The concept of live streaming church services has been around for a while. In fact, you could go back to some larger churches having broadcast ministries to share their services on local television or radio stations in their cities.
The good news is these days it’s much easier to get your church service out to the general public or even just to members who aren’t able to attend in person. Many churches and ministries had a crash course in live streaming out of necessity during the pandemic in 2020, but even when people can attend in person again, live streaming is here to stay.
It’s okay to start small with just a phone
Church live streams can be as complicated or as simple as you want. Don’t be afraid to start small and get SOMETHING available for your community. While it’s great to want to do everything with excellence, you shouldn’t take on a burden that’s too complicated right out of the gate. A member of your church with a tripod, their smartphone, and a mount for it, and a little knowledge of social media can get a basic stream posted. Facebook Live is one user-friendly option for live streaming church services. Anyone with an account can log in and “go live” on Facebook to broadcast your services. You may try placing this person near the front of the auditorium so they can show more detail for those watching on their small screens at home.
Modern smartphone cameras are as good if not better than most lower-end camcorders, so don’t let the concept of your camera being a phone make you feel like your video quality isn’t as good. While the audio may have some ambient noise coming from just a phone microphone in the room, the technology that processes the sound on newer smartphones should still do the job of getting your music and spoken word heard on the other end of the live stream of your church service.
Take some next steps to improve your stream
If setting up your phone to stream on social media sounds simple enough, and you’re ready to take a small step up in quality, consider adding an audio feed to your church live streaming setup. This is one of the easiest ways to add the most quality if it is done well. You can purchase a cable and adaptor that will take a feed from the soundboard you likely already use for your worship services and feed it into your smartphone for live streaming. That way, you’ll have a direct source from the pastor’s microphone, the microphones for the worship leader and vocalists, and all of the instruments. It can sound much clearer than your smartphone microphone from somewhere in the room.
The caveat is, you will need someone (like your sound engineer) to monitor the feed that’s being sent to the stream and make sure you have proper levels. If your soundboard has an extra auxiliary send, the sound engineer should be able to use headphones or in-ear monitors to adjust the mix separately from the live sound mix for your auditorium. They can balance things and add extra reverb, etc., so that music and speech sound lively and not too dry or dull since the live stream of your worship service won’t sound exactly like the room sounds. As you get more advanced, you can even add “crowd microphones” to capture some of the room sounds to mix into your live stream.
A great way to dip your feet into the water of taking a direct audio feed into your worship live stream is to simply use a copy of the “house mix” at first. That means, instead of having to adjust all the levels separately, you can just take an output from the soundboard that is the same signal being sent to the speakers in your auditorium. Although it won’t offer as much control, it will get a clearer signal and won’t require as much work. After all, one of the most distracting things that can happen with a church live stream is not being able to hear properly.
Transition to a computer-based system or multiple cameras
If you already have experience with simple streaming with a phone but want to take the live stream of your church service to the next level, you can introduce a computer into the equation. While there are hardware devices called “video mixers” that can do this as well, many are quite expensive. So, the next step for a lot of churches who live stream is to use a computer with software to accomplish what a video mixer would do: route your video and audio feed to your preferred streaming service.
While there are many paid and free live streaming software options available, one free and very functional one to look at when you’re starting out is OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). You can use any camera that will feed into your computer, from a webcam to a DSLR camera into a video capture card to a smartphone equipped with the OBS camera app. And because you’re using the computer as the streaming control center, you can feed multiple cameras and video/audio sources into the computer and use the features of OBS to transition between them, mix them, or otherwise manage them. There are even technologies like NDI (also mostly free and open source) to allow wireless connection of video devices on your network, from phones and cameras to computers and video hardware.
You will first need to set up all your video inputs and an audio input (audio would work similarly to how we discussed earlier plugging a feed from your soundboard into your smartphone, except a computer will allow using more robust options, such as an audio interface). Then you can broadcast directly from OBS. To do that, you’ll need to generate a “stream key” from your social media account or streaming service, like Facebook Live or YouTube Live. When you enter that stream key into OBS, you will be able to send your church live stream to your chosen platform and “go live.”
Moving into more advanced “bells and whistles”
If you’re successfully live streaming services with your camera or multiple cameras routed into software like OBS broadcasting to YouTube, Facebook, etc. then you may start to experiment with more advanced functions of your streaming software. As you begin to implement more complicated elements to your broadcasts, you’ll notice features of software like OBS, such as the ability to delay your audio feed to make sure it is in sync with your video, which may have slight latency. Or the ability to create scenes where you transition to different video sources and bounce back and forth to them to keep things visually interesting by giving viewers more angles.
One useful thing you can do that’s relatively easy once you’ve gotten used to OBS is to overlay a feed from your worship software to show lyrics or scripture over your live camera video. Most worship software like ProPresenter or MediaShout will have the ability to create an alternate display output from what is being shown on your main screens. For instance, you could position song lyrics on the lower-third of that extra display output, with just a black background. Then use the features of OBS to remove the black background when it processes that video signal. You’ll be left with just lyrics you can show on the top of your camera feed.
If you don’t want to rely on a computer for all of this, there are hardware video mixers you can purchase to do the same thing as the examples we’ve mentioned in the OBS software. You’ll just need to do some research to find the one that has the features you want and make sure it’s compatible with your networking infrastructure and your streaming service.
Another major step to consider once you’ve become proficient with basic church live streaming is finding a space to use as a “broadcast room” at your church, outside of the auditorium where your live service is happening. It doesn’t have to be fancy! Even a small separate space will give your video operator (and broadcast audio engineer if you add a person to handle your live stream audio) a place to manage the live feed where they can experience it as a viewer would.
Other considerations like copyright and licensing
There are some licensing requirements to consider when it comes to broadcasting worship songs and displaying song lyrics on your church live stream. With that said, there are some provisions built into most streaming services like YouTube, and you can easily get covered completely with licensing solutions like the CCLI Streaming License.
The details will work themselves out
If all of this sounds more complicated than what you’re able to handle with your resources, you can also check out solutions that facilitate live streaming for you, like Boxcast or Churchstreaming.tv. No matter which route you go, live streaming your worship services is very doable. It adds a connection point not only for your church community but also those outside it who want to get to know you, and maybe even those all over the world who will benefit from your unique message as a church.
Let’s face it – there are a ton of little details you will run into that we can’t cover in this one blog post. But be encouraged that most of those will work themselves out as you go! The important thing is to get started. Don’t be afraid to start small and slowly increase your capacity as you go. Some of the largest and most influential churches started their live streams with just one camera in the back of the room.