Note: This article is from early 2012 and most of the information is now outdated. For an up-to-date look at this issue checkout the updated article I wrote for Sermons.io.
Last winter (2010-2011), from January through March, our church attendance was down nearly 30%. Between a few vacations and an intense RSV and Flu season the congregation was knocked down pretty hard. Knocked down and out (of the service), but not completely out of participation thanks to our live stream.
We've been livestreaming video of our service since we started 2.5 years ago. When we planted, I couldn't find any helpful information about livestreaming that wasn't aimed at large churches with much larger budgets than we were working with. Looking around recently for some equipment I still couldn't find a good reference. So, here's a bit of a history of what we've done at Grace Church. Hopefully it can be of help!
Diving into livestreaming isn't free, but even the smallest of churches (we started with 30 people) can participate.
To get started you'll need someone dedicated to the task of acquiring equipment, learning how it all works together, and training others to help out.
At a minimum you'll need a computer, a camera, possibly a video adapter, an audio feed from your soundboard, an internet connection, and an account with a video streaming service.
To stream your service you're going to need a computer. The computer takes the video from the camera and encodes it into a format ready for streaming via the streaming service. To be able to encode video at the quality you probably want, you'll need a relatively powerful computer. Look for something with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. If you're already using a computer for projecting words for songs, you might be able to use that computer to do double duty.
We're a portable church, and we use mostly Apple equipment, so we're using a 15" Macbook Pro. Our pastor uses it as his computer during the week.
If you're going to use a firewire video converter like the one below you'll need a computer with a Firewire 400 or 800 input.
Cost: $0 (If the computer you own will work, or you can borrow one) - $1199
When we got started we just used a cheap Logitech webcam as our video camera. The quality was low. You could barely see the stage. But it worked! It was better than nothing for the family stuck at home with sick kids.
Today you can buy a Canon Vixia Camcorder for under $300. If you're going to convert your video for uploading later (to a service like vimeo) then you'll want to get an HD camcorder.
The only requirement of your camcorder is that it has live composite or S-Video output. What this means is that the camera will output a low-def video feed at the same time that it is recording.
If you really have no plans to record your video on the camera, you can ditch the live-output requirement, and maybe even pick up an older still camera with video output.
Also keep in mind that if your camera is going to be in the back of a room you'll want a high optical zoom (10x+). You do not care at all about the term "digital zoom". "Digital Zoom" is a hoax. You only care about optical zoom.
While you're at it don't forget to get a big memory card so you don't have to deal with running out of space. 64GB SD Cards are getting cheaper every day.
If you aren't using a basic webcam, then you'll need a way to get the video stream from the camera to the computer. This is where the video adapter comes in. If you have a computer with a firewire port of some kind, then go buy one of these.
If you have USB3 on the computer, then one of these encoders from black magic would make a great solution. Here's a thunderbolt version if that's what you have to work with.
To stream live you'll need an internet connection. For the best quality you'll need something with at least a 1 Megabit Per Second upload speed. You can get away with a bit slower if you lower the quailty of the video you're uploading.
Being a portable church, we don't have any internet available to us in our building. We're now using a Verizon Jetpack.
Cost: $0 (You already have it)-$60/month
Streaming Service Account
Don't bother looking around. Just go to livestream.com and sign up now. It's free ($350/m if you don't want ads to appear in your stream) and it Just Works. They have native software for both Windows and Mac.
Download the free Procaster software.
The last thing you'll need is an audio feed from your soundboard. Talk to your sound operator about what you'll need to get a feed to your computer. Usually you'll just need a simple audio cable and maybe an adapter.
If you don't have a sound board then you'll need somekind of mic setup to get the feed for your stream.
If you're really stuck you could try just pulling in the ambient room audio from a microphone at the computer. This might get you by, but you'll be dealing with some pretty bad audio, and you'll pick up voices of anyone whispering nearby (potentially embarrassing!)
Putting It All Together
So you've spend somewhere between $79 and $3000 getting the equipment you need to be able to livestream your service. What now?
Take the video (and maybe audio depending on how you want to set things up) out of your video camera and feed it into your video converter (and thus into your computer).
Take the audio feed and either feed it into the camcorder (if you're going to record live on the camera) or into the computer doing the streaming.
Fireup the Livestream Procaster software and login to your account. Configure any settings under the preference tabs, then click "Go Live"! You're streaming!
At Grace Church, in the time since we started streaming, we've upgraded equipment and updated workflow, but the basics are all the same, and we still don't have a huge budget.
We upgraded our camera from a webcam to a camcorder + video adapter. We upgraded our tripod recently.
Here are some other options available to you as you upgrade your setup:
- Get A Better camera
- Get Multiple cameras
- Remove the ads from your streaming service
- Embed the livestream on your website
- Use the high+mobile quality streaming to give everyone a chance to view your stream wherever they are
- Promote your stream on Twitter and Facebook
This isn't the post for it, but there are a lot of great reasons to keep streaming your services for your congregation. From the sick or elderly to the mothers' cry room, there are members of your church that can't otherwise participate in your Sunday Service. A livestream helps keep them connected and ultimately builds the church. So keep on streaming.
New: All-In-One Solution
If you are looking for a true all-in-one solution, you should checkout the $500 Livestream Broadcaster. You'll still need an internet connection (until Summer of 2013 when the LTE version comes out) to get out of the building, but if you're starting from scratch this may greatly simplify things for you.
If you have any questions about live streaming feel free to ping me on twitter.