Online church strategy and set-up: Our definitive guide

Posted by Jake Gosselin on 8 May 2020

It's been so good to see all the churches trying out online church - giving people with or without faith the opportunity to get involved in church on Sunday morning's from the comfort of their homes. it's been one of the unexpected upsides to the challenging times we find ourselves in, and many churches are expecting to carry on streaming their gatherings, even after we're able to reopen our doors.

We also know that it's been a steep learning curve for many churches, especially the smaller ones that we at WeAreWorship are so passionate about representing and empowering. If you've managed to get your church online over the last few weeks then well done. But, if you're thinking about staying online for the longer term we've teamed up with our friends at Churchfront to give you some tips on building a sustainable system that will take your streaming to the next level. Read on to find out which strategies will work for you, and what resources you need to make it work.

For a deeper dive then head to the Churchfront YouTube channel, or take Jake's Beginner's Guide To Live Streaming For Churches at Worship Ministry School.

 

VISIT CHURCHFRONT  LIVE STREAMING COURSE

 

 

Churchfront online church blog2

JAKE GOSSELIN - CHURCHFRONT

 

Over the past few months, many churches and worship ministries have been forced into bringing church online.While this journey has been overwhelming and exhausting for many, there’s a lot of opportunity for increasing the local church’s reach and impact in our highly digitized world.

The good news is streaming doesn’t have to be complicated. Nor does your church have to spend multiple five or six-digit budgets on production gear to create a high-quality stream.

In this article, I’m going to provide you a roadmap for navigating the various strategies and tools to build a streaming system for your church.There are quite a lot of options available, but my goal is to help you eliminate overwhelm and analysis paralysis.

You’ll have to tailor my recommendations to your church’s context and budget. But by the end of this article, you’ll know exactly which tools you’ll need to build a streaming system on a budget. I’ll also unpack the more advanced setup we’re using at my church to capture multiple camera angles and a Bethel-Worship-like mix of our band.

Before we dive into the tools and software to make your online church experience possible, first, we need to unpack the various strategies available for going live. I'll unpack the pros and cons of each strategy and give you my favorite recommendation.

 

FIND YOUR STRATEGY

 

Strategy #1 - True Live Stream

When most people think of live streaming, they often think of a "true" live stream. A true live stream is when the content you share online is being captured, recording, and distributed as a live event. You turn on your camera, hit "go live" in your streaming software, and then a few seconds later, you're audience can see and engage with your stream on social platforms like Facebook and Youtube.

While this type of stream can be more engaging and allow you as the content creator to engage with your church in real-time, there are some major downsides to this approach.

  1. It's more difficult (and expensive) to set up the infrastructure to broadcast a high-quality production. You're going to want to have a robust streaming encoder, very reliable internet, and a separate mixer for your audio.
  2. You'll need more team members to pull off a true live stream with success. 
  3. There isn't much room for error. You can't do any second takes if your worship band messes up a song. Or if your internet drops out and you lose the stream, it's difficult to restart it and get your viewers to the right place.

Creating a true live stream can be an excellent goal for your church as you expand upon your streaming infrastructure and build your team. But it's not my recommended place to start.

 

Strategy #2 - Pre-Record and Post or Premiere Your Service Video

This strategy is on the opposite side of the spectrum from a true live stream. You pre-record your worship and sermon content ahead of time, edit it together in software like Final Cut or Premiere Pro, and then you can publish it to your social media accounts or even use the "premiere" feature for both platforms.

The major benefit to this strategy is it requires less gear and team members to pull it off. Since you are recording your content ahead of time, you can leverage the power of post-production editing to create a high-quality production for your viewers.

The other benefit is you do not need an expensive streaming encoder or reliable internet since you aren't streaming the video locally from your computer. Instead, you'll host the video in Youtube or Facebook's servers.

But the downside to this strategy is it will not get the same engagement or feel as "live" to your viewers.

I've even heard many reports from churches that the premiere feature in Facebook and Youtube have not been reliable for them. It also seems that these social platforms seem to favor "live" videos over pre-recorded and premiered videos. So, while pre-recording and posting your videos on social media has many benefits for small to mid-sized churches, it's still not my favorite strategy.

 

Strategy #3 - The Simulated Live Stream

For the past two months, my church has been creating simulated live-streams for our congregation. This approach blends the advantages of the first two strategies. Much like the pre-record and post strategy, with a simulated live stream, you will still pre-record and edit your content during the week. Once again, this allows you to mix high-quality audio and edit professional video from your computer.

Next, you'll upload the video to a multistreaming platform like Restream.io. This software can support your church's live streams in various ways, but my favorite feature is its streaming scheduler.

Restream.io allows you to schedule your live stream to go live on multiple social platforms simultaneously. Since you host the video on Restream's platform, you don't need to worry about your local internet connection dropping out on you. The stream will be pushed from the cloud directly to Facebook, Youtube, and any other streaming destination.

Another benefit of a simulated live stream is that your audience will see it as a true live stream on social platforms, which encourages more engagement and reach.

As a pastor or worship leader, this approach also relieves the pressure to create content and engage with your audience simultaneously. Instead, you can monitor your live stream and make yourself available to engage with your congregation in the comments.

That's why the simulated live stream is my favorite strategy, especially during quarantine, when we are not able to gather as congregations in our church buildings. 

But even when the quarantine lifts, I plan on sticking with this approach for our small church. We will still capture our worship gatherings on Sunday, do a bit of editing during the week, and then schedule the video for a simulated live stream the following Sunday.

As our church grows and we have the team members and infrastructure in place, then we will explore transitioning to a true live streaming setup.

 

FIND YOUR SET-UP

Now that we've covered the various strategies to go live for your church, I want to unpack two different setups for gear and software. The first setup will be ideal if you have a slim budget and want the most straightforward process possible for capturing high-quality worship music and sermon content. The second setup will be the gear and software I'm using to produce our online church services at Mission Lakewood. It's a bit pricier, but still accessible for churches wanting to invest more into their system.

Before we dig in take watch this video to get an overview of what we're going to be looking at.

 

Setup #1 - Budget-Friendly Live Streaming Setup

The best part about this budget-friendly setup is you probably already have most of this gear and software on hand. All you need is the right workflow to piece it all together to create high-quality content.

The gear

 

  • Smartphone - You'll use this for capturing video.
  • Tripod and Mount for Your Smartphone - You'll use this to hold your smartphone steady as you record video. If you don't have one you might want to try the Manfrotto Compact Action tripod, with the Joby GripTight Mount.

GET PRICE: MANFROTTO TRIPOD

GET PRICE: JOBY GRIPTIGHT

  • Microphone (the Shure SM58 is a cost effective industry standard), Mic Stand, and Cables - You most likely already have this gear at your church. You'll use these to capture high-quality audio.

GET PRICE: SHURE SM58

GET PRICE: MIC STAND

GET PRICE: XLR CABLE

  • Audio Interface - You'll plug your microphone and guitar or piano into the audio interface so you can record into a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Garageband, Ableton, or Protools. We like the Adient iD series. The iD14 has 2 audio inputs, so is fine for guitar/piano and vocals.

GET PRICE: AUDIENT iD14

  • Digital Audio Workstation - This is software that allows you to multitrack record worship music so you can mix and edit to sound professional. If you have a Mac, you can use Garage Band for free. Or you can also check out ProTools First, which is free and runs on both Mac and PC.
  • Computer - You'll need a computer to edit videos, mix audio, and then upload your final product to a muli streaming software. I recommend a laptop with at least a quad-core processor and ideally 12GB of RAM or more.
  • Presentation Software - You'll need presentation software to be able to quickly add lower third lyrics and sermons slides to your live stream content. My favorite recommendation is ProPresenter because it has NDI capability, allows you to send your lyrics and sermon slides to your streaming software with no additional gear.
  • Video editing software - If you have a Mac, you can use iMovie for free, or if you use PC, you can use DaVinci Resolve for free. My favorite options for video editing software are Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro.
  • Streaming Software (Optional) - My favorite streaming software for Mac is Ecamm Live, and my favorite streaming software for PC is VMix. Keep in mind, if you are pre-recording and publishing a simulated live stream, you don't necessarily need a streaming software. Instead, you can edit your video in editing software and then upload it directly to a multistreaming platform.
  • Multistreaming/Scheduling Software - While there are various options for multistreaming, my favorite tool is Restream. It has direct integration with most popular streaming software like Ecamm and VMix, and their scheduling feature is easy to use.

 

Upon first glance, this may seem like an extensive list of items, but fortunately, most churches already have these tools on hand. Chances are, your most significant gaps are with streaming and multistreaming software. Once you have these tools in place, the workflow is intuitive and efficient.

BUT! There are multiple ways you can go about doing this. I created an in-depth video on Youtube that shows you how to integrate these tools specifically for recording worship music videos to add to your stream. You can check the tutorial out here.

 

Setup #2 - Advanced Multicamera Setup for Capturing and Streaming Worship

 

You may reach a point when you want to up the production level of your online worship content with multiple angles and a better mix. You may also want to reduce the amount of time spent in video and audio editing software. That's when your church should consider investing in a pro-level multicamera setup. Here are the gear and software you will need.

 

  • Mirrorless Cameras - My favorite mirrorless camera for recording and streaming worship is the Panasonic GH5. But I also recommend the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema cameras or the Canon EOS R. Mirrorless cameras have high image quality, interchangeable lenses, and HDMI output that allow you to send their video feed to a video switcher.

GET PRICE: PANASONIC GH5

GET PRICE: BLACK MAGIC

GET PRICE: CANON EOS RP

  • Video Switcher - I recommend the Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro or ATEM Television Studio HD. The ATEM Mini Pro has some compelling features like a built-in streaming encoder and recording capabilities. The ATEM Television Studio HD allows for eight video inputs, so you'll need to go that route if you plan on having more than four video sources, which is the most the ATEM Mini can handle.

GET PRICE: ATEM MINI PRO

  • Digital Audio Workstation and Plugins - You want to know the secret behind how Bethel Worship sounds amazing online? They don't use a separate mixing console. Instead, they use ProTools and Waves plugins to mix audio for broadcast. You can even purchase the same template they use from Luke Hendrickson, their mix engineer. When it's all said and done, this setup costs around $1,500, but that's much cheaper (and sounds better) than buying a dedicated mixing console.
  • Living As One Encoder - This is only necessary if you are doing a true live stream, and you want it to be 100% reliable, even if you have a poor internet connection. It's the same encoder used by churches like Elevation, Red Rocks, Newspring, etc. That's why their streams always look amazing and never drop out on them. But it does come at a price. Their entry-level encoder is $1,200, and their software platform starts at $99/month.

 

I could spend all day listing off other pieces of gear and accessories to include in this advanced setup. But those are the primary ways to make investments into your streaming infrastructure that will significantly improve the quality of your production.

Now you know the strategies and tools for bringing your church's worship gatherings online. Start simple, develop confidence with the tools you already have, and know that you can slowly build upon your streaming setup in the future. You don't need to build a streaming system like Bethel Church from day one. That's going to be extraordinarily expensive, and chances are you don't have the team in place to run a system that complex.

Also, don't forget that you can't make up for lackluster content with excellent production quality. Make sure you still work on your craft as a musician or communicator.

 

Need More Assistance?

If you'd like my team's help in building a live streaming solution for your church, then check out Worship Ministry School

  WORSHIP MINISTRY SCHOOL

We've got a beginner level course for building a cost-effective and simple live stream solution leveraging the tools I unpacked in this article.

  BEGINNER'S STREAMING COURSE

We also have a growing course library covering the pastoral, musical, administrative, and other technical aspects of worship ministry.

We hope that this guide assists you as you look to keep making progress with your online church setup. We'd love to see as many churches as possible equiped, inspired and empowered to broadcast the message of Jesus.

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