We live in a digital era, and the Church can no longer only focus on its Sunday service. While
this has been a quickly approaching reality, most churches have been able to delay the
inevitable. Cue COVID-19, and the Church has been forced to adopt a new digital mentality
within a matter of weeks.
COVID has accelerated and highlighted the need for the Church to be both digital and physical.
The local church is never going away; we believe that gathering together as believers is both
important and biblical. But, like it or not, the Church also needs to embrace the new reality.
We have created this Online Church guide to help you leverage the tools available in order to
reach more people for Jesus during a time where our primary ministry is happening online.
Choosing The Right Equipment
Choosing the right equipment for your online church can be a daunting task. There are an infinite amount of options and solutions. Our goal is to provide a general overview with some recommendations to get you headed in the right direction. Regardless of your budget, from an iPhone to a full-blown production studio, there is a way for you to build an online presence for your church.
As “camera guys” we hate to say it, but audio is king when starting an online church. People will excuse bad video, but they won’t tolerate bad audio. You want to prioritize your audio when streaming.
If you already have a sound console, you will want to use an auxiliary send for your stream. If you were to simply send the main mix from the board, you are creating a mix minus the room: everything that the room you are in does to your sound will be gone.
If you’ve tried this, you know the mix sounds great for anyone in the sanctuary, but terrible for the broadcast. Using an aux send allows you to build a mix for your stream by listening on headphones to the output. This will give you a much better idea of what the end user will actually be hearing.
We recommend adding a compressor to your main broadcast mix in order to keep your levels in check and avoid peaking. We also recommend not using the onboard microphones on your video equipment; they are not made to capture quality audio.
If you don’t have a sound console or don’t have the ability to use an aux send, the above still applies. When mixing for your stream, make sure you are listening to the source through headphones so that you are not being deceived by the dynamics of the room you are in. What you hear in the room through your speakers will not be what the end user is hearing.
While video is one of the most obvious pieces of your stream, we would caution you to invest here last. Good lighting and good audio will beat out an expensive camera. That being said, a good camera does make a difference, especially if you have proper training with that camera.
You can use almost any digital camera or camcorder as long as it has a clean output that is compatible with your receiving equipment — more than likely, this will be an HDMI or SDI output/input. A clean output means that there are no on-screen data indicators.
We would not recommend using webcams or security cameras. These won’t really get the job done for online church. Start with camcorders or DSLR and mirrorless cameras. We recommend Cannon and Blackmagic Design cameras.
When thinking about purchasing a camera, consider more than just the use for streaming; if you are going to spend the money on a camera, you might as well be able to use it for more than one purpose. Ask yourself, ‘how else can we use this? Taking photos, testimony videos, or announcements?’ Choose a camera that will be able to fit your needs outside of live streaming, too.
Don’t be fooled by the marketing of some cameras boasting 4K and higher resolutions. Resolution is not all that matters. A 1080p camera with good color science and high dynamic range will be much better than a 4K camera with poor color science and a low dynamic range.
A few cameras we recommend:
The next step is to choose a lens(es) for your camera. Consider where your camera(s) will be placed in your room. Ex: If they are farther away from the stage and you want a tight shot, you will need a lens with a longer focal length. Zoom lenses are a great option, as they will provide varying focal lengths that you can zoom between. Make sure you choose a lens that fits your camera’s lens mount and fully covers the camera’s sensor.
Switchers And Adapters
Once you have your camera(s) and lenses chosen, you need a way for the video to be received by your encoder. If you are using a single camera, you can run directly to your software or hardware encoder (you may need an adapter). If you are using multiple cameras, your best option will be to use a switcher. A switcher will allow you to switch between video feeds, determining what the output is to the encoder.
Most people want to just set up a camera and start shooting. Resist this temptation. Lighting can make or break your online church stream.
When starting out with your lighting, grab your camera and see what it sees. What our eyes see is not what your camera is going to see.
Lighting Method: Three Point Lighting
The most common type of lighting method to use would be three point lighting. As the name suggests, you would have three lights — a key light, fill light, and backlight.
Your key light is the primary and brightest light. It will be placed on either side of the subject. Avoid placing your key light near the camera, or your scene will become flat and lack contrast.
Your fill light is the secondary light and is placed on the opposite side of your subject. It will be less bright than your Key light — it is “filling” in the other side of your subject, removing the shadows created by the key light.
Your backlight is set up higher than and behind your subject. Its purpose is to outline your subject; this will help separate them from the background and make your scene feel more three-dimensional. When the backlight is behind the subject at an angle, it is called a kicker.
Types of Lighting: LEDs vs Tungsten
When choosing a lighting fixture, LEDs are the new technology. They draw less power and produce less heat, but are more expensive. Tungsten lights are older technology. They draw more power and produce more heat, but are cheaper. Both LEDs and tungsten lights are great options, but stay away from cheap LED’s.
When looking for lights, you’ll want to find its color rendering index (CRI). This is the ability of the light to reveal the color of an object. Cheap LEDs tend to have a low CRI number (the highest possible CRI is 100). When using a light with a low CRI, you will see a color cast through the camera. For example, your pastor’s skin will have an unnatural green tint to it. We recommend not going below a CRI score of 90.
Cheap LEDs also tend to flicker on camera because of their refresh rate. You won’t be able to see it with your eyes, but you will see it through the camera. Look for flicker-free LEDs.
Lights also come in varying color temperatures—this is measured by degrees Kelvin. 3200K (Kelvin) would be an incandescent bulb; 4500K would be fluorescent, and around 5600K is daylight.
Unless you are a little more advanced and trying to create color contrast, keep the color temperature the same on all your lights. Once you have your color temperature set with the lights you’ve chosen, this is what you will set the white balance to on your camera. This will create the most accurate rendering of your scene on camera.
Internet is an obvious, but sometimes overlooked, piece of the puzzle when it comes to online church. Without a solid internet connection, there’s no way to get your church stream out to your viewers.
It’s simple math to realize that if you have 10 mb/s of upload bandwidth, your stream bitrate should be less than 10 mb/s.
But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Your internet speed is going to fluctuate from your ISP (Internet Service Provider: Comcast, ATT, etc.), and it will be affected by any other use on your network. Because of this, you always want to add a little bit of extra leeway in your calculations. We recommend a cable internet connection over DSL, cellular, and satellite.
We recommend calculating this way: take your total audio bitrate plus your total video bitrate, and multiply that times 1.5. This will give you your required upload bandwidth needed to live stream. If you don’t know what upload bandwidth you have, you can go to speedtest.net to find out.
Encoders are the last piece of equipment in your signal chain for your online church. They convert your content into a digital format so that it can be streamed on the internet. There are software and hardware encoders. We recommend hardware encoders, but we’ll briefly touch on both.
Software encoders run on a computer. Your video and audio sources will run into your computer and the software reads that input, converts it, and sends it to the internet via the connection on the computer.
The benefit of software encoders is that they are cheaper (some are free) than hardware encoders.
The biggest con is that you will need a decent computer to run a software encoder. Especially when you need the computer to do other tasks simultaneously. Encoding is a demanding process, and most computers will not be able to handle additional tasks.
If you are using a software encoder and want to stream to multiple destinations, each destination will be extra load on both your computer and internet connection. For example, streaming directly to Facebook and YouTube will be twice as demanding as streaming directly to YouTube on its own. In this case, you would want to make sure you have a fast enough internet and computer.
When using a software encoder, you will likely need a capture device. This will allow your computer and software encoder to recognize your camera as an input. Some switchers have a capture device built in. These are relatively inexpensive and can be found on Amazon.
The benefit of hardware encoders is that they are dedicated to one task: encoding your video. Hardware encoders will remove the extra hassles that come with computers like CPU usage, memory, and software updates. Hardware encoders will also simplify your set-up.
The downside of hardware encoders is that they are more expensive than software options. We recommend checking with your streaming provider to see which hardware encoder works best with their service.
You will most likely want presentation graphics overlaid on your online church stream. Common overlays would be worship lyrics, bible verses, and sermon notes, but you can do a lot more if you want to.
We recommend ProPresenter. They are hands down the best option. They work specifically with churches and have many features to make your job easier. For example, they have Bibles and worship songs built into their software. This way you don’t have to type in lyrics and verses from scratch.
ProPresenter is compatible with most streaming equipment and will allow you to display your computer graphics both in your worship center, and on your livestream simultaneously.
ProPresenter also just partnered with Resi (see streaming providers below). They offer multi-cam live streaming through the ProPresenter software with Resi’s Resilient Streaming Protocol.
This can be a great do-it-all option for online churches, but it is software encoding. So it would be a heavy load on your computer. Especially if you are using ProPresenter to present graphics in both physical (at church) and digital (online) locations.
A streaming provider is a company that will take your encoded stream and make it available for anyone around the world to view on the platform(s) you choose.
These platforms might include your website, YouTube, Facebook, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Every provider will be a little different, but they will each likely have recommendations or requirements on the quality of your stream and the encoder you are using.
Most companies will also offer a transcoding option. Most often the transcoding will take your single high-quality stream and create lower bitrate options. This is beneficial for viewers with a slower or inconsistent internet speed. For example, if you were streaming in 1080p, this could be transcoded to 720p, 480p, 360p, etc.
Some streaming providers we recommend:
Resi is a great option for a streaming provider. Most streaming providers use RTMP as their streaming protocol. Streaming protocol is just how the data is traveling from one source to another. Resi has their own exclusive technology, Resilient Streaming Protocol (RSP), which enables ultra-reliable streaming.
Another huge benefit is that they work with a lot of churches. They are very familiar with the unique needs of churches and have catered some of their features for online church. They offer the ability to schedule a rebroadcasting of a livestream for another service time. They allow you to stream to multiple church campuses with a decoder. They also offer support on Sundays!
Resi is used by some of the largest churches in the streaming world like Elevation, Mosaic, and Hillsong.
The only possible downside to Resi would be that they require you to use their encoders. However, when considering that third-party encoders would not work with their RSP technology, it makes sense.
Stream Monkey (Paid):
Stream Monkey is another great streaming provider that works specifically with churches. The biggest difference between Stream Monkey and Resi would be that Stream Monkey does not have the Resilient Streaming Protocol that Resi does—but they do allow you to use third-party encoders.
Streaming to YouTube either directly or via your streaming provider comes with many benefits:
- Your stream can be embedded and played on your website and YouTube channel.
- YouTube will transcode your stream for you, for free.
- Once your stream is over, you will have a place where your services are stored and can be viewed after the fact. This will allow you to create a sermon library on your website.
What about Vimeo? We recommend sticking with YouTube. The video player on Vimeo is more aesthetically pleasing—but that’s about its only benefit over YouTube. YouTube is owned by Google, so having a YouTube account and streaming to YouTube will drastically boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). YouTube is also more than a website—it is the second largest search engine after Google. This can organically drive traffic to your videos, allowing you to reach people you would have never been able to before.
Other Online Church Resources
Below are a few resources that didn’t fit nicely into a specific category, but that we felt were important to share.
CCLI is a copyright license that protects your church. Their service allows you to project song lyrics, print songs, record services, etc. without the worry of copyright legalities. You will want to make sure you have the right license(s) based on what you are doing in your worship services. When streaming, you will specifically want to make sure you have their streaming license.
Church Online Platform
It comes with a lot of features designed to help online churches. There is a live chat where you can welcome attendees, answer questions, and encourage your community. You can also pray for people one-on-one during service, and receive their prayer requests.
You can set up different roles & permissions for volunteers or staff members. You can create host roles for them and allow them to engage with your viewers from anywhere they want, from their desktop, laptop, or smartphone.
Church Online Platform works with almost any streaming provider. Once you set up your account and embed your streaming code in the platform, you can start broadcasting and using their service.
We would highly recommend the Church Online Platform for most churches.
Black Magic Design
There are an infinite amount of companies to choose from when getting equipment for your live stream. Sometimes it is helpful to have a starting place. We recommend Blackmagic Design products, as they are both budget-friendly and of good quality. Blackmagic Design offers a range of widely supported products that will fit any production size and will be crucial to setting up a live stream for an online church.
Sim live broadcasts allow you to use a pre-recorded video and schedule it to play as a live event. For some churches, this may be a better option than live streaming. You would have the ability to pre-record a service, make whatever edits/changes that were needed, and then broadcast the file as “live” at the time of your choosing. You can sim live on YouTube (Premiere), Resi, and Stream Monkey.
Promoting Your Online Church
A church’s online presence is the new foyer. People will now get their first impressions and experience what your church is all about via your digital presence. Your website, social media, and marketing all play a role in crafting your digital presence.
This is not to say that you should forget about Sunday mornings. Instead, recognize the importance of both. Strive to create a great Sunday morning experience AND produce the best media for your online church.
Social media is where people are going to be interacting with your online church. People are now getting spiritually fed through social media, whether that be videos on YouTube, podcasts on Spotify, or posts on Facebook and Instagram.
Embrace people’s search and need for Jesus. Produce high-quality content for each social media outlet. Remember, the quality and the message of what you produce will communicate who your church is to a viewer.
We recommend choosing one social media outlet and doing that well. Then you can add another, and do it well, and another, etc. Don’t try to tackle every platform at once. Treat each social media outlet differently. Don’t post the exact same thing to every platform. Get creative and create value for your followers. Ask yourself, why should they follow us on both Facebook and Instagram?
Google Search Ads and the Google Ad Grant
Google Search Ads is a great way to capture people actively searching on Google for an online church. When they search for church online, churches near me, sermons on anxiety, or live stream sermons, your church can show your website at the top of the search results page.
The thing that sets Google Search Ads apart from Facebook Ads or social media, is that you are showing ads to someone when they are actively searching for what you offer. Most other ads and marketing tactics are interrupting someone while they are in the middle of something else. As you would imagine, targeting people who are actively searching for you is an easy way to gain new church attendants.
The question you may be wondering is, what does this cost?
In steps the Google Ad Grant.
Google offers churches and nonprofits a $10,000 per month Google Ad Grant for online advertising. Usually, a business would need to pay Google a couple of dollars every time someone clicks on an ad. With the Google Ad Grant, your church would not have to pay for those clicks. You would get a FREE budget of $10,000 every month from Google.
This would mean thousands of new visitors coming to your website each month that are actively searching for an online church.
We believe the Google Ad Grant is hands down the best way to start promoting your online church.
At Click Nonprofit, we help churches make the most of the Google Ad Grant. We acquire the grant, help spend the $10K each month, and create compelling ads to draw the right people to your online church.
We hope this guide helps you get your online church off the ground and running successfully. Starting an online church can be intimidating. But with the right tools and instructions, you are on your way to reaching more people for Jesus!
Remember that getting started is the most important. If you need to start with a smartphone camera, that’s great! It’s better to get started and learn along the way than to let the idea of online church intimidate you from starting.
If you have any questions or need help implementing an online church, give us a holler.