Imagine if a month ago you’d said, “We’re closing down our church building for a month or so, and we will do all our ministry online.” People would have told you that it was a horrible idea. In the span of a week, things in America look quite different. Churches are now asking: “How best can we do all our ministry online now that the church build is closed for a month or so?”

During the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, some cities canceled public gatherings including school and church. What’s different now is that we have video tools available. Is it the same as meeting in person? No. There’s something about a warm handshake or a hug from another person. No amount of technology can substitute for that.

It might not feel as good to watch a live stream, but it’s better than what they had in 1918, and we should be thankful for that.

So, how do you do video-only ministry in 2020?

Myths About Video Ministry Busted

  • MYTH: I need expensive equipment to host a video ministry.
    • You don’t need a $1 million video system to live-stream your services. In fact, finding people capable of running such a system might be a problem.
  • MYTH: The equipment I have is not high enough quality to use.
    • You CAN live-stream with just a phone or tablet. Do the best you can with what you have on hand, but don’t stay stuck there when this crisis is over. Upgrade when you have the time and resources.
  • MYTH: You can stream any music you’d like for your online services.
    • You DO need a streaming license for live music, even for a non-profit.
    • Don’t live-stream prerecorded music unless you have specific, written permission to do so.

How do you do video, if you have a technical challenge doing so?

Some churches have unreliable internet or just don’t have the equipment to get good video shots during normal worship times. Others can’t get enough people together to do a live-stream on a Sunday morning. If your state has enacted a “Shelter in Place” directive, you may have even more limitations.

Instead, you can pre-record your service elements. If you can’t get a worship leader and a pastor together with someone to record them, have each record themselves with their phones (horizontal, please) and send the recording to a media-tech to piece together and upload. Google Drive and Dropbox are great platforms for sharing these types of files. Then, go into YouTube or Facebook and schedule a premiere. Make sure everyone knows to go there and you can watch together.

There’s something about live that’s better, but just like everyone you know watching a certain episode of a show, even if it is prerecorded it’s nice to have.

What equipment should I use to live stream?

It is possible to live-stream with just a phone or tablet. Try connecting your phone to the audio system with something like an iRig pre. Get the right one for the phone you’re using so your sound doesn’t depend on the built-in mic.

A solid video shot adds professionalism to any live stream. With a phone, you could take the holder off of a “selfie-stick” and connect that to a small tripod. You can also use a regular tri-pod for a larger camera, if you have one. Whatever you use, make sure your subject is lit adequately. By adding well-controlled light, you can get a better shot than just depending overhead lights.

If you’re not using a mobile device, you’ll need to capture that video somehow. If you’re capturing it into a computer for encoding, you’ll need a capture card.  Some popular models are the BlackMagic Design Ultrastudio Mini Recorder (thunderbolt 2) or the Elgato Cam link (usb). Magewell and AJA make them too.

Instead, you could connect directly to a hardware encoder, like the Epiphan webcaster x2 or Teredek Vidiu Go. These devices (and others, sometimes made for specific live streaming hosts) don’t require a computer to encode the signal.

Getting Your Live Stream Online

Step 1: Encode

With a computer, you’ll need encoding software. One free option is OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). As with most free software, it’s not as intuitive and easy to understand as some of the commercial alternatives, like Wirecast or vMix.

Step 2: Verify Internet Connection

Now that it’s been encoded, you’ll need a good internet connection.  If your ISP advertises 70 Mbps, you might think you’re fine, but that’s DOWNLOAD speed.  Check with a service like speedtest.net to see what your upload is.

For that, 720p 30fps is probably what you should aim for.  That might be more than you have, so you might need a lower resolution live stream or to upload a prerecorded video.

Step 3: Choose Your Host Platform

Now that you’re ready to send it to a host, decide if you’re willing to deal with the hassles of free ones, like Facebook and YouTube. You get what you pay for: limited support and copyright complaints, sometimes even if you have appropriate licenses.

Paid hosts don’t have that problem, but they don’t have large audiences, as YouTube and Facebook do. A good compromise could be a paid host that sends to YouTube or Facebook, too.

How to Make a Live Stream Into a Ministry

You can add live chat functions to any live stream (or pre-recorded video) with a service like ChurchOnlinePlatform.com by Life.Church.  Social Media platforms, such as Facebook and Youtube, have these features built in. ChurchOnlinePlatform is NOT a live-streaming host. It’s a page where your church can embed your video with things like live chat.

Other Ministries

For small groups & meetings, consider doing live chat with video. For this, there are several video conferencing tools that allow you to connect via video with one person or a large group. Check out the 7 Best Video Conference Tools for Church Leaders for our best options.

With options like Zoom, you can do both live streaming using the webinar feature and small groups using the meetings feature. You can also send the live stream from Zoom to Facebook and YouTube.

Doing ministry online with video isn’t easy.  It’s something that churches might have to get used to, at least for a while. By doing your best to maintain the human connection, it’s something we’ll get through together, even if we’re physically apart.

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