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Live Stream Your Church Services for Almost Nothing

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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.

Computer System

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.

Camera

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 [amazon_textlink asin=’B01N7OAH3I’ text=’camcorder’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’churc0da-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ecacf710-3780-11e8-b3c9-7b494ab74dc5′]. 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]

[As an Amazon Associate, ChurchTechToday earns a small commission from qualifying purchases.]

Paul Clifford
Paul Cliffordhttp://trinitydigitalmedia.com
Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. is the creator of ChurchTechU and LearnProPresenterFast.com where you and your team can learn church tech through self-paced tutorials on your time-table. He is also the author of Podcasting ChurchThe Serving ChurchChurch Video School, and other church tech books. He releases free tech training regularly on TrinityDigitalMedia.com.

62 COMMENTS

    • I’m no longer a fan of software encoding (I prefer hardware for reliability and “other ministries don’t try and use it during the week”ability), but I’ve got to say that ecamm does look like a cool solution. I’ll look at it more.

  1. Are you able to use a camera, such as a D-Link DCS-5222L, to record worship services that would later be posted on YouTube? We would like to use at least two, if not three, cameras and also appropriate software. (I have been hearing good things about the Open Broadcast Software.) I believe we can get an audio feed from our PA system for better sound than what can be picked up from the cameras. And, as you can guess, our budget is quite low!

    • I looked up those cameras and while it’s theoretically possible, I wouldn’t recommend it. Security cameras aren’t designed for live streaming and recorded video, so they won’t give you very good video. Additionally, the fact that they’re PTZs means that some of they money they could have spent on the cameras was spent on the pan/tilt electronics. One huge problem I see is that capturing the video for OBS isn’t going to be a straightforward process since it’s displayed on a web page.

      Instead, either stick to a smart phone or get a used HD camcorder and capture that with a capture card into the computer and thus OBS. Do that and then add more slowly to deal with budget constraints.

  2. One thing I notice on your video, which happened with my ASUS is the screen lag in your video capture. Not only in screen capture, but just the regular video preview screen lags even when your not recording. Is that something you have ever had to deal with? I also was pissed at RealTek sound ,which is the default sound program on my ASUS laptop. Extremely low quality! And extremely flawed. Every time the computer updates or restarts I get this high pitched feedback that I’m pretty sure has destroyed my speakers by now. It keeps squealing until you have to manually go in and turn down the microphone. Idk man, my ASUS was a piece of shit.

    • Thanks for the comparison. Sadly Logitech sucks at software so much, that it cripples many of their products. The Brio for example has good hardware, but no way to disable rightlight3 and set gain/exposure manually, which is a nogo for streaming. The C922 for example won’t save the manual settings. At least the C920 allows to manually control the gain/exposure and saves them.

    • Hi Chris, Thanks for your comment. If you are streaming original content you shouldn’t need a license. However, if you’re streaming worship music, you’ll need to make sure you report to CCLI and follow their protocol. Also, you have to be careful with video clips, images, basically anything that others create and own the rights to.

      • She’s right. Let me expand a bit, though. CCLI’s worshipcast license covers Christian music. Church copyright association has one that’s more expensive because it also covers secular music. So pick the appropriate one for your church.

        Also, big sites like YouTube and Facebook are under no requirement to acknowledge your licenses. So, while you won’t get into legal trouble because you have them, your live-stream might still get blocked.

  3. Great article and I listed below another possible platform that can stream church services live:

    The Church Online Platform is a free tool to help you launch an online ministry. It removes the barrier of technology so churches everywhere can reach the people they are uniquely equipped to reach.

    http://churchonlineplatform.com/

    • While it’s a great tool, it’s not a media host, which is confusing to a lot of people. It’s basically a dedicated webpage for the video from your host to live on and that’s why I didn’t include it in the scope of the article. “Copy the embed code and paste it onto your website” is a lot fewer steps than “get a church online platform account, set it up the way you want with the modules you need, like chat, maps, etc. and then copy the embed code…”

      I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s not. I’m saying it’s a lot more steps and I was already close on the word limit. 😉

  4. It’s quite interesting that streaming church services is almost essential for ministries now day. I think that this is a great idea, especially to reach out to those with mental illnesses. My friend has social anxiety and depression, so she has a hard time going to church. I think I’ll share with her pastor the benefits of live-streaming.

  5. thank you so much about the information and on my case am having my laptop and my camera plus the modem(internet) wat else do i need to start live streaming?are the ones i have enough?? your help and giude please
    am in UGANDA(africa) willing to start live steaming for our ministry TRUE PROMISES as the way to spread the gospel
    God bless you
    thank you!

    • Vmix has a free software that works great and you can live stream to tons of sites and record your service at the same time.

  6. I am new to this.Are the free sites for Mass streaming reliable and worth the effort ?If so can you list a few?Thank you.Also a few of the least expensive sites for Mass streaming.

  7. Thanks for the information, it has been of great help…
    What am trying to accomplish is being able to capture video from (webcam, camcorder) and being able to input audio to it from an audio mixer, which has the mic up close to speaker… That way avoiding as much as possible audio from ambient.
    I did a search query for webcams with audio aux in but perhaps none have this available or its just the wrong search parameters. Any suggestions..?

    • It depends on the computer. The BMD mini-recorder is great for computers with a thunderbolt port (like macs made in the last 5 years, with the exception of the newest macbook).

      For software (which you will need if you are using a computer to encode), you have three choices. Open Broadcast Software (free), Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder (free), or Wirecast $500+. Adobe FMLE is very processor intensive, so make sure you’ve got a beefy computer if you go that direction.

      Praying for you. I know the region is hostile to the good news.

      Paul

  8. Thank you so much for your help.. I have some queations if you can help me with them?!
    So i’m more thinking about live streaming though youtube!! I already bought a camcorder and thought that this will be will be the answer.. But seems its more complicated!
    So i figuered that i will need a capture card between the camera and the laptop! What do u think are the best options?! And the cheapest of course.. Someone recommended blackmagic minni recorder?! What do you think?
    My other question is do i need a broadcasting software when live streaming.. Or not?? Or is it necessary??
    do you think i’ll be surprised with other stuff that i may need.. Please let me know !!!
    Thank you so much
    Btw im from nazarene church in jordan.. And im starting media ministry here .. And i believe that the good news will be spread around the middle east through media.. keef us in your prayers

  9. Hey Paul-
    I was wondering if you have ever checked out Media Fusion for church streaming? Full disclosure, it’s my company so I am not impartial. However, our target market is small and medium sized churches who want to start an online ministry that grows with them. We use Akamai as our CDN which guarantees stability, set up wizards that help the “less techy” get started as well as archive video management. Another cool feature is integration with the pad caster/ go coder app so that you can stream directly from an iPad with great quality. I’d love to talk to you more about it. We do service big churches like Hillsong and Community Bible Church but our pricing is set for small churches. Check us out: http://www.mediafusionapp.com

  10. Paul,

    Our church has started live streaming with an archive.
    http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/eastrichlandfriends

    Many of us are not happy with the service. Since our church has a school associated with it, we have two of the fastest comcast connections available to feed out the stream. I think the online service we are using is just not cutting it. We are not using their free plan.

    Can you recommend other services?

    Thanks

    • It looks promising to me. Keep in mind that if you have a large audience (although they say there’s no limit, there is a bandwidth limit), the price goes up in $25 increments.

      • The only zoom on most webcams is a digital one that degrades the quality of the image. I’d either move the camera closer or use a different camera, like a camcorder captured into the computer.

    • “Thanks for the comparison. Sadly Logitech sucks at software so much, that it cripples many of their products. The Brio for example has good hardware, but no way to disable rightlight3 and set gain/exposure manually, which is a nogo for streaming. The C922 for example won’t save the manual settings. At least the C920 allows to manually control the gain/exposure and saves them.


      Ragerds:Moses Brodin

  11. Hi Paul

    We want to stream our church service for the same reasons you mentioned.

    Would you be willing to provide more detail about your setup? Or can you provide more detailed instructions on how this capability is set up? Seems like lots of folks want to understand how to do this but googling for help doesn’t give any detail. A nice How To with some specifics on how to set up a basic low cost system would be nice.

    PS: My wife & I provide free IT work to our church. We created and manage the website, helped them setup digital internet based phone system, investigated and setup 720p IP security camera system, maintain the audio system.

    Thanks for your article
    Dave

  12. Our church was using youtube, but they shut us down because we were streaming copyrighted material. Even though we have permission through CCLI to stream our worship music, youtube still shut us down. So that is something to consider.

  13. Hi
    Thanks for the post.
    I was wondering if you could help me by telling me what type of laptop you use.
    I’ve got an older tv camera, so I’ve been told I need a laptop that has a FireWire port (500 Hd )to connect laptop to camera I think.

    So can you tell me what you recommend? I know nothing about laptops-computers, so it’s hard knowing what exactly I’m looking for.
    I would like to spend $300 on an used laptop.

    We want to live stream our open air revival service during our mission trip. Any help would be appreciated!

    Thank you
    Janet

  14. We stream with a Canon XA10 with a Blackmagic Intensity on an iMac. We use the paid version of ustream which has been somewhat reliable so far. Little no to customer service from them was disappointing. The streaming YouTube channel is interesting though.

  15. You suggest “almost nothing” in the title and then describe a bunch of equipment to buy. We can’t find a non FireWire video camera that will stream using the free services. Any specifics that cost “almost nothing” which is to say any price below $500.

  16. One thing not mentioned is licensing. If steaming the whole service, you’ll also need a streaming license for the music. CCLI offers one.

    Also, if you use Google Apps for Nonprofit, you can register for a similar YouTube account which allows for streaming.

  17. […] From Church Tech Talk Source- churchtechtoday.com […]

  18. Thank you for your article – we started streaming around a year ago in a similar way you describe. An we also done a lot of test 😉
    Now we use http://sermon.net/ as provider. Good and stable service and low fees for smal churches.

  19. We have a T1. Would that be “reliable” enough, or have enough throughput, for live streaming? During the worship services, there is minimal internet usage going on throughout the rest of the campus. We have no reliability issues with the connection. Just curious if the 1.5 up/down speed is sufficient.

    Great article!! Thank you!!

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