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Why Your Church Live Stream Sucks

Your Services might be fine...

Chances are, I would love to come and enjoy a worship service with you and your church. It is most likely the case that your music is good, your preaching is great, your hospitality is super nice; but still, most churches that have a live stream have a terrible live stream.

Every Pastor needs a Leer Jet... 

Every Pastor needs a Leer Jet... 

We don't need the next televangelist in a white suit. Let me be clear, I am not a huge fan of making everything super polished, and so professional it lacks personality or character, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it well. Doing something well doesn't mean perfect. I am not taking about more subjective aspects, such as style either. i mean the objective observation of lots of live streams out there that give little effort beyond a budget stipend. 

We started our church years ago with regular Sunday morning services at a movie theater. We eventually moved to a community college performing arts space. We weren't live streaming any of those services, we were just focused on those that came through the door that day. I can say honestly, that if we were live-streaming in that season of our ministry, it would have been terrible. Simply put, we didn't have the bandwidth on our team to do it well. 

We used to meet on Sundays, but now we are online, and in  the occasional bar

We used to meet on Sundays, but now we are online, and in the occasional bar

Church for the Internet Age

Now, our church is primarily an internet based church. After years of regular services on sundays, we felt the Lord was urging us to stop doing Sunday services altogether and take a plunge into this scary unknown world of internet-based church. Except that for us, internet church wasn't an add-on, but our primary expression. This was a hard thing for me to come to grips with, because I didn't much care for the live streaming I had seen online, but for a few rare exceptions for notable and famous ministries I know you've heard of. 

While we work hard on it, we are so far from perfect; but again, the issue here isn't the gear you have, or the subjective style, but how you come across to your intended audience. Would someone on the internet stumble upon your stream and watch it? Would they care if you stopped streaming altogether? Do you feel like you can be honest and yourself, or does the pressure of the camera change your behavior? 

Why do you want to live stream?

It pays at this point to stop and ask, "Why are we streaming our church live on the internet?" Here are some possible answers: 

  • For those that are traveling or too ill to come in person
  • No one else preaches quite like me, so I owe it to the world to hear the TRUTH!
  • for evangelistic reasons, maybe someone will find Jesus on my Facebook wall
  • Millennials!
  • For marketing and Branding purposes, general exposure to let people know we exist.
  • If they see me wearing skinny jeans online, they might show up in person next week. 
  • Steven Furtick gets lots of likes and shares!
  • We like technology
  • A bunch of my pastor-buddies are doing it. 

If we honestly asked ourselves why we stream live and all of the follow-up questions that seem obvious, perhaps some of our churches would stop streaming altogether as it doesn't really fit in the vision or mission of our ministry. And if that's the case, then stop it right now and don't look back! 

  • It isn't the silver bullet to reach teens and millennials. They would usually rather watch Netflix or whatever is on Tumblr (facebook is for old people) 
  • It's not likely to produce more giving and tithing, unless there is a clear vision, and results to show for it. (believe me!)
  • It will take hard work, and constant technical tweaking, and pastoral energy from someone to do it well.

Live Streaming is a ministry, and ministries help people. You need to be able to articulate why you are doing it, or please don't do it. 

You also need to consider the staff and team that you have. Who is going to run the equipment? Who will engage the online audience? Who will troubleshoot when the internet has an issue right as the service starts? You can't really think that the overworked staff can add it to their plate and then not have cascading failures when something doesn't work right. 

If you are going to stream online, you need to make it a priority! 

One of the main reasons for terrible live streams is that it feels like an optional add-on to a 2nd or 3rd class audience. Even if you have invested heavily in gear and software, the place you put your camera, and your audio mix tells me that most church live streams aren't important, and it’s not doing much for "our" reputation.

Take time to watch, dare I say, suffer through, other church live streams. Pay attention to how often you stop paying attention. Realize that you as a ministry person likely are better at paying attention to this than the average person who watches the latest national talent competition shows on TV. 

  • How can you frame your shot to become more intimate with your online viewers?
  • How small is the speaker or singer on your smartphone screen?
  • Is the camera in the corner, like a silent witness, little more than a surveillance camera? 
  • Should you address the online audience during your service?
  • Should you have more than one camera angle?
  • What is the audio source they are listening to, and who is making sure the audio sounds good right now?
  • Should you cut away to a full screen or use a lower third for lyrics, scripture and bullet points? 
  • How do you handle the videos you may show in service?
  • Have you looked into copyright laws abut the content of your services? 

How to set up your live stream

If you are still here, then you must have some staying power, because I'm not trying to discourage you from doing a live stream, but encourage you to do it well. If you have the will to do it well, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. 

It matters less how cool your gear is than how you frame your shots and interact with your audience.  

What kind of camera and gear is right for live streaming?

As for gear, we did a reasonable job when we first started with an iPhone and a $40 iOS audio interface that plugged into the iPhone for better audio. We did that for months and had great feedback about it. Eventually we bought a GoPro Hero5 Black camera, a capture card, and some specialized software. This allowed us to add worship lyrics to our live stream, and to stream to multiple online networks rather than just one. We run audio through a digital mixer into the computer and the software is able to use the better audio from the mixer instead of the GoPro microphones. 

Casey Neistat

Make your audience intimate

We started with the iPhone on a table nearby pointed in our general direction, as we talked to the people in the room. Later, we decided to use the live stream to talk to the live stream audience intentionally. It's not right for every ministry to do this, but for us in this season, it's what we are doing. Now we have the camera up close on a tripod like a studio setup and we address the camera like a friend. Not sure how talking to the camera like a friend can work for you? Consider how the famous vlogger Casey Neistat talked with his audience of 7.7 million subscribers. 

Your church's live stream doesn't have to suck. I pray you can answer why, and that it will be effective in reaching your target audience. 

How can I help?

 If I can be a resource to you and your ministry, I would love to talk through your goals and help you develop systems that work. I am unusually available as a pastor because we don't have weekend services. I also help with live pro audio, studios, video, IMAG, lighting, training, team building, and other ministry development for all aspects of church life.

Visit my contact page and lets talk right away! 

When Churches Should and Shouldn't go to Guitar Center, Amazon or Other Retailers

One thing that is pretty consistent among many churches that I work with are the many stories of high hopes and resulting disappointments when doing audio, video or lighting purchases at Guitar Center, Amazon, Musician's Friend, and many other big, corporate suppliers. We all love a good deal, so their sales get all of us. And there is nothing wrong with using those retailer; I often do. But you need to know when you should and when you shouldn't rely on big-box suppliers. 

When Retailers Rule

For many things we need in church life, there is no beating one of these bargain focused retailers. I love buying all of my audio cables from Guitar Center. There are cheaper options, but GC will offer a full replacement on most of their cables, so I let the broken ones pile up and go cash them in for new ones every 6 months or so. No sweat! And if you are a musician, it's nice to have an easy place to grab the essentials you need when you need them. 

I also love Amazon for similar items. Try pricing a clip-on guitar tuner at a retail store compared to online, usually, online will beat the price, and if you don't mind wasting time in the store, many retailers will match or beat the price you find on Amazon. 

Here are some specific items that are perfect to find at music retailers:

  • You know exactly what you want, and they have it
  • supplies that are nearly disposable, such as strings, sticks, tape, cables, etc (See above)
  • Your own music gear
  • Some church-owned musical gear

When Retailers Drool

But as a church in the modern era, even the most simple churches usually need to provide a reasonably acceptable production value that requires professional products that are right for your application. This is the sad part I see so many times, is that when a pastor ends of taking technical advice for a church that reaches dozens or hundreds of people from a guy who plays a guitar in his bedroom, which is about all it takes to work there. 

Spend it right the first time!

In full disclosure, I worked at Guitar Center quite a while ago, and I was appalled at what passed for a knowledgeable sales rep in the technical departments. For guitars, they have really good dudes, and I think if you find the right one, he will steer you to the right instrument. But for your church, you need professional gear that will last, and professional application. I will tell you now, that you are not likely to find gear on the shelf at a local music retailer that is appropriate for your ministry, outside of a small mobile rig. 

Here are the times when you should consult with a professional: 

  • You need a full system to purchase or install. (Begin with the end in mind, you need someone who knows system integration backwards and forwards to make the best recommendations)
  • You need to know the best kind of mixer, speakers, microphones, etc. (Retailers want you to buy what they have in stock, and almost never even set foot in your venue)
  • You need unbiased advice (yes, your staff and team are biased)
  • You have problems with feedback, bad sound, blown speakers, etc. (Sometimes the solution is new gear, other times, it's tuning, adjustment, training or layout that needs changed. Stop throwing money at it and solve the actual problem)
  • You notice your church's revolving door is revolving too much. (Yes, people leave for bad production quality)
  • Your projector is hard to see, or the TV's are too small to read
  • The front of the room is too loud and the back is too quiet
  • You want to break into video IMAG, broadcast or Live-Streaming, etc
  • You want to simulcast audio or video throughout your venue, to foyers, nurseries etc.

As you can see, hiring a professional should pay for itself in quality, performance and saved time and money from the headaches of buying wrong. 

At my own church, we have a financial policy that we revisit constantly, and I encourage you to employ this for your church also: "Spend it right the first time!" If you make this commitment, it might mean you take more time and consideration initially, but it will yield fruit over the long term that will translate into more lives being impacted for the Great Commission we are called to! 

If you are considering any changes or improvements at your ministry, please don't hesitate to contact us. It would be an honor to help! Stop making excuses about the size, budget or potential of your ministry, and just call us!