Live Stream Your Church Service for Free (Basically)
Many times I see churches paying thousands of dollars to stream their service live on a Sunday morning. Then, mid-size to smaller churches believe it's nearly impossible to do this on a budget and dismiss the idea entirely. The truth is, any church can stream their service live on a Sunday, and they can do it for free. But is streaming live worth it? I won’t lie to you, streaming live can be hassle and you’ll deal with many technical issues while setting it up. You probably won’t get a lot of viewers at first either, but I can promise you that people in your congregation will appreciate the option. That church member who has been in the hospital for weeks now and is missing services? They’ll thank you. That elderly woman who doesn’t have a ride to church and can’t bring herself? She’ll definitely appreciate it. So read on to learn how you can stream for (basically) free.
First, you need to decide on the platform you'll use to stream. At The Crossing Church, we use a paid tier of Livestream.com for several reasons: Embeddable video player, analytics, native app, etc. If you're looking to go completely free, YouTube is your only option. UStream.tv used to have a free tier, but their plans now start at $99 per month.
In order to stream on YouTube, you must already have an account and channel in good standing, and you'll need the Wirecast app downloaded on the computer pushing the stream. The only caveat to streaming with YouTube is their high sensitivity to copyrighted material. If you stream any pre-service time that includes recorded music (like a playlist of Hillsong worship), they may flag and take down your channel. You won't have this issue with Livestream or UStream.
After you decide on the service provider, you’ll need a computer and camera. I’m going to explain how to do this with a Mac, mostly because that’s what I have experience with and find it to be the most reliable option when streaming. You can do this with a Macbook, iMac, Mac Mini, or even an Air. If you plan on streaming an HD feed, you'll want something with decent processing power and possibly a dedicated graphics card.
In addition. you will also need a camera. If your church already has a “broadcast” setup where you put the speaker on screen or record it for a podcast, you should be set. If you don’t already have a camera, you’ll need to purchase one. Be sure to buy a camera with an HDMI or SDI-out. You can spend a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars on professional cameras. Keep in mind the distance of cameras to the speaker and look for Optical Zoom features when shopping. Panasonic has good low to midrange options for churches just starting out.
You will also need to decide whether you will go with a static one camera setup or multiple cameras. Having at least two cameras will allow you to have a close and far shot of the subject, but will require volunteers to run the equipment and necessitate a video switcher. Either way, you'll need a capture device. BlackMagic Design offers various capture cards and devices. If you're using a Mac, the cheapest option is the Thunderbolt powered Mini Studio Recorder for about $140.
With multiple cameras, you can also spend lots of money on a video switcher. One of the least expensive options that allows for up to six cameras, is capable of keying (like lyrics over video), and more is the BlackMagic ATEM TV Studio Switcher. You can purchase a physical switching board to accompany this device, but it also comes with free switching software. I don't recommend running it on the same computer that's pushing the stream.
Before putting everything together, be sure you also have a good audio signal from your sound board or house mix. Using the microphone from a camcorder will not come across very well over a live stream, and will most likely not be loud enough. Audio can be captured by your video switcher and embedded in the HDMI cable going to your capture device, or if they're in close proximity the streaming computer can ingest the audio directly.
If you’d like to see Livestream in action on a Sunday morning, tune into The Crossing Church by visiting wearecrossing.com/live or use the Livestream app on iOS, Android or Apple TV and search for “The Crossing Church.” Setting up a live stream can be a headache, and I’ve had many, so if you have questions leave a comment below, send me an email, or tweet at me @stephenrobles, I’d be happy to help.