Churches and places of worship all over the globe actively use digital technologies and communicate with their congregations through their websites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. These channels are the most important communication channels for reaching people. And since live video is one of the leading forms of content on social media, broadcasting is the next logical step to making church services more accessible. In this guide, church leaders and volunteers can learn how to stream worship services and find out what equipment they need to get started.
Why should your church live stream?
Staying connected with congregations and members in today’s digital age is the biggest reason places of worship stream their services. There are several other advantages of sermon broadcasting, including:
- Engaging people who cannot attend worship in person
- Being closer to the members of your parish and providing support wherever they are
- Sharing inspiring live videos and encouraging more people to join your community
- Bringing church to more people's lives
- Soliciting donations for further live video investment
If your church hasn’t started streaming, now is the time to start. Let’s look at what it takes to produce live broadcasts so your place of worship can start reaping the benefits mentioned above.
Church live streaming setup and equipment: the basics
To get started with live video, you’ll need some basic equipment and tools, such as:
- Webcam or camera
- Laptop or smartphone
- Streaming software
- Good internet connection
The above are your “must-haves” that you can’t really live stream without. After you’ve got the basic setup and become more familiar with live streaming, you may wish to expand this list or add multiple cameras, mics and computers.
Once you have the right gear, you’ll need to choose a platform to stream to and decide whether you need streaming software or not. Most social media networks allow you to stream directly to your profile using their app, but if you want to broadcast your service on your website or to more than one platform at a time, you’ll need streaming software.
The best cameras for live streaming church services
To broadcast a good-quality video of your sermon or service, you’ll need a camera that records in high definition (HD), featuring an HDMI output. This setup works if you have a small live streaming budget or don’t need super-professional quality.
However, if you plan to go with high-end video production, we recommend you consider one of the top camcorders that capture video in 4K UHD (ultra high definition).
These are our top church live streaming camera picks:
- Canon Vixia HF G21: a great solution for newbies who just plan to go live with worship.
- Panasonic 4K Cinema-Like Video Camcorder: works effectively in low light.
- Canon EOS Rebel T7i: a DSLR camera that also works well in poor lighting conditions.
- Canon XA15: a high-budget camcorder suitable for tech-savvy people.
- Sony PXW-Z150: captures videos in 4K UHD and provides professional features that make it one of the best cameras for live streaming church services.
How to choose a camera for church streaming
When looking for a camera, you’ll want to consider the following characteristics:
- Frame rate
- Shutter speed or motion control
- Aperture or depth of field
- Gain or image noise (aka ISO)
Let’s look at the two most essential attributes: resolution and frame rate. These two items directly influence the quality of the live stream and the way viewers perceive motion in the video.
Resolution refers to the specific number of pixels that are shown on a display. For example, Full HD (1080p) resolution means the video has 1920 times 1080 pixels each containing visual information. When determining video resolution, the five levels you’ll pick from are:
- Full HD
- 2K UHD
- 4K UHD
The video resolution you choose will directly affect the image size. In the high definition (HD) levels, higher resolution equals a larger and better-quality image. High-quality video is always recommended if you can do it, but your church members may encounter issues watching HD live video if they have slow internet connections. One option to avoid this problem is multistreaming, which lets you broadcast an HD video on one platform and an SD video on another, simultaneously. This way, viewers can choose the option that suits them best.
Frame rate is the frequency (per second) at which video frames appear on a display; it’s the speed at which the consecutive images are shown to create video. The most common frame rates are 24, 30 and 60 frames per second (fps). The principles that apply to video resolution and the way it affects the final image also work for frame rates — the more frames per second, the higher the image quality you get.
Tip: If you plan to use multiple cameras, make sure the resolution and frame rate settings are the same for all of them.
Lighting for church live streams
No matter how well your camera works in low-light conditions, you can still end up with poor image quality if the light in your church is too diffused. Installing additional lighting can help improve the quality.
If you’re new to lighting design, we recommend trying an easy three-point scheme. In this setup, the pastor stands in the center of the platform, and the camera is placed in front of them at eye level. Put two light sources at 45 degrees ahead of the pastor, one on each side of the camera. Then, put one more light source behind the pastor, which helps eliminate any dense shadows created by the first two lights.
If there are more people you want the camera to capture, you may want to install more lighting sources or apply adjustable lighting that can be controlled from a single system.
Other accessories for church live streaming
In addition to recording and lighting gear, there are several other accessories churches will need to go on air.
- Tripod to ensure video stabilization
- Microphone so everyone can hear the church leader clearly
- HDMI cable to get the video feed from the camera
- HDMI extender if your camera is separate from the PC
- Video switcher to switch between multiple cameras or video signals
Audio and video bitrates
After deciding on the video resolution and frame rate, it’s time to select the bitrates you’ll use to record your video. The bitrates define the data volume packed in one second of audio and video being recorded; bitrate measures how quickly your internet connection can upload live video and broadcast it to your audience.
Audio bitrates are lower than video bitrates. 64 kbps and 128 kbps are two of the most frequently used settings, but some real-time streaming services like YouTube support 320 kbps audio bitrates. Before you choose a platform to stream to, find out what are their recommended audio bitrates so you can make the best selection.
Video bitrate changes depending on the video resolution. The recommended settings are:
- 13 Mbps for Full HD (1080p)
- 6 Mbps for HD (720p)
- 3 Mbps for SD (480p)
Remember that a high resolution at a high frame rate, together with a high bitrate, makes for the highest-quality video.
Another tool that will play a significant role in your church live streaming setup is streaming software, also known as an encoder. Encoders transfer the information your camera and mics capture into a communicable format for broadcasting services. Depending on your purposes, you can choose either software or hardware encoders. Both have advantages, but a software encoder is usually better for those just starting out or those looking for cheaper, more accessible solutions.
The setting closely associated with encoders is bandwidth. In live streaming, video bitrates are limited by the uploading and downloading bandwidth of broadcasters’ and their viewers’ networks. Higher data volume requires more bandwidth.
If the viewer has limited bandwidth, your live video will be streamed in a lower resolution and frame rate, which worsens the viewing experience. Fortunately, there are adaptive bitrate streaming platforms that allow for automatic resolution optimization and overcoming network limits.
Tip: Make your live stream more successful by calculating the approximate minimum upload bandwidth. Get the total video bitrate and total audio bitrate and multiply by 1.5 or 2 to get the required upload bandwidth. Run speed tests on different days and at different times to get the average value. The latter will show if you need to request more bandwidth from your ISP.
What is the best live streaming platform?
Once you’ve set up a camera, lighting and audio equipment, you may wonder which live streaming site is best to use.
Facebook Live lets you broadcast directly to a Facebook profile, page or group. It’s a great option because it's free and so many people actively use it — Facebook has 2.89 billion monthly active users.
To use Facebook Live and reach an audience, your church will need a Facebook page. Facebook’s live streaming platform is user-friendly, so you don't need a degree in digital content to start live streaming your church service. You can let your audience engage with your church on a social network they’re already familiar with by streaming to Facebook Live.
YouTube live streaming is another simple option that many churches take advantage of already. YouTube Live is free, though there are paid services available.
With two billion monthly active users (and even more who don't actually sign in to use their services), YouTube is a guaranteed way to reach your audience. The fact that users can access YouTube without signing in is part of why it has become so popular. It's not necessary to keep track of passwords or make sure your account is set for viewing services — all your viewers have to do is follow a link directly to your video.
IBM Cloud Video
IBM Cloud Video, formerly known as Ustream, is an easy-to-use live streaming tool that allows members to stream from a web browser or directly from a mobile device. IBM Cloud Video is popular because it offers members different ways of interacting with their audiences while streaming.
The platform has the option to notify members by email when you post new videos, so your congregation will always be in the know.
The choice between a social media website or a real-time streaming platform can be challenging since both have their pros and cons. But if you use Restream, you don’t have to choose; you can multistream to several platforms at once.
Restream lets you broadcast your church service to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other preferred streaming platform simultaneously. Your congregation can interact with your church on the platform that is most convenient for them. Creating an account with Restream is free and you don’t need any technical knowledge to link your Facebook or YouTube channels to your Restream account.
How to live stream a church service
Once you know which platform or platforms you plan to stream to, you can start preparing for your first live stream! Many people think that live video is spontaneous. While it can be ad hoc, the most successful live streamers spend significant time organizing and preparing their content to get the most out of the live video experience.
Here are the steps you’ll want to take to help ensure your first live videos are well received.
Research other church live streams
If you’ve never watched a live video, you should. It's helpful to see how others are using the technology so you can brainstorm ways to adapt those techniques to your message. If you know of other churches that make their services available live online, check those broadcasts out specifically.
Plan for errors and mistakes
Live video intimidates many people who are afraid that things could go wrong when they’re live. Something can always go wrong, but there are usually steps you can take to mitigate these risks. Live videos also give your audience a sense of authenticity and personability.
Decide which programs in your church are the best fit for live video. You can probably get more value from adapting a program specifically for going live, rather than just running it as normal and sticking a camera in front. For example, the pastor may give a short, separate sermon directly to the camera and interact in real time with the congregation. These live stream sermons can be scheduled at times when the ideal audience is most active.
Outline your broadcast
Once you decide the tone and structure of your first live video, make an outline or run of show. Consider how you want the live video to go, the topics you plan to discuss, and the questions you want to use to prompt your audience to comment and engage. Then write it all down! Keep in mind that you’ll see your viewers’ comments in real time, so part of your live video should incorporate these interactions.
Before you go live, do some rehearsals — especially if you’re just getting your feet wet with video. Try to test your content in the same location and at about the same time of day that your live video will take place so you'll know how noise and light work for your video. Ask yourself: Does the focus of your video shift at all? Will you need to change the camera angles or adjust the lighting?
Promote your service
Let your congregation know that you’ll be launching a live stream. In the weeks beforehand, share information on the platform where people will watch the live stream and how they can engage. If you plan to live stream your church services regularly, these live video announcements should become a regular part of both your social content and your printed church schedules.
Finally, go live!
Hit that “Go live” button! Whether you decide to do a special kind of service specifically for your live video or simply live stream your regular service, the experience will give you a new and dynamic way to connect with your church’s community.
Helpful tips to give your live stream a boost
Make the most of your church live stream by sticking to a few tips and best practices.
1. Choose the right equipment
For smaller congregations, or if you're just starting out, a decent smartphone or tablet will do just fine — and they’re super easy to connect to live streaming services. If you're a larger congregation, you should invest in higher-quality equipment, which is just as easy to use with social media these days. Many automatically connect to social platforms.
2. Start small
Don’t try to do too much the first few times you stream. Remember to:
- Do a test run.
- To work out the kinks, try individual videos with church leaders speaking for 10 to 20 minutes on a specific topic.
- Always stream the most popular service if you offer more than one at different times. Try streaming services with lower attendance rates, too. You may get more traffic online.
3. Reach a bigger audience with multistreaming
Multistreaming, or simulcasting, broadcasts your live video stream simultaneously to multiple channels to help you get the most out of your live church service.
How to multistream with Restream
Restream is a simple and free-to-use multistreaming service that integrates with over 30 popular live streaming platforms. Here's how to get started:
- Create an account at Restream.io.
- Choose the platforms you’d like to stream to.
- Add your preferred channels to your Restream account.Choose your broadcasting preferences.
You can find the full setup details in our support center article.
Restream also offers a live studio, which lets you go live directly from your web browser. You won’t need any extra software or hardware if you use Restream Studio, and you can control several features of your live broadcast easily, including:
- Inviting guest speakers who aren’t physically present at church that day
- Adding your church logo
- Uploading a custom background or custom lower-third graphics
- Sharing an image or presentation from a computer screen
- Playing a pre-recorded video during the stream
- Displaying comments from church members via the live chat
4. Promote on social media
Use your existing personal accounts, as well as your church profiles, to reach out to your audience. Let them know when you will be live streaming and which events they can look forward to in your posts.
Also, you’ll get more traffic if people are referred to your videos by their friends. Events that are solely promoted by their event creators tend to not attract as big of an audience.
Consider including church members in your live stream to help motivate sharing. For example, you can invite your youth group to prepare a contribution or regularly host "guests" from your congregation. Members of your church who are included in the streaming process will do a lot of promotion for you.
If you use a social networking platform such as Facebook to broadcast your church services, you can use Restream’s event planning feature to schedule an event with a custom link you can share on your church’s Facebook page. You can also enable alerts that will send your followers notifications when your live video is about to start.
5. Remember your audience
With live video, your audience can grow significantly and is almost always larger than just those who are in the pews. Now that you've successfully set up your live streams (and let your users know when and where to find them), it's extremely important to include your entire audience in your videos.
Make sure to engage with your online audience as much as your in-person audience. Use the chat and commenting functions to help online viewers feel included. If you multistream on several platforms with Restream, you can use our chat feature to keep track of chat conversations from each platform, all in one central hub.
6. Schedule your live video
You can save yourself time and stress by uploading and scheduling pre-recorded videos to play as live videos. This benefit isn't available on most platforms, but it’s offered in a few third-party tools, including Restream. Create an edited, polished video, then upload it to Restream and set a date and time for it to broadcast on your favorite platforms.
No matter what you decide to try, don't be afraid to take the first step. Even a little bit of authenticity through live video can go a long way toward building a vibrant online community around your church.
What is the best way to live stream a church service?
The best way to stream a church service is to choose the right equipment and streaming platform, prepare your setup, create an outline for your broadcast, do a test run, and start streaming. Streaming with more than one camera so you can switch angles adds variety to the stream and makes it more engaging.
How do I start a virtual church service?
You can start a virtual church service by gathering some basic streaming equipment (webcam, microphone, lights, computer or smartphone) and choosing a free platform to go live. To start off with, you can stream to your church’s social media channels, such as Facebook, YouTube or even Twitter. Once you’ve gotten the hang of live streaming, you can upgrade to a bigger setup.
What equipment is needed to live stream a church service?
The basic equipment you’ll need is a camera, microphone and a device to stream with. You could stream a church service with just a smartphone, but the quality won’t be great. Consider getting one or more cameras; multiple microphones for speakers, singers and the band; a switcher to help you manage your input sources; a laptop; and streaming software.
Does live streaming affect church attendance?
If you make your church service available online, you may have fewer people show up in person. Just because someone is joining your service virtually, it doesn’t mean they’re not engaged. By live streaming your church service, you may actually end up with a higher number of engaged members, because they can view and participate in your service from the comfort of their own homes.
Live video streaming comes in very handy when you want to spread the word online about your church and encourage more people to join your community. Many churches have tried broadcasting and have seen fewer people leave the church as a result. Not only do they engage the parishioners who cannot physically attend the sermons, but they also bring the church straight to people's hearts and inspire them to join.
To go live with church services, it’s not mandatory to invest in high-budget equipment with feature-rich functionality. A volunteer-friendly camera, along with a tripod, microphone and HDMI cable, works just fine. With a little work to set up the camera, audio and lighting, as well as scheduling the video stream, you can end up gathering hundreds of people around your church service broadcast, no matter what gear you use.
If you don’t want to limit yourself to one streaming platform, try Restream to expand the number of viewers you’ll reach.