trim down your weekly services. Alternatively, if you notice that you have many viewers but very few of them are interacting with your surveys and chat rooms, you might encourage a few key volunteers to set an example to others by participating with these engaging features.
Incorporate real-time viewer interaction.
One of the greatest benefits of real-time live streaming as opposed to watching later (sometimes called “on-demand”) is its ability to open the lines of communication for members and visitors. It’s not the same as meeting the person who’s sitting in the aisle in front of you, but it’s a huge opportunity to close the visitor gap in your church live stream.
One idea is to encourage people tuning in online to greet each other (or answer a question of the day) using your streaming software’s built-in chat. You could also open real-time polls or surveys or even make event signup a simple click from your chat. This way, people will feel like they’re a part of the service instead of sitting back and watching Netflix.
Want more ideas to keep your congregation tuned in and growing? Here 15 practical tips you may not have thought of.
Church Live Streaming Equipment
Camera Microphone Encoder
No surprise here! What you might be wondering, though, is how much to spend on a camera. You could go as cheap as using a smartphone or spend into the thousands on a camera alone, much less the other equipment you’ll need. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.
Here are a few things to consider when looking at which camera to use:
For small churches or small budgets
If you don’t have much of a budget to put toward a live streaming solution, you could start streaming from a smartphone or tablet. Now, we don’t really recommend this option, because video and audio quality are usually sub-optimal. It is possible, though. However, if you’d like to buy an inexpensive camera to get started, look for one with image stabilization, auto-focus, and at least 3-megapixel resolution. Those are generally in the $200–$300 price range. For example, we like the Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder that goes for around $249.99. For medium churches or mid-range budgets Have a little more to spend but still don’t want to break the bank? The next level up gives you better image quality, increased zooming functions, and intuitive streaming abilities. These cameras tend to run around $2,000, and one of our favorites is Sony’s PXW-X70 for around $1,799.99. For excellent production quality If the video team at Faithlife was building their dream camera set up for a church live stream, it might look something like this:
- Multiple video cameras like the Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder and Sony’s PXW-X70
- A video switcher to go between cameras, like the BMD ATEM Mini or BMD ATEM Television Studio
- A capture device that matches the output from your camera (HDMI or SDI) to translate the signal from your camera into a signal that your computer can understand, like the U-Tap HDMI AJA or BMD Mini Recorder
For churches that already use IMAG (or Image Magnification) during their in-person services, they might already have some of the equipment required for live streaming—including a high-quality camcorder. That said, your IMAG feeds will likely differ from your live streams, so it’s important to do your research and find out the best practices for each strategy.
Now, if you can’t afford the kind of camera you want, don’t be discouraged! The camera is only one part of your live stream. Be faithful with the equipment you have, and you can slowly but surely build out a powerful tech stack for your team.
Similar to the camera choices, you might opt to record your live streaming audio with the embedded microphone in your smartphone or laptop. However, this often results in poor-quality sound that nobody will want to listen to. We suggest investing in an external microphone (either wireless or with a cord) to connect to your recording device. This way, you can ensure your audio is as clean as can be, which leads to an all-around more positive listening experience for your audience. If your church already has a soundboard and microphones for your in-person services, this is also a great way to get audio to your stream. Many boards have an aux out that will let you send the audio to your computer or encoder. Some boards even let you make multiple mixes, letting you fine-tune the output just for your stream.
An encoder is a key component of church live streaming that converts the video from one format to another—specifically from a raw video file to a streamable digital version. There are two major types of live streaming encoders: software and hardware options. A software encoder (such as OBS Studio, which is free for Mac and Windows) is a program that runs on a computer and is often a go-to for live streaming beginners due to its ease of use and low cost. Hardware encoders, on the other hand, are more complex (and often pricier) processors that are used by advanced live streamers looking for increased speed and power.
Church Live Streaming Software Solutions
Now that you have an idea about the church live streaming equipment you’ll need, let’s look at your software choices.
Any software you choose should meet the requirements of your leadership and A/V team, and it should be inviting and accessible to all your church attendees, particularly visitors.
Let’s discuss some of our favorite church live streaming solutions, beginning with our (obvious) top choice: Faithlife Live Stream. Here, we’ll share key features, pricing, and pros and cons of each:
Faithlife Live Stream
Faithlife Live Stream is a part of our larger integrated ministry platform built specifically to give churches all the tools they need for digital discipleship and seamless administration.
When you start a free 30-day trial of Faithlife Live Stream, you’ll get all these features in one software:
- A church channel on Faithlife TV (available via web, iOS, Android, Roku, and Chromecast)
- A built-in software encoder—no extra hardware or setup required
- Easily embeddable live stream on your church website
- A give button on your stream that integrates with Faithlife Giving
- Live chat functionality with other church viewers
- Ability to archive and store live streams for later access
- Reporting and analytics to easily track church growth
Faithlife Live Stream breaks its pricing down based on viewer hours or church members who will be watching your live streams. For small churches (of about 50 members), their platform costs $89.99/month, while medium (~300 member) churches will pay $124.99/month, and large (~700 member) churches will pay $199.99/month. For churches with even larger congregations, you can contact the sales team to discuss a more comprehensive plan.
Dacast is a popular live streaming solution that markets itself to a variety of businesses and organizations, including churches and other religious groups. Specifically, they pride themselves on their ability to assist churches with live stream preparation, powerful sharing tools to grow their audiences, and intuitive, real-time streaming for sermons and other church events.
Here are some of Dacast’s most noteworthy church live streaming features:
- Easy setup, so you can get started streaming quickly
- Unlimited viewers to broadcast to audiences of any size
- Customizable video player without third-party branding
- Video monetization for donations through subscriptions or pay-per-view
Dacast’s starter plan begins at $39/month, while their more comprehensive plans can be upwards of $250/month. Plus, you can get started with a 30-day free trial.
Christian World Media
Christian World Media is a church live streaming platform that allows churches to stream their services in real-time. Additionally, this site takes a social approach to empower churchgoers to get connected with the right sermons and services from all over the globe with ease.
Here are some of Christian World Media’s most noteworthy church live streaming features:
- Listed and searchable church live streams through Christian World Media’s online platform
- Integrations with Twitter feeds and Facebook comments
- Live, moderated chat rooms and prayer request widgets
- Streaming to your own website plus additional restreaming channels (Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Vimeo, Periscope, etc.)
Christian World Media’s pricing plans begin at $35/month for the Basic offering, $59/month for Basic+, or $89/month for their Pro plan. Or you can get started with a limited trial account to get a feel for the platform before committing.
YouTube or Facebook Live
YouTube and Facebook Live are two of the most popular live streaming/social media combination platforms available on the market today. Although they’re different companies, YouTube and Facebook Live hold many similarities in features and functionality. For many churches, these platforms offer an easy and accessible way to get started with church live streaming.
Here are some of the most noteworthy church live streaming features for YouTube and Facebook Live:
- Intuitive platforms that most of your audience already have experience with
- Web and mobile-friendly viewing
- Options for simple and customized (encoded) live streams
- Free and accessible for any-sized churches
- Real-time chat features for interactivity and participation
Neither YouTube nor Facebook Live require an upfront cost to begin live streaming, which can be a significant factor, especially for smaller and growing churches. However, it’s important to note that free channels like these are often limited in functionality and in scope, and it’s most likely worth it to invest in a paid plan from a dedicated church live streaming provider to get the most bang for your buck.
ChurchStreaming.TV is a church live streaming platform that encourages churches to make the most of their streaming opportunities. With this streaming platform, churches simply send their live streams to the ChurchStreaming.TV team who distribute it to your own website and Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo platforms.
Here are some of ChurchStreaming.TV’s most noteworthy church live streaming features:
- Embeddable live streams on your church website and mobile app
- Readily available live support
- Easy streaming to multiple church campuses
- Platform integrations with social media sites, Apple, and Roku TVs
ChurchStreaming.TV offers pricing plans beginning at $79/month for a Basic option, $99/month for Standard, or $139/month for Premium. Plus, you can get add-on features such as hardware or software encoders, additional storage, and custom branded TV apps (Apple TV or Roku) for an additional cost.
Church Online Platform
Church Online Platform is a virtual church solution that empowers congregations everywhere to bring their services online. This church live streaming platform works to help attendees worship, engage, give, and serve with their church families in their most impactful ways—even when doing so from afar.
Here are some of Church Online Platform’s most noteworthy church live streaming features:
- Synced viewing through live or “simulated live” church services
- Powerful data insights through an easy-to-use reporting dashboard
- Compatibility with third-party streaming services such as Vimeo, YouTube, Living As One, Stream Monkey, Lightcast Media, and Restream
- Real-time, automatic chat translations with more than 100 languages
Church Online Platform is free to get started for congregations of all sizes. This even includes a world-class help desk to assist churches with getting their live streams up and running while troubleshooting any issues along the way.
Vimeo is a well-known video hosting and sharing platform used by a multitude of businesses and organizations since its inception in 2004. However, this platform has recently expanded to include new live streaming functionality, making it a popular choice for churches hosting virtual services.
Here are some of Vimeo’s most noteworthy church live streaming features:
- Unlimited live events and both public and private streams
- Live Q&A, graphics, polls, and audience chat to encourage real-time interaction
- Easy-to-use mobile app to host live and on-demand videos on platforms like iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire, and Tizen
- Reporting and analytics tools to help better engage viewers
Vimeo offers multiple plans, which begin at $7/month for the Plus—although you’ll need a Premium subscription to begin live streaming to your audience. This plan comes in at $75/month, billed annually.
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