The world looks very different at the moment…an understatement for sure. The recent events that are continually unfolding with the outbreak of COVID-19 have caused us to look at each aspect of our lives. The church has not escaped that need for re-evaluation.
In most states, gubernatorial leadership has heeded advice from the Centers for Disease Control and mandated that assemblies of 50 or more, including those of churches, no longer gather together physically. In some cases, the assemblies were limited to those ten or larger. There a large number of churches that have already been streaming services online. This creates a new opportunity for the church.
A Brave New World
For a large number of churches, “online streaming” is a concept that was already occurring in their vocabulary every week. Catering to that online community is not necessarily a strong point. Very rarely do you find a church that has only an online presence. An even larger issue is the number of churches who have never even begun the journey of streaming online or having an online presence. We want to give you some tools to start with and ways to engage. I want to note that this isn’t going to be a comprehensive “how-to” for churches who want to establish a long-term online presence. There are lots of things, (proper audio, equipment, mixes, etc) and massive amounts of dollars in budget decisions to make for this. We do, however, want to give you some quick things to get you started that won’t break the bank should you find yourself like most churches and needing to start streaming immediately.
The Most Important Thing
Before we start with the technical things, I want to make sure that we have a grasp on the most important thing. The church we are presenting is the same church online as it is in your building. In fact, this should be the one thing unifying between each church to begin with. While each of our own church services looks different…they should all paint the same picture. The picture should be one of God and his love for all of us. How we frame that picture may look different from church to church but the picture itself remains the same. This concept is no different when we move online. Don’t let it scare you – it is merely a different frame…but still the same picture.
If you have never conducted an online service before, there are a few things to consider. The biggest mistake I have seen churches make is overdoing things when less is more. Resist the urge to over-complicate things. Perhaps your week-to-week service has a full band. Perhaps this week needs to only be led with a worship leader, a guitar, and a cajon. Let your technology and your production availability lead what your service looks like.
There are many online platforms that you can use to get started streaming. First is a place to stream to. Here are a few to get you started:
- Facebook Live (free)
- YouTube Streaming (free)
- ChurchStreaming.Tv (paid)
While Facebook Live and streaming on YouTube is without financial cost, there are some disadvantages. Sometimes streams go down. Some churches have reported their streams have been removed because of music copyright violations despite having proper licenses (more on that later). Other servers like ChurchStreaming.tv will give you your own server to stream to with other amenities available like your own Roku Channel. These services, however, are paid for each month. ChurchStreaming.tv is giving churches 90 days free during the COVID-19 outbreak to help offset costs.
If you are looking for a way to display your live stream, we suggest the free resources that Life Church has made available for free at churchonlineplatform.com. Through Church Online Platform, your church can have its own live presence where you can display your stream (Youtube, ChurchStreaming.TV, etc) and have hosted chat, live prayer requests, connect to your online giving portal, and more free of charge.
Next, you will need to ensure that any of the songs you are singing are singing are covered with a proper license. To do so, CCLI has “Streaming License” to accomplish this goal. To aid churches with expenditures as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, CCLI is offering a 10% discount on this license until April 30, 2020.
Cameras and Other Tech
So we’ve got a streaming solution and we know where our stream is going to end up. How do we get it there? If we keep with the concept of keeping things simple, you can stream to these services from many of today’s smartphones. Tripods for these phones can be quickly obtained from Amazon or (if you’re being frugal) by asking around to your staff or church members who may happen to have one and isn’t using it. (I own three of them and don’t typically use them.)
If you are looking for a better camera solution than the typical smartphone, there are semi-permanent options such as the Zoom Q2N for a less than $200 available that can be coupled with free software like OBS: Open Broadcast Software available at obsproject.com to allow you both audio and video streaming in one device.
Long Term options are usually upwards of $1,000 per camera depending on the type of camera whether you need a camera that is manned by a person or is mounted on a wall like a “PTZ” (pan, tilt, zoom” camera).
Each of these options, without going into higher equipment needs and lengthy processes, do not provide for the greatest audio experiences. Again, these are designed to get you started now and build toward the future.
What Do My Services Look Like?
One of the greatest things to remember is that, at this moment, your congregation is missing the opportunity to join together to be in community together. Having someone available to facilitate an online chat, keep the dialogue going and not stifle it out of “reverence” during a message or a song is crucial. If people are talking about something funny their pet cat did in a chat. LET THEM. They are missing this time of bonding. In fact, engage in it in the chat.
As for the flow of your online service, it may feel natural to keep it the same as what has always happened in your in-person gatherings. Ensure, however, that the language you use is directed to those who are gathered together in homes and get out of the cliches you may gotten used to of “in-person” phrases. (ie: “Turn to your neighbor” may isolate those who are watching by themselves).
It’s easy in all the information to forget what we began with – but don’t lose it. Keep the main thing the main thing. We are all painting the same picture…just using a different frame. I know that you will each have massive amounts of questions along the way. I want to give you a tool that has helped me in massive ways over the years. There is a great group of guys and gals in a Facebook Group called “Church Sound & Media Techs” who have always been supportive and knowledgeable in these areas. If you are struggling with a particular area that I can help with, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, we are ALL the church and in this together… regardless of the frame. Hope to see you online.