The year was 2009. Live streaming was just then emerging onto the radar of churches, wedding chapels and funeral homes. The technology was available, but it wasn’t nearly perfected. Rural areas needed more high-speed bandwidth. Churches needed different video equipment. Pastors needed to be assured that if they began offering a live stream of their church services, members wouldn’t simply stay home and tune in, donned in bathrobes and slippers.
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How did the journey of live streaming get started for me?
It all got started with this idea: “Hey, wouldn’t this be cool to put on some music concerts?” So there I was, sitting in a music recording studio with Peter Rivera, the famous drummer/lead singer of the 1970’s rock band, Rare Earth, while a new recording of “I Just Want Celebrate” exploded from the loud speakers and that oh-so-familiar R&B blues-soaked voice of Peter wailed wildly through chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge. That’s when I was first introduced to the concept of live streaming. Thus, my tech-trek began. We started making plans to live stream a series of rock concerts to benefit our local Harvest Food Bank.
But within about a month, the light bulb went on. I was thinking, “Holy mackerel, the Great Commission and Acts 1:8 — this is really here! We could literally get the gospel out to anybody and everybody, all around planet earth in a nanosecond!” And so, armed with small band of rebel forces, we set out to destroy the death star and defeat the Galactic Empire! (Can you tell my kids are watching TV in the next room while I write this?)
But it wasn’t easy. What now seems second nature to me was then a mysterious enigma wrapped in a riddle back then. Questions popped up immediately: How do I encode a live stream? How do I upload it to a global server? How does a Content Delivery Network (CDN) send our live streaming audio and video signal to viewers around the world? How can folks simply click a link online and, boom, they’re hearing/watching the gospel, building relationships, attending church services virtually, and staying connected to their home church?
Well, here’s how you do it
First of all, you may need to go shopping. But believe it or not, most of the equipment you need to get started live streaming probably already resides in a dark closet behind the control room at your church.
Here’s what you need:
- A camera
- A cable/convertor box
- A computer
- An Internet connection
Let’s talk about each item one at a time:
It’s ok to start small with the camera (you can always upgrade in the future, when you get a bigger budget). Canon makes a great little camera for about $299 that’s perfectly fine for streaming. Get a camera that has a built-in 4-pin DV connection (aka FireWire) for transmitting the bulky data load you will be sending in real-time to your streaming computer. For best results in picture quality, pick up a higher-end camera with 3CCD (a higher-end camera technology). Sony makes a great portable and lightweight camera that’s reasonably priced at around $1,499, the Sony HVR- HD1000U.
The Cable/Convertor Box
For live streaming, it’s easiest to use a FireWire cable directly from the camera to the streaming computer. You can use USB, but you must first plug it into a convertor box that has FireWire connections, and then plug it into your DV connector on your computer. Granted, there are many other configurations that will allow your computer to receive a video connection (via composite, video cards, etc.), but the key is to make the connection such that your live streaming encoder software will see the camera as a video signal and not just as an external hard drive. So, the simplest way is to use a FireWire cable as I’ve described, going straight from the camera to the streaming computer’s DV (4 pin) input.
Leaps and bounds have been made since I first starting streaming professionally in 2009. But nowadays, just about any consumer level computer or laptop comes ready to handle the massive processing power and speeds needed to effectively encode a live stream transmitted over the Internet.
For best results, use a dedicated laptop. Try not to use the one that also handles the presentation software, such as Exaltnow; it’ll explode! And please remind the volunteer running the live stream to not check his/her email, or get onto iTunes while streaming the church services. A quad-core computer is preferable, loaded with at least 8GB RAM. You can stream successfully with a dual-core processor and lesser RAM, but the more computing power you have, the better.
The Internet connection
You’ll need a high-speed Internet connection at church. Usually 10MB of download capacity and 1.5MB upload is pretty standard on any monthly package from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Now, it’s worth mentioning, for those on a really tight (small) budget, you can bypass the use of a dedicated streaming computer and just use a small “stream box”. You can get one from BestBuy or Amazon.com for $289 and it’s called Cerevo.
Our technicians at Worship Channels can show you how to connect it directly to your camera and stream right to the Internet without a computer. This alternative greatly diminishes your choices for a variety of important production values for a live-streamed broadcast. However, if you only have one camera and a stereo audio feed from the board, it will do the trick nicely.
Now the question you might be asking now is “Is there any software that’s required to run the streaming?” The answer is, yes, of course. However, the Cerevo stream box I mentioned above comes with its own software to encode the live stream, so there’s nothing to add for that hardware configuration. If you’re using a streaming computer, you can get a free download from Adobe for the encoder software called Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder. You can’t beat free!
So, let’s talk about pricing
One of the first questions I hear from folks interested in getting started with live streaming is “How much does it cost to stream my church services?” As the owner of a live streaming company for churches, I can say with confidence it actually costs less than a typical monthly cell phone bill.
At our company, we offer several different pricing plans starting as low as $99 per month. You simply select the one that’s right for you, and we help you monitor your monthly usage to make sure you are getting the best value and discounts. In fact, at Worship Channels, we give each church customer six months of unlimited bandwidth and storage so first time-users of this technology don’t have to worry about overages or surprise fees in their monthly bill. We take the worry out of the equation so the experience is easy and hassle-free.
I hope the information in this article isn’t so overwhelming that it discourages you from test-driving this great technology. There are lots of reasons to attempt this new type of online ministry. For example, a pastor-friend of mine recently pointed out that there is an entire generation of young people who have grown up on a steady diet of new technology. For them, watching a live streamed church service is a natural extension of the way that they’re comfortable interacting.
In my own research and in the polls I’ve taken, we’ve learned that a young couple who have just moved into a new area of town will watch a church’s live stream an average of six times before deciding whether or not to set foot inside that church.
There may be many reasons you may wish to start live streaming your church services. Obviously, I am a strong advocate for the use of this technology. My goal is to help every interested church get started easily and simply. In fact, if anyone reading this article wants more information, or has specific questions, please feel free to email me at any time. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. My team of technicians and I are happy to serve you 24/7. Thanks for reading, may all your online ministries be blessed.
Have a question for Shawn? Write in the comments below!
Shawn is the President of Worship Channels. A leading provider of easy-to-use online tools for your church to live stream services, weddings, pageants or funerals. Now you can create an active online ministry and keep your members connected 24/7.