Updated: April 1, 2021
Preparing for Coronavirus: Streaming and Your Church
In the midst of the novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) epidemic, commonly called Coronavirus, many governments, churches, and individuals have decided to cancel and even ban large group meetings. Many churches are underprepared and do not have contingency plans in place for such scenarios. Some churches have opted for going online for the next few weeks in order to reduce the potential of further virus spread and some have been required to do so by their respective governments. However, many churches, especially in rural areas, have not yet purchased and set up the needed video infrastructure to stream live. In this post, we are going to discuss four low-to-no budget options for streaming your church services.
These are not long term solutions but just what you need to get by for the next few weeks/months in the event that your church decides to go online or is forced to. There’s always lots of false information going around concerning what you need to stream and what the best solutions are. This is not a debate but pure facts without bias opinions that many other similar posts are being filled with. This is not a sales pitch, I’m not making ANY money off sharing these solutions with you. (no affiliate links, ads, or anything) Just pure and honest facts. Let’s get into it:
When live streaming there are many must-haves including high upload speed internet, protection from copyright infringement, a destination to stream to, and a place to produce the stream.
If you want to stream the worship music portion of your service you must have permission to stream the songs you sing. The most popular method by far for doing this is CCLI. CCLI is a for-profit non-government company that specializes in being an in-between for churches and music publishers. The CCLI Streaming license helps with licensing songs to stream and is priced based on your church size. Keep in mind that this license DOES NOT cover streaming any prerecorded music including tracks, preservice music, soundtracks, music videos, etc. In order to be coved by CCLI, you must adhere to all their terms. If Facebook or YouTube marks you stream as having copyrighted material and it is covered by CCLI you can dispute it through their systems.
Where To Stream?
This is something that often comes up in the various Facebook groups I’m apart of. This, in particular, is something that a lot of misinformation is centered around. You do not need any paid services to stream besides an internet connection. 99% of churches do not need any streaming service other than Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook and YouTube are both free tools that allow you to do everything a church would ever need plus some. Any streaming encoder that can stream to two or more destinations can stream to both of these services without any 3rd party services. If your streaming encoder can not stream to more than one service you can use a low-cost service such as Restream.io or Castr.io to “restream” your stream to multiple destinations.
Many believe that they need an overpriced service to stream to their website such as Boxcast, that is not the case. You can do so with YouTube embeds by going to your YouTube channel’s page and adding /live to the URL. Once on that page, you can embed the video into your website and never have to update the embed again. For example here is my church’s YouTube live page that we embed on our sit: https://www.youtube.com/user/Promiseapostolic/live
A Place To Stream
Normally churches stream their services during their regular church service but this may not be possible during the coronavirus epidemic. It may be necessary for the pastor to stream from their own home in the event of a quarantine.
Depending on the solution you choose below, it may be wise to send essential gear home with whoever would be teaching and make sure they know how to operate it.
The Mobile Device
The first solution we are discussing is streaming form your mobile device. Mobile device streaming has been quite popular for a few years now. Ever since Facebook rolled out Facebook LIVE people all around the globe have had the ability to live stream from their mobile device. If you don’t have time to order or money to spend on gear this may be your best solution.
If possible use headphones or earbuds that have a better microphone that your mobile device. I recommend you use an external mic such as the Rode SmartLav+ or RØDE VideoMic Me. Both of those mics allow you to get better audio than your default phone’s mic.
When streaming on a mobile device you are usually limited to stream to one platform. As previously discussed Facebook LIVE and YouYube are the best options for that. However, by using an app such as Castr you can stream to both platforms on your mobile device. (requires paid plan to stream to Facebook) See below to learn how you can use StreamMonkey to do this for FREE.
To stream to YouTube from a mobile device you need at least 100 subscribers. YouTube Help Doc
Directly From Camera
This may be the quickest and most dirty solution on this list but it gets the job done. If you have a good camera with a clean HDMI output you can use a hardware encoder such as the Epiphan Webcaster X2 ($270 USD) to stream directly to your social platform. This encodes is fairly limited and only allows you to stream to one place and does not support RTMP. By not supporting RTML is locks you into their platform. In order to stream to more than one destination, you’ll need their proprietary Switchboard service which starts at $35 per month. Unless you’re a hardware nut this is probably not the solution for you.
With A Computer
This has the potential to be the most pricy thing on this list but also the highest production level. For this solution, you’ll need a fairly beefy computer. PCs work best for production according to the biggest church software companies and will work best for this solution also but if you have a Mac you can make it work.
For this solution, you will need five things: a computer, software, a camera, a capture device, and an audio interface. Hopefully, you have an extra computer or backup that isn’t in use due to the epidemic. For software, if on PC I highly recommend vMix (the free version will work for what we’re doing) or if on a Mac/PC/Linux OBS (opensource and free).
For this solution, you will either need a camera with a clean HMDI output or a USB webcam. If you use a webcam you will not need a capture device. If you use a real camera, I recommend an Elgato Cam Link 4k ($129 USD). All you have to do is take the HDMI out from the camera into the Cam Link 4k then it will be visible in the computer as a camera input. Very simple.
To capture your audio you have two options. If you are still having church you will want to get audio directly from your sound system. Some digital sound mixers offer USB outputs which will work perfectly for this but if your system does not you will need an audio interface such as the Behringer U-Phoria UM2 ($50 USD). If you are not having church in your worship space and are quarantined you may be able to use a lav mic into your computer such as the Rode SmartLav+.
According to their blog post, StreamMonkey is offering its “full live streaming platform to [churches] FOR FREE for the NEXT 2 WEEKENDS.” This will allow you as a church to stream to Facebook and YouTube for the next two weeks for free from a mobile device. In our mobile device section, we discussed using external mics to improve audio quality. That will be beneficial with Stream Monkey too. You can sign up and learn more here: We Want To Help Churches Deal With The Impact of Coronavirus.
Throughout the coming week and months no matter what happens I urge you to not live in fear but of power, love, and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) It is of the uttermost importance to not panic and to keep doing what we are called to do as churches and Christians. Sometimes that requires adapting to new situations and using different mediums to share the gospel. I hope that this post can help you navigate your church through this situation and situations to come.
It’s always best to have a backup plan and by having the gear you need to stream you can allow your church to be a light in your community even when it can’t open its doors.
If you have any questions, comments, or other recommendations please share them below!