In Layman's Terms: Livestreaming considerations

Todd Seifert


Most of us get excited for the Christmas season. We decorate our sanctuaries with trees, wreaths and lights. Nativity scenes get dusted off and put on prominent display.

And we shift our thinking toward marketing our church in hopes of bringing in the unchurched or de-churched neighbors in our communities to our worship services. To accomplish this goal, we hang banners, update our websites and often print out cards about our ministries to hand out to guests – all of which are good things to do.

Some churches choose this time of year to decide to start livestreaming their services. The thinking is if we’re going to market the church and all it has to offer, we have to showcase what people will see. As almost everyone who has been to one of my workshops has hear me say: People shop for churches like they shop for cars. They study long and hard via the Internet long before they come in for a “test drive.” They also hear that I am absolutely convinced that recording and posting sermons and livestreaming services are two important tools for introducing people to Jesus in the 21st century.

I’m all for livestreaming worship services. But I’m even more for livestreaming worship services well. In fact, if you do it poorly, you can turn a potential guest to your worship service into a person you’ll never see walk through your door.

I suggest there are four things that you must consider before livestreaming your service:

  • Consider the equipment you’ll need.
  • Understand that anything that makes sound in your service needs a microphone.
  • You’ll need to stage your service for precious little “dead time” in transitions.
  • Decide how you will stream the service.
  • Make sure what you’re doing is legal by obtaining a streaming license.

Equipment and Microphones

Let’s start off by addressing those first two bullet points at once. If you want to do this well, then in most cases you’ll have to spend some money. Yes, using a cell phone or iPad to record a sermon works pretty well, mostly because the microphone for these handheld devices are kept on the pulpit or in very close proximity. That won’t be the case for musicians, liturgists and other worship participants.

Consider these equipment items (please note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):
  • Cameras – Will you use a fixed camera or portables? How will they connect to a switcher to allow you to change cameras?
  • Computer – Will you use a laptop or a desktop computer? Does it have enough memory, a strong enough graphics card and fast enough processor for livestreaming?
  • Microphones – Anything that makes sound has to have a microphone so people watching in their living rooms or on their phones can hear. You don’t need a microphone on a piano for people in the sanctuary, at least in most cases, but you will need it for the livestream. Have a choir? You’ll likely need microphones for how ever many parts of harmony your choir has that day, or else you may end up hearing all basses or all sopranos, depending on where the microphones are located.

No dead time

I’ve attended many a worship service when the next person or group in the order of service walks up from the congregation to stand on the chancel and either sing, provide an announcement or contribute in some other way. If you are going to livestream the entire service, make sure you take steps to train people to be in position as soon as the person or group prior to them in the order of service is complete. When you livestream, you are, in effect, directing a television program. “Dead air” will kill your audience. Think of your own habits: Do you stick around if it feels like you have to wait to see something on a video broadcast? I know I quickly lose interest and go elsewhere. I don’t think my practice is all that unique.

So if you’re going to livestream a service, keep in mind that you have to approach worship from a standpoint of staging the entire service so the flow is constant.

Decide how you’ll stream

Once you have the microphones, computer and cameras figured out, you need to make sure you know how you’re going to get your service from the sanctuary to the mobile devices and living rooms beyond your church’s walls.

The good news is you have lots of options. Services such as YouTube and Vimeo offer streaming. And, of course, there is Facebook Live. Some companies have more of a charge – mostly due to used bandwidth in the upload – that provide a high-quality appearance to your stream, but you’ll have to determine your budget. We have some fairly large churches in the Great Plains Conference that use YouTube, so that’s certainly a viable option.


Before you even consider livestreaming, make sure you have two licenses, both designed to help save you from copyright infringement and expensive legal bills. I want to be clear: If you’re only streaming the sermon, then you don’t need any of these licenses (as long as you aren’t using video clips; more on that in future blogs). These licenses are meant to protect you from paying much more expensive royalties related to the music.
  • CCLI – Legislation from the mid-1980s paved the way for copyright licensing and the creation of Christian Copyright Licensing Inc. (CCLI) Copyright law has many nuances. The first chapter of U.S. copyright law alone has more than 45,000 words! Pastors and lay volunteers can’t possibly be expected to understand all of the details. That’s where CCLI comes in. The company doesn’t write or enforce copyright law, but it provides a legal mechanism through which your church can play or perform music, download songs and lyrics for use in worship, and copy, reproduce and distribute words and images. Basically, if you’re going to print lyrics for a song sheet, have a single musician or band perform a song or lead worship, or project lyrics on a screen or wall, you absolutely must have a CCLI license. Cost is based on average worship attendance, with prices starting at $61 for a year of coverage.
  • Streaming – When you stream, you are entering the world of broadcast. It doesn’t matter if you are using Facebook Live, YouTube or some other service, a livestream means you need a streaming license. This price also is based on average worship attendance, with prices starting at $62 annually.
In future “In Layman’s Terms” blogs, we’ll tackle the issue of using movies and TV programs in worship and as part of activities in the church and what is needed to legally do so. But to quickly provide an overview, you need an additional license – known as a CVLI license – to show them. No money can be accepted for viewing, and they must be used indoors, at the address specific to the license.

I realize that’s a lot of information, but it’s important to consider these details.

Check out this video from one of our Orders & Fellowship workshops from 2017. The Rev. Bill Gepford and the Rev. Melissa Gepford share how they livestream services. They were serving in Tonganoxie, Kansas, at the time and have since moved to serve First UMC in Fremont, Nebraska. But their information is good and provides you with some helpful hints.


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.