The following ministry examples are provided for you in a “choose-your-own-adventure” format, recognizing that every congregation has different needs, constraints, and resources.
Before COVID, livestream worship was reserved for cutting-edge congregations. Now congregations across North America of all sizes, denominations, and budgets have pitched their tent in the digital wilderness, hoping to keep their people connected and extend their welcome more broadly.
What does your church need to livestream worship? Here are some ideas.
Here’s the path that one urban congregation took from “no stream” to livestream in 6 months (and counting…). It’s offered in the spirit of the five barley loaves and two fish shared with Jesus in John 6. Not easy, no simple turnkey solution, and not extravagant, but “enough and some to share.”
A case study: Christ on Capitol Hill (Saint Paul, Minnesota)
The leadership at Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill (Saint Paul, Minnesota) had a vision in April 2021 to get a livestream up and running by the Day of Pentecost 2021.
Up to that point in the pandemic, the congregation had gathered via Zoom for worship using pre-recorded worship videos followed by Zoom discussion. But on May 30, 2021—Confirmation Sunday—the congregation marked the return to in-person worship for some and continued remote worship for others.
Right from that first hybrid service, the congregation knew that livestreaming would allow more people to participate in worship than had previously been possible. For example, family members of the confirmands tuned in from Indonesia, Mexico and five U.S. states, and the service was enjoyed by 41 viewers who never would have made it to the sanctuary for that service.
Live from the Sanctuary
The initial goal was simple enough: To digitize and deliver sound and video from the sanctuary via a wired (not wifi) connection. Earlier attempts to livestream via wifi from the building resulted in video that buffered (paused) frequently and was not matched up with audio.
The first technical step was to call the internet provider and upgrade service to ensure at least 20 Mbps connection for upload, with a dedicated line brought into the sanctuary to livestream.
But before taking action, the tech team had listened to members and leaders (including the pastor), and consulted with the council to come up with a timeline and a budget that fit the congregation’s needs and constraints. The timeline—created by Christ Lutheran’s office and building manager, Jean Christoffel—included three phases to build up momentum and ensure they weren’t biting off more than they could chew.
Next the team sought out advice from the church communicators and from specific congregations in the Saint Paul Area Synod (local judicatory). From there, one team member connected with a suburban congregation that generously shared expertise and donated equipment that was critical to Christ Lutheran’s streaming plans.
The team hoped to have multiple PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) remote cameras that could be operated remotely, but in the short-term they used a portable, one-camera setup including:
- a Logitech Mevo Start camera along with ethernet power adapter and floor stand.
- a Mogami ¼”-inch to 3.5 mm 20-foot cable that brought the sound directly from the soundboard to the Mevo camera.
- a Vimeo Premium package to host the livestream, which allows the congregation to embed the stream on its website and archive past services on their blog.
- a laptop with its own ethernet connection for hosting Zoom from the sanctuary.
Before livestreaming the first time, the team put up signs at the entrances to the sanctuary to let in-person worshipers know that the service was being shared online so they could choose seating according to their privacy needs.
Improving sound quality
The second stage was to work on improving the sound quality. Good livestream video is built on quality sound, and although the sanctuary had a top-of-the-line sound system from a previous upgrade, not much had been done to improve it since its installation years before.
Christ Lutheran’s music director, Natalia Peterson, recruited vocalists and musicians to lead worship, and each musician needed to have a mic in order to be picked up on the livestream. Otherwise it sounded like the pastor and worship leader were all by themselves in a big room.
The team ordered new mics and stands, and the music director and sound tech arranged for musicians who were available to do sound checks 30 minutes before service started. Thus, phase 1 was complete.
With each livestream opportunity, the team learned from each other and from the online participants, who sent in feedback via email, texts and Zoom chats. Usually it was small things that could be tweaked, although there was the occasional streaming catastrophe (no audio or a dropped stream).
Phase 2 launched with the property team installing remote-controlled cameras. That gave Christ Lutheran a big step forward, since the multiple cameras gave the possibility of zooming, rotating, and cutting from one camera to another. Council President Erik Wohlrabe, who had worked in public television early in his career, most often took the role as lead camera operator.
Phase 2 continues with the replacement of the decades-old soundboard with a new Behringer X32, which outputs sound via USB directly to the livestream computer and allows the sound tech to mix audio specifically for the livestream, independent of the audio levels that are used in the sanctuary. For that step, the team is bringing in a sound engineer who will swap out the soundboards and set up sound profiles on the new board for both in-person and online worshipers that match typical worship needs.
Phase 3 will be to mount projectors and screens in the front of the church. At this point, it’s too costly to fit with the congregation’s budget, so the team is awaiting a future designated gift to make screens a reality.
The remaining challenge is to document the processes and procedures involved in running the livestream and at the same time build out the team of volunteers who can staff the cameras and Zoom on a weekly basis. The existing team is reaching out—via announcements, newsletter and email blurbs, and council updates—to congregation members to let them know how important the livestream is to the congregation’s ministry and why their investment in its weekly operation is worth their time and attention.
Curious about other approaches?
Watch two other congregational leaders share about their livestream setups, as discussed in Faith+Lead’s Hybrid Ministry class with instructor Ryan Panzer in June 2021.
The Rev. Katherine Morgan, St. John’s Anglican Church in Thorold, Ontario, discusses her congregation’s livestream setup using Switcher Studio, Pro Presenter, and iPad/iPhone cameras.
The Rev. David Hunter, Peace Lutheran Church, Vernon, B.C., talks about his congregation’s livestream using PTZ Optics cameras and Open Broadcast Studio (OBS).
Technology + adaptive = challenge round
Finally, here’s a quick word about tech projects in the church. Just because it involves technology does not mean this is a “technical project” only. Livestreaming, or any other large undertaking, contains both adaptive and technical challenges, and so the faithful innovation framework is a great place to ground the team. The work is about more than just buying the right equipment, but it’s about the team’s ability to Listen, Act, and Share.
What should we do next?
Interested in implementing this in your congregation? Here’s a step-by-step guide (with plenty of room for your congregation to fill in the blanks):
- Step 1: Build a Tech Team
- Who are the stakeholders in your context? Pastor/leader, administrator, property lead, communications/tech lead, _____?
- Step 2a: Listen for the needs of the congregation
- What level of tech can your viewers handle, and where is the Holy Spirit stirring?
- Step 2b: State your goal
- Be sure to include an estimated date of completion and budget
- Step 3a: Research options
- Be open to sources within church circles, in your community, and on the internet
- Step 3b: Invite expert input
- Consider media pros in your congregation and in your community
- Step 4: Make and refine your plan
- Include infrastructure, equipment and staffing
- Step 5: Build, experiment, fiddle, refine
- Keep your heart open to hearing feedback from participants, but don’t get stuck — keep momentum going toward your goal
- Step 6: Document processes, recruit and train volunteers to staff the livestream
- Make it easy to carry out the assigned roles, and abundantly clear that you appreciate their efforts
- Step 7: Measure results and celebrate successes
- Decide which indicators to track, stay curious about gaps, and wait patiently for the results to turn the corner.
Notice that these steps follow the faithful innovation framework:
- Listen: Steps 1-3 are all part of listening to God, each other, and neighbors.
- Act: Steps 4-5 are acting experimentally, collaboratively, and reflectively.
- Share: Steps 6-7 are about sharing generously with the church and the world.
Don’t forget to celebrate milestones along the way and thank everyone involved (leaders, implementers, and viewers) for taking on this opportunity to grow as a congregation.