Live Stream Your Church Service for Free (Basically)

So 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, sign up for a free account at UStream.tv. UStream is a well known streaming services that can range in price from Free to $500 per month. They also have apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone that allows you to stream directly from your device! If you have a smaller church and your budget is literally $0, you could just find someone in your congregation with an iPhone and set it up to stream your service. It won’t be the best quality but it can get the job done.

So why is UStream free? Without paying for their service, they put ads on your stream when viewed from a computer. Most times there is a 20-30 second ad right when someone clicks “Play” on your stream and then pop-up ads after that. Fortunately, there are absolutely no ads when viewing your stream on a mobile device.

Secondly, if you want to get a higher quality stream, 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. Just download the UStream Producer app (Free) and you’re almost ready to stream.

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. Since you’re streaming to the internet, quality isn’t a huge concern as the video will be compressed anyway. If possible, buy a camera with a FireWire / DV out (and double check that the computer you’re using has a FireWire input). This will make interfacing with the UStream Producer app much easier.

You may have a camcorder already or be able to use a member’s equipment. If it doesn’t have FireWire, you may still be able to use it provided it has a composite RCA (Yellow / Red / White) output. To interface with a non FireWire camera or an already established broadcast setup, you will need to purchase an adapter from NewEgg. Find an analog out from your broadcast setup camera (remember you can find many adapters at Radio Shack to change BNC, Coax or even VGA to composite Yellow / Red / White) and connect it to a USB Capture device. A FireWire camera should work by connecting it directly to your Mac.

This USB video capture device is usually a small adapter with female composite on one side and a USB plug on the other. There are many out there for both Windows and Mac, but I have tried most of them and the best, most reliable solution is KWorld’s DVD Maker 2 for $55. (Note: If the computer you’re using has a video capture card built in you may not need this). The KWorld adapter can be purchased from NewEgg, CompUSA, and other various computer retailers, but you won’t find it at Best Buy or Radio Shack.

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. You can also get an adapter and connect this to the Red / White RCA adapter on your capture device or even 1/8” (headphone looking connection) directly into your computer.

To put everything together, connect your camcorder or your analog output from a broadcast step to the KWorld USB capture device. Take the composite audio connection from your sound board and connect that to the capture device or directly into the computer you’re using to stream. Connect the KWorld video adapter to your Mac laptop or desktop and open the UStream Producer app (you may need to install drivers for the USB capture device, it comes with a CD). In UStream, choose the USB capture device as your video / audio source, sign in with your UStream credentials and hit “Start Broadcasting.” You’re now streaming LIVE!

To access your live stream, people can use the UStream app on mobile devices and search for your account name. You can also give people the link to your UStream channel (this is created when you sign up for UStream) and embed the UStream player into your current website. The nice thing about using UStream, there is no monthly fee. While there are ads, if you find that people are actually watching live and find value in it, you can pay $100 per month to remove any ads in your stream.

If you’d like to see UStream in action on a Sunday morning, tune into The Crossing Church by visiting crossingonline.org from your mobile device and clicking “Watch Live,” or use the UStream app on iOS, Android or Windows Phone and search for “crossingonline.” Setting up to stream live can be a headache, and I’ve head many, so if you have questions leave a comment below or tweet at me @stephenrobles, I’m happy to help!

Update: At The Crossing Church we've recently switched from UStream as our service provider to Livestream. The biggest reason for this was the amount of viewer hours we needed better fit with with Livestream's plans. Also, the Livestream embedded player does not have a watermark (like the UStream player now has) and you can stream multiple qualities simultaneously. 

Livestream does not have a good free plan, and their new plans do not include an embeddable player. If you're looking for the lowest-cost effective solution, UStream still wins. If you're looking to get a little deeper into streaming live and pay a monthly fee, take a look at Livestream.