Getting Started With Online Worship
If you're looking to start livestreaming your Sunday worship, or offer additional times of online prayer and worship, it can be hard to know where to start.
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 get online in no time.
Below are some best practices and recommendations to help get you online.
At the very basic level, you’ll need:
- Facebook Page
- Cell phone (with an activated cellular plan—make sure your data plan supports the increased data use for live streaming.)
- Tripod with cellphone holder (necessary, such as https://amzn.to/2TCnIWf
- Microphone (suggested, such as https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B018KIJGU8
What technology should we use?
If you are starting from scratch when it comes to video-recording technology, here are some options to consider, tiered according to your budget and the tech skills of your team.
Level 1 is shooting live video via mobile phone. The strength here is in its portability and cost. It’s essentially free (you could add the cost of a $20 phone mount and a $30 microphone to improve quality), and it provides a great, informal experience that lends itself well to live video platforms, providing a personal and “behind the scenes” experience for followers that can be lost as production quality escalates.
Level 2 is shooting video via a dedicated live camera. The dominant player in this space is the Mevo camera. For somewhere in the $500 to 1,000 range, the Mevo provides a great solution for live video. Production quality on the Mevo is significantly higher than the mobile phone, retains some of the informality of the platform, and provides a cheap fixed-point live video solution. Starting at level 2, you’ll be able to broadcast to both Facebook and also YouTube at the same time.
Level 3 is a hybrid solution that gives you more control than Mevo but doesn’t require a substantial media budget. One of the best examples here is Boxcast. For $100 per month, you get the hardware and software necessary for streaming your service on the web. You’ll also need to invest in cameras capable of HD capture (in the $500–1,000 range per camera) as well as a high-quality microphone and amplification (perhaps what your church already uses will work). Other computer-based software solutions (such as Restream or OBS) can achieve some of the results of Boxcast with a little experimentation and technical know-how.
Level 4 involves HD video capture that is processed and streamed live via multiple cameras. Level 4 is usually only accessible for churches with seven-figure budgets or substantial media teams. Production quality is extremely high, but it’s also important to note the principle of Ockham’s razor: the more cameras, audio equipment, computers, streaming software, and so on that are involved, the more likely it is that something will go disastrously wrong. An organization should only attempt level 4 live production when an experienced team is at the helm.
Deciding between these approaches involves three factors:
- Budget: Level 1 will cost between $0 and $50. Level 2 is between $500 and $1,000. Level 3 is a $1,200 per year investment with initial costs around $1,000. Level 4 could easily start around $10,000.
- Crew: Talk with your parishioners to determine what they’re comfortable with or use most often. At the same time, be cautious about committing to obscure or complex hardware, software, or streaming methods that won’t work unless a single member of the team is able run them.
- Vision: Although your church may be making a temporary compromise with livestreaming, wise planning for how you invest during this season can reap dividends for your ministry down the road. So, make sure that whatever purchases you make or methods you try will serve you well in the long run. Think about future uses of your technology, should you decide to stop livestreaming your services. This might include midweek update videos, special non-Sunday teaching series, Q&A videos, etc.
Things to consider before you livestream
1. Where do I put the tripod and camera?
When streaming an entire service, the best place for a camera and tripod is in the front pew, the first seat off the aisle, at head height. This will give the perspective of sitting in church. A volunteer is required to start and stop the live steam. Start and stop the live stream after the camera is in place. Do not start the stream and then attempt to place the camera in the tripod.
2. Audio: Can you hear me?
Audio in churches can be tricky. To record quality audio, it depends on what type of building you are in—is your church space a traditional, stone building with large arches and domed ceilings, or is your church space a more modern building with carpet and clean, painted walls?
Traditional Building: A microphone is strongly suggested but not required. Running a microphone and cable to a nearby, in-house speaker will significantly increase the quality of spoken voice. If you need to change the location of the camera for audio, do it! Sound is more important than a close video. Audio extension cables are available for purchase to extend the range of your microphone’s built-in cable.
Modern Building: A microphone is suggested but not required. If your camera is placed in the front pew or seat and there are in-house speakers, the phone’s mic should be sufficient. Nevertheless, strive to have a plug-n-play microphone near an in-house speaker for the best quality.
3. Research and know your licensing status.
Make sure you research what licenses you and your church currently have. As you begin an online experience you have to have licensing that allows for streaming rights for your music. If you don’t have those licenses then don’t show that part of your service so that you aren’t fined or flagged by Facebook, Periscope, YouTube, or receive a bill in the mail from a record label. More info on music licensing is available below.
4. Engage in extra planning and discussion about your online event.
Since you will be presenting content online, you want to make sure the content is clear, easy to engage with, and thoughtfully prepared. If you are going to go online with cameras make sure they are decent and focused. If you are using audio, make sure people can hear and understand your audio recordings.
Do some testing this week and make sure that people can see and hear clearly.
5. Have a backup in place! It is going to happen.
Inevitably something will happen. Your stream can get cut off, internet goes down…prepare for the unexpected. Have a way of getting your content to your church if your main method fails. This is important because this may be the only touch point you have with your church now and you want to make sure you are able to engage with them.
6. Continue interacting with your church, even through digital means.
Today with Facebook, YouTube, and other online church platforms there are ways for you to interact with and serve the people participating online. Don’t just post a video. Instead, have members of your church actively engaged in serving the online audience just as if they were in the church. You may not be able to show where the restroom is and get them coffee, but you can offer to pray for them, sign them up for your news, get them connected to community, or just be an engaging voice on the thread.
How to go live on Facebook
Currently, Facebook is among the most reliable tools for our congregations to live stream. “But Aunt Ellen doesn’t use Facebook. How is she going to see the service?” Facebook Pages work similarly to websites—completely public. A Facebook account is not required to view content on a Facebook Organization Page.
Checking/Setting up your Congregation’s Facebook Organization Page
- Does your church have a Facebook Page?
- Are you an editor or administrator on that page?
- How can you quickly check? Can you post as the organization page? If so, then you are an editor or an administrator on the page.
- If you need to set up a Facebook Page for your organization, some good tips are available here.
How to go live on Facebook
- Go to your Facebook News Feed (the page or group you want to stream to) and press the Live option (the camcorder icon)
- Write a video description
- Draft a catchy title and description. Begin the post from the congregation's Facebook page by pressing “Create Post” and selecting “Go Live” from the post options. Now, input your title and description for the post. After this step, you are ready to go live.
- Select a privacy setting by tapping the ellipsis in the bottom right corner and opening up Audience Restrictions.
- Making your video "Public" will give it the largest possible reach, and will allow folks participating in worship to share on their own Facebook feeds as well.
- Press the “Start Live Video” button.
Using Zoom for worship
Zoom is well-suited for congregations that may not have the time, skill set, or resources to do a typical livestreaming setup. It is particularly well-suited for clergy and leaders who are facilitating worship from home (rather than in a church).
A few key features of Zoom include:
- You can easily add multiple hosts to your program or promote others as hosts—great if you want to run a service with a few participants in different locations.
- Zoom allows you to connect automatically via a mobile app, a desktop app, or a web app hybrid (a small program installs on your computer) once you attempt to join. This makes it easier for most people to connect, even those with limited technology.
- Zoom also allows you to join the call as a host or attendee using only a phone. You can offer a teleconference option that is built into the system.
- Considering what you would need to do using alternative means in terms of your time and effort, a one-month subscription is an excellent cost-effective method. If your meeting is less than 100 people and shorter than 40 minutes, using Zoom is free. More participants and/or more extended events would need a paid plan. You can check Zoom’s pricing here.
How to Zoom a church service
- Create a free Zoom account and download the web apps as required (optional mobile apps) on your devices. Zoom can run in the cloud, but they recommend downloading the app onto your desktop/laptop.
- Once you are logged in to Zoom, click on Schedule, and complete the details.
- Go into Settings and mute your audience on entry. Even though each person can unmute his or her microphone, you will make sure that all will join your meeting quietly.
- Once you get into Zoom, you will see how easy it is. Basically, it is click, click, click—no need for extensive reading or having to find loads of informational details. Zoom is automatic while giving you the controls you need.
Additional tips and resources on using Zoom can be found here:
For more information, here are some walkthroughs for live streaming. (Remember that you would need a paid Zoom account to use Facebook or YouTube.)
How to pre-record services and use the "Premiere" function
There are a number of reasons why churches might not want to livestream. Pre-recording a service can allow you to include videos from multiple people, incorporate music or other videos, and even overcome spotty wifi issues. If you want to pre-record your service and get most of the same benefits of livestreaming, you should consider using the "premiere" feature on Facebook and/or YouTube.
Facebook and YouTube Premiere functionality offers many of the same benefits of livestreaming, without you having to broadcast in the moment.
For example, on Facebook, your followers will be notified that you have scheduled a Premiere and be encouraged to subscribe to notifications, meaning they’ll receive another notification when the Premiere launches. Followers who watch your Premiere will also get that same community feel, as it’s content that’s being seen by all viewers at the same time.
In the same way that a Facebook Live gives you increased engagement rates, so does a Facebook Premiere. Once your Premiere has ended, the video will remain on your page for people who missed it to watch at a later date.
How to Schedule a Facebook Premiere
- Go to your church’s Facebook page. Click Share photo or video.
- Click Upload Photos/Video
- Select the video you want to Premiere
- Click Premiere
- Fill out available fields, thinking carefully about the titles, description, and thumbnail you choose.
- Choose the time you want the video to premiere.
- Considering adding subtitles if your video has audio so it is accessible.
- Click Schedule Premiere.
For more information on Facebook Premiere, click here.
How to schedule a YouTube Premiere
- Click Upload at the top of the page
- Select your video to upload and enter video details.
- On the Preview & publish tab, tick the box next to Set as a Premiere.
- Select Schedule for a later date and select the date and time of your premiere.
- Select Done to complete the upload process.
- A public watch page will be created. The video will eventually be premiered on this watch page, so you can share this link on social media channels or email it to your church mailing list.
For more information on YouTube Premiere, click here.
Things to consider before scheduling your Premiere
- Premieres work for longer videos. Your video must be more than 30 seconds
- Try to keep Premieres for your most important content, such as weekly services or teaching resources
- You must schedule the Premiere more than an hour in advance – try to schedule it a few days in advance to allow yourself enough time to promote the Premiere to your followers
- You MUST select the Premiere option when uploading your video to Facebook. You can’t change this once you’ve saved the video. If you forget to do this, you’ll need to delete the video and upload again
- Promote the Premiere across social media and other digital channels. Let people know when the Premiere will be going live to ensure as many people as possible tune in.
Dial-in options for those without internet
For congregations with a large percentage of members without internet connection or computer access, dial-in services are a great option. These can be used on their own, or combined with one of the video livestream suggestions provided elsewhere.
With the services below, you can use free phone number that church members can call into (NOTE: calls aren't necessarily toll-free for the caller), enter a passcode, and connect to the worship service:
Copyright issues and livestreaming
Live streaming (or webcasting) church services or events are a great way to connect with people looking to make a virtual connection before they make a physical connection by visiting your church. It is also a great way for homebound parishioners to be connected to your services or events.
Live streams are broadcast live using a streaming service such as Livestream or Facebook Live; these streams are also archived to be viewed later on these platforms.
US Copyright Law provides a Religious Service Exemption (Section 110 }. This exemption allows performance of certain copyrighted works in a religious service without permission or royalty payments; but, the exemption does not extend to live streams/webcasting. You must obtain an extended license to your CCLI license for streaming your services or events online that include copyrighted songs. Stanford University is one excellent resource for additional info on copyright.
You can obtain a streaming license add-on with CCLI.com here: https://us.ccli.com/copyright-license/. Prices range from $60 annually for a congregation size of less than 200, to $85 annually for a congregation size between 200 and 500.
A WorshipCast license from Christian Copyright Solutions covers internet performance rights for more than 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Annual fees start at $225. More information about this license can be found here: https://www.christiancopyrightsolutions.com/servic...
One License is also a way to acquire reprint permissions from multiple publishers at the same time. Their add on streaming license ranges from $50 on up depending on congregation size: https://www.onelicense.net/how-it-works
- The Book of Common Prayer
- Sunday lectionary readings
- Daily Office lectionary readings
- Diocesan Cycle of Prayer Calendar
- Anglican Cycle of Prayer
- Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, the Great Litany, and the Holy Eucharist
- Enriching Our Worship 2: Ministry with the Sick or Dying; Burial of a Child
- Enriching Our Worship 3: Burial Rites for Adults, together with a Rite for the Burial of a Child
- Enriching Our Worship 4: The Renewal of Ministry and the Welcoming of a New Rector or Other Pastor
- Enriching Our Worship 5: Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss
- Book of Occasional Services (Spanish version available here)
- Lesser Feasts and Fasts
- Great Cloud of Witnesses
Additional livestream resources
Articles about using Facebook Live:
- How to begin streaming live church services
- How to Use Facebook Live: The Ultimate Guide
- 9 Tips For Businesses Using Facebook Live Video