In Layman's Terms: 5 questions for livestreaming

Todd Seifert


We have to come to grips with the reality that the days are long gone when all we need to do is make sure someone is on time on Sunday morning to open up the doors so people can come flooding in to hear a sermon.
These days, people look at “church shopping” much like they envision shopping for a new car. They go online and look through a church’s website, paying attention to such things as what activities the church has for their kids. And if there’s a link there to a livestream, you just may have a chance to get them to “test drive” your church.
I’ve received a few more phone calls than usual over the past week asking about livestreaming for the local church. The callers have correctly discerned that livestreaming their worship services could be an important evangelism tool. While the Holy Spirit may, indeed, lead newcomers to any church to Christ, we can use the gifts provided by technology to help set up that encounter with our loving God.
Some churches are better equipped to livestream a service than others. And every church has circumstances unique to it regarding the worship space, such as what the trustees will allow and sensitivities to the congregation in general. But I wanted to provide you with five questions to answer within your church’s leadership team so you are best prepared to get started if you decide livestreaming is for you.

1. Are you prepared with a streaming license?

All churches should have a CCLI license. This license allows you to project lyrics in the sanctuary and to reprint lyrics and liturgy from hymnals for special worship sheets or in bulletins. You need an CCLI license for streaming, but you also need what is known as a streaming license. This is another product you can find on, and it covers you from a legal standpoint because you, basically, are going to be broadcasting copyrighted material over the Internet and, therefore, potentially across state lines.
Streaming license pricing starts at $62 per year for a congregation with an average worship attendance up to 199 people. The price rises to $89 per year for congregations with 200 to 499 in worship attendance and then rises to $116 per year for churches with an average worship attendance of 500 to 999 people.
The cost is reasonable and provides the coverage you need. Plan for the expense, but because it’s an annual fee, don’t purchase the license until a week or two before you are actually ready to start streaming.

2. Who will operate the equipment?

I know, this might be getting the cart before the horse, but it’s important to know the skills of the people who you think will be working with the equipment you buy. You probably should have three to five volunteers ready to help with the stream, with the idea that you’ll need one to two people every week. And make sure they are all from different families.
Why? Let’s say the equipment you choose requires two people to run your stream, and you have three volunteers. If two of those folks are from the same family, and they go on vacation, you suddenly don’t have enough people to run your livestream.
Bottom line: Aim for four or five volunteers.
And are those people tech savvy already? People can be taught how to run a video camera, use a switcher to move between cameras and start a livestream. But you need to know going in how much training will be required.

3. What is your budget?

Let’s be honest, livestreaming is a really cool service to offer. It can reach people who don’t know you yet and can be a great tool to reach shut-ins or people who are sick on any given Sunday. If you have $50,000 sitting around, you probably can outfit your sanctuary fairly easily. But if your budget is less than that — in many cases far, far less — you’ll have to make choices.
Some equipment to consider — and this is far from a comprehensive list:
  • Cameras — Do you want a single camera, or do you want at least two so you can change between angles for viewers at home? If you choose the multi-camera option, you’ll need a switcher to allow you to move between the cameras. This is a one-time expense, but you’ll have to keep in mind replacement costs at some point.
  • Computer — Whether it’s a higher-end laptop or a solid desktop model, you’ll need a computer to handle the software and to serve as your portal to the Internet for your livestream. Make sure it has a fast processer and plenty of memory (think RAM) to handle the stream. A good graphics card would be helpful as well. Again, this is a one-time cost but has a significant replacement expense.
  • Internet connection — Upload speed is essential for a livestream. This depends on the resolution you are shooting. If you are uploading at 480p you only need about 3 megabites per second. If you’re broadcasting at higher definition, you’ll want more than 10 Mbp per second, with 14 being preferred. This is an ongoing, usually monthly, expense.
  • Streaming service — You’ll need a service that takes your stream and prepares it for the Internet. If you’re just using Facebook Live, then you can skip this step. But not everyone is on Facebook, and if you want to host the stream on your website, you really need to take this step. The conference uses Wowza Media Systems, but there are many other options out there. This is an ongoing cost, paid monthly or annually.
  • Audio equipment — More on that in the next section.
As you can see, you’ll need to budget for the upfront cost of equipment and installation. You’ll also need to factor in monthly and annual fees for budgeting purposes going forward.

4. Do you have the necessary audio equipment?

This is where some churches fall far short of what is needed. When we think “livestream,” we tend to think “visual.” And that is true. But it also means that everything — and I mean everything — that happens in a service has to be microphoned.
Why? Let’s look at this common scenario: A service begins, and after a call to worship, the congregation stands and sings a hymn, with the piano or organ as the accompaniment instrument.
The folks in the pews can hear the music just fine, and they are singing along. What does the person at home here during all this? Absolutely nothing!
It’s dead air. And dead air means people get confused or frustrated that they aren’t able to take part, and they leave. And once someone leaves an unfamiliar livestream, the likelihood of that person giving you a second chance is almost zero. It’s like test driving the car that doesn’t accelerate the way you expect or that has uncomfortable seats. It’s crossed off the list of possibilities.
That may sound harsh, but it’s our reality.
I suggest you take the following into account:
  • A soundboard with enough channels to accommodate the number of microphones you’ll need to get sound from everything going on in worship. You also will want to make sure the soundboard has a good output for your computer so you can get clean sound from your service to the livestream.
  • Microphones for the chancel and the congregation are important. These are microphones that hang from the ceiling or other structures so they don’t impede vision. Usually, they are barely noticeable. You’ll want one or two wherever your choir will sing, and you may want a microphone over each set of pews about halfway or two-thirds of the way back to pick up audience singing. If you aren’t going to microphone the congregation, you likely will want to have a worship leader singing into a microphone during hymns. It will help the livestream, and I think you’ll be pleased with how that helps the congregational singing as well.

5. What do you already have?

I think this goes without saying, but before you purchase equipment see what you already have and how it can be put to use. Maybe you already have a computer with enough power to do the job. You may already have cameras and tripods. Your soundboard may be large enough already.
My point is fairly simple: Take a full inventory of what is already on hand. But, just as importantly, if you don’t have what you need to stream effectively, purchase the equipment necessary so the viewer has a good experience.
Answering these five questions will not have you ready to livestream your service by this Sunday, but they will help you get started down the road to broadcasting your worship service.
We didn’t even get into rehearsals prior to launching a livestream, selecting a company to install your equipment or, most importantly, making sure your content is up to par before launching a livestream.
I’ll share some thoughts on that in weeks to come.

Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 785-414-4224, or via email at Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.