video, streaming, church, technology
In most cases, those of you who are considering a streaming program, you are most likely considering distribution across a social media platform like Facebook or YouTube.

Video Streaming: Set a Strategy and Get Started!

Today, a genuine HD video streaming workflow is within arm’s reach, and, in some cases, may even be in the palm of your hand, as many of you will be reading this on a smartphone.

Browsing through Facebook on a Sunday morning (before or after you attend your local church, of course), you might think that many churches have interpreted Mark 16:15 as, “…Go into all the world and stream the Gospel to all creation.”

In reality, that may be taking the concept a little too far. Even so, I would maintain that the ministry of the modern church is enhanced, and certainly does reach more people, through the use of immediately available media streaming resources.

Streaming church services certainly is not new to any of us.

For more than 20 years, churches have embraced and leveraged the video streaming medium. Back in 1999 (yes, dating myself here), I vividly recall engineering video streams that required thousands of dollars in equipment, software, server infrastructure, network, and manpower to deliver a stream offering a quality level which was a mere fraction of the quality we expect today, now using standard streaming workflows.

Today, a genuine HD video streaming workflow is within arm’s reach, and, in some cases, may even be in the palm of your hand, as many of you will be reading this on a smartphone.

With this vast array of resources, at our fingertips, the difficult part isn’t necessarily an issue of finances and resources, but more contends with the challenge by setting a proper strategy in selecting a streaming workflow that will benefit your church in the context of who you are and what you are able to manage.

With the resources we have available, it’s less an issue of technology and more how your content will connect with the person viewing it on the other end.

In most cases, those of you who are considering a streaming program, you are most likely considering distribution across a social media platform like Facebook or YouTube. As you proceed, think about the identity of your congregation and ask yourself, “which social media network represents our church?”

In a recent social media presentation, a colleague of mine succinctly made a case for setting the proper context in selecting a social media destination. This really helped me understand which social media networks to use when targeting particular types of content:

Facebook Live – Perfect for connecting with family and friends

Twitter – Events that are happening right now

YouTube – Curated content for global consumption

There are many other services and options, but the point I want to make is that some churches should be on Twitter, providing a type of content to the demographic who is seeking cutting edge “right now” content.

Inversely, Facebook captures a more sentimental, broad range of people who relate and connect more than feed on trendy, late-breaking content.

On the other end is YouTube, the second largest search engine on the Internet, with a global reach, offering less viral and more informative content.

Working through “who you will be” in your online presentation, the technical elements will fall right into place. As a church, reaching people who are prime for your content is very exciting, and meaningful, while setting up and investing money and time into streaming, with little to no relevance in a particular social media community, can be discouraging.

I don’t think streaming is a “large church vs. small church” issue.

With more resources, the quality of a presentation will improve, but the relevance will always be measured by the human connection. You may be broadcasting a multi camera production, with 4k video, reaching 10 people while a pastor with a mobile phone, broadcasting from his office, may reach 1,000 people, because he’s at the right place, at the right time.

Once of the growing trends that I see in the live video space is using live video to sell products online. There are individuals and companies, who are using channels like Facebook Live and YouTube, that are developing an incredible following. We’re talking about average people who have learned to use live streaming as a virtual rummage sale. It may sound silly, but as they persist in selling their wares, believe it or not, using a live stream, viewers develop a connection and loyalty to the personalities hosting these streams.

Speaking with a very successful person, growing a business on this use case, they shared a story about a woman who started a Facebook Live stream called “Taco Tuesday” where she schedules a Tuesday night stream, asking her followers to grab some tacos and logon. No studio. No professional cameras. No directors or producers – just a nice lady, showing off some used stuff and eating tacos online. This stream has thousands of followers, with a “set the VCR” mindset in people making time to not miss this broadcast, which they’re deeply connected to.

I think that church streaming is more likely to connect with people when the experience conveys authenticity and humility. Presenting your church in a genuine manner should be the center from with your streaming program should flow. The technology is the easy part.

Consider the simplicity in getting started streaming using these elements:

Camera and a Microphone

An obvious start, but you have to be able to digitize your service.

If you don’t have a camera, you can start with a smartphone, or consider purchasing a simple HD video camera, most which offer live video over HDMI. Nearly all video cameras offer a condenser mic, or you can like grab some sort of audio feed from your soundboard.

Encoding Device

The encoder provides the bridge between the video/audio signal and the digital, streaming video world. Its job is to receive the HDMI video/audio signal, from the camera, and convert it into a digital stream of data, which is sends to a video server for distribution.

Encoders are available as a software option (requiring a computer and a capture card) or they function as a standalone component, with everything you need in a small appliance.

Internet Service

With the stream encoded, a conduit is needed to get the data to a streaming service (or video server) where it can be packaged for mass-consumption. This requires an internet connection. A typical business broadband Internet connection will suffice, provided you have at least 4-5 Mbps of upload capability.

Streaming Service

A streaming service, running in the “cloud,” will prepare and distribute your broadcast. There are many options at this level, including the ability to transcode the streaming into multiple speeds, recording to a media file, distributing globally, and, very importantly, sending a copy of the stream to one or many social media services.

As a baseline, I would choose a service that can distribute the video to your church website, and target to a social media network, like Facebook. Paying for a service will provide you with technical support and a guarantee that your stream will be stable and consistent.

Media Player

An often-overlooked element, a media player is the video itself, being viewed on a mobile device or computer. Your streaming service and/or social media network will provide options to embed a player in your website, but you must have a web page to display it!

If you’re only streaming to social media, this isn’t such a big deal, but when distributing to your website, you will need to take time to assemble a web page and integrate your player.

Getting started is easy. Here’s an example:

Camera: Canon VIXIA HF R800 ($250)

Encoder: Magewell Ultra Stream HDMI ($300 – coming out soon)

Distribution: Facebook Live (Free)

Player: Facebook Player (embedded in church website)

These solutions can vary greatly, again, depending on budget and time to discover, test, and integrate.

What’s most important is that you execute your media strategy and get started streaming.

While taking time to learn and discover, be sure to approach your project with an active, move-forward mindset.

Consulting a church recently, the team wanted to get started streaming, but they were badly overthinking the workflow. Their executive pastor had become frustrated, because he had mandated a Facebook Live program, understanding that this was an ideal strategy for them.

My advice? Stop talking and start doing.

They happened to have more than enough resources to get started, they just needed a push unto the deep end of the pool.

It all worked out, quite well, because the leadership had set the strategy, we just needed to make the technology work, which was much easier than anticipated.

Remember, you can always upgrade and make adjustments, as you develop and grow this ministry.

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