While live streaming was once a novelty for churches, today, it has become something many churches consider a viable part of their ministry. While some churches have large budgets, many have very small budgets–next to nothing to work with.
To review, a live stream needs to capture video of what’s going on, capture a good mix of the sound, send those into an encoder and send that to a live-streaming host for distribution to anyone who wants to watch it.
A live stream can be a wonderful option for those who can’t leave their home, military personnel stationed abroad, or families who miss church because of illness. Additionally, there are some people who won’t go to a physical church but do connect with God by watching a live-streamed service.
So how do you live-stream with almost no money?
Live Streaming Equipment
So, what’s the bare minimum that you need in order to pull it off? That depends on what you’re trying to do, but if you’re looking for the absolute minimum, it really isn’t as much as you’d think.
For any live-streaming system, you need a streaming computer, a camera (or video feed from a switcher) that can connect to your streaming computer, a reliable broadband connection, and good audio that can also connect to the streaming computer. This connects to your streaming video provider, so you’re uploading one stream and no matter how many people watch, your internet connection isn’t affected.
How basic can all this be? The streaming computer doesn’t need to be a $5,000 workstation. I wouldn’t rely on a donated Windows 98 box, but a modern multi-processor computer dedicated to running Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder (which is free by the way) should be able to handle the job.
For the camera, I recommend HD to churches for projectors and IMAG (image magnification), but for streaming, since the video is likely to be embedded into a web page and surrounded by a chat client, schedule, and old recordings, a 640×360 (half the vertical resolution of 720p) can be enough, at least to start.
You can do it with a webcam, but you need to get that close to the pastor to make it work since they don’t have zoom lenses. Make sure you have good enough lighting and can get the camera high enough that it doesn’t look like the pastor is towering over the people watching, but not so high that the people watching are looking down on the person preaching either.
A better alternative is to use a camcorder. Purely from an optical perspective, camcorders have a distinct advantage over webcams — a zoom lens. Webcams are designed to work up close. If you need to put a cam more than a few feet from the pastor, a camcorder is the right choice.
If you’re sticking with SD, you could capture via Firewire (aka IEEE 1394, DV link, iLink).
HDMI camcorders are trickier. Even though HDMI is a digital signal, HDMI ports on computers tend to be designed to send video out, not take video in. In that case, you’ll need a capture card of some sort to pull the signal in.
Internet & Streaming Provider
Probably the biggest expenses are the ongoing expense of a solid internet connection (dial-up won’t cut it here and an unreliable cellular connection won’t either. Ideally, you’d want multiple dedicated connections, but in reality, DSL or Cable Modem will probably be okay.
You can use free services like Ustream.tv or Google Hangouts, but realize that you’re paying with frustration and lack of control instead of money. If you have no budget, free is better than nothing, but ads might interrupt or you might be unable to get rid of the bar on the bottom for “other contributors.”
Dedicated services like WorshipChannels.com and ChurchStreaming.tv are somewhat better, but not free choices. ChurchTechToday also posted a great list of live stream providers here in with a helpful feature chart. I’ve worked with both of them for my site and they’re both responsive, but neither is perfect, so see what works best for you.
From my experience, I can say that live-streaming is definitely something worth trying. The traffic on my website has tripled from when I started this just a couple of months ago.
If reaching more people is what you want to do, give it a try and upgrade each piece of the puzzle until you get the right solution for your church. Never before has the cost of entry been so low.
What has been your experience with live-streaming?
[Content updated April 2018]