Streaming your church service, whether it is via audio/video podcast or live video stream seems like quite an undertaking. This is especially true if you are brand new to the process. How do you know if streaming is even right for your congregation and your church's DNA? To find out you have to first ask yourself some tough questions and do some soul searching.
So what in the world do you ask yourself when it comes to considering streaming? Like all endeavors we take on, when considering streaming church services the first thing to ask is why.' Where is your heart at? If you are simply looking to be known, to be big, or to do what everyone else is doing, then you might want to reconsider streaming altogether.
If, on the other hand, you genuinely want to reach those for Christ who may be too apprehensive to walk through a church's door, then you are moving in the right direction. If you want to create a way for congregates that are shut in or temporarily physically away from the church community to still feel connected, be discipled and contribute to the mission of Christ, then press on—you are on the right track.
If you want to stream online as part of a multisite service to give your church a regional reach with the Gospel, then you too have it figured out. This is where your heart needs to be in order to have a successful online ministry.
Is Your Church Outward?
Now it is time to take a good hard look at your congregation. Are they ready for streaming? Do they have an "others first" mentality, and are they consciously "preparing a place" for the people that aren't there yet? Are they willing to step up and provide the resources of money and time that are necessary to make your streaming service as excellent as possible? Will they continue to lead, volunteer and minister at the church if they have the easier option of simply staying home and logging on right in front of them every week?
These are all difficult questions, but they must be answered honestly if you want to seriously know whether or not streaming will work at your church. Eric Dye, missionary and Programs Director for Open Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma says that there are plenty of positives to streaming, but there are also negatives. As church leaders we have to develop a game plan on how to minimize the negatives before we simply jump into the endeavor with both feet.
"As we push, promote and develop internet technology in the church, we must keep in mind that any of it can turn ugly," he said. "An individual that is solely a church member via a church stream is no member at all."
Dye is referring to the possible church shopper that decides to check out your service online. He may like the service. He may continue to tune in each week. He may even begin to tithe online. Does this make him a member of the church community?
"[This is] a church viewer, not a church attender," Dye says. "The church shopper' never steps foot on campus."
"They read blogs, leave comments, and even have some Twitter connections with church members. They are active online, but there is no connection to their daily life. There is only a connection online."
Despite this lack of connectedness that streaming could possibly foster, however, Dye himself admits that it is still a very useful tool, and when it is done correctly it brings glory to God and advances His kingdom. If you are on the fence about streaming, take a moment now to consider some of the positives that it brings.
Steve Lacy, Founder and President of StreamingChurch.TV, says that streaming church services live and enabling them to be seen at a later time is one of the biggest ways to ensure church growth. He says that having online services gives church members an excellent low intimidation tool that can be used to invite their friends.
"Members can say, Yeah, check out my church this weekend. We broadcast our services online at mychurchwebsite.com,'" Lacy said.
Lacy says that this easy step of checking out an online service does not create church viewers, but actual attenders and members. He points to his own church where the proof is in the pudding. He says that his home church has quadrupled in attendance (to over 1000 attendees a weekend) in less than 2 years since they began streaming live. That is actual "physically in church" attendance, not simply pairs of eyes on a computer screen.
Along with the massive growth potential, streaming also provides an avenue where people can still feel connected to the church even at times when they are physically unable to attend worship services. Not only that, but streaming can be the catalyst behind a church launching simultaneous multisite services. Austin Moore, a representative for Streaming for Jesus.com, says that this possibly alone should not be taken lightly. The simultaneous multisite services are powerful ways to awaken and engage an entire region while the whole world is watching online.
"A very powerful benefit [of multisite streaming] is the ability to carry over the main campus preaching style to all sites," Moore said. "This brings a harmonious style that you can't get with onsite preaching pastors Most of the time, people are accustomed to the main campus preaching."
Finally, after putting yourself and your staff through the wringer considering the pros and cons to streaming for your church, now what do you do? Moore says that the most important thing that church leaders can do is to ask detailed questions of the streaming service provider.
Finding a Service Provider
"Ask hard questions about how the workflow happens," he said. "[Find out] what the weak points are and who developed [the system]."
Streaming for Jesus.com worked extensively with Church of the Rock in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Lead Pastor Mark Hughes is pleased with the work that Streaming for Jesus did to not only keep the church's various sites connected, but keep the online community connected as well. Moore says that Hughes and his team encountered trouble with network connectivity that Streaming for Jesus had to remedy.
The network would drop capacity and this resulted in disrupted video delivery, Moore explained. He and his team decided to develop a solution that would download individual video segments from Akamai, the content distribution network that Streaming for Jesus employs, and play them back locally. The solution was more than satisfactory for Hughes and the audience at Church of the Rock.
"Picture this; you have 300 people watching the video of your main campus and the video stops or buffers, for 10 seconds, 30 seconds whatever it may be," Moore said. "That [scenario] reflects on the entire church's image. How many people will return if this happens week after week?"
Moore says that it's imperative for a church considering streaming services to be willing to pepper a service provider with every question or concern that leadership can think of.
"Did the provider develop the service in-house," Moore suggests. "Do they have full control of the solution? How long will our signal continue if our Internet drops off? Literally anything that you can think of is fair game and should be asked of service providers."
Church of the Rock brought these questions to Streaming for Jesus, and together the church and the streaming provider developed a media system that works nearly flawlessly not only among the church's three campuses, but also across all of Canada and the world through its online church.
Based on Church of the Rock's experience, it is clear that customer support and service response is paramount in selecting a streaming provider. Rob Desilets, who has over twenty years of experience in software development and is one of the founding partners ofchurchstreaming.tv fully agrees.
"Whether your viewers are across the globe, at home sick, or on vacation, they will rely on your live stream to be on time and perfect each week," Desilets says. "Pricing and features do not matter if your stream is down and no one is immediately available to help you troubleshoot and get your stream back online quickly."
Free Trial Runs
Desilets recommends trying various streaming providers that offer free trial runs. During the free trial period open a support ticket either before or during a live stream. He says you should get out a stopwatch and time how long it takes for a support staffer to assist you.
"If you don't get a response within five minutes, [then] cross the provider off of your list," Desilets says. "Assuming that you do get a fast response, verify they can remote in to your computer using commercial support software and properly diagnose problems before moving forward with the company."
Along with service and response time, Desilets says that churches should steer clear of providers who include advertisements all over their broadcast, as well as those using embedding. Of course, cost should always be a consideration. He says churches should strive to find a provider who offers broadcasts for all types of devices and one who does not use contracts or commitments. Freedom to leave streaming providers is important because the technology continues to improve rapidly. Another provider who more adequately meets a church's needs might come along at any given time.