In light of the current COVID-19 virus, churches are facing disruption in their ability to fellowship and proclaim the Word. Many pastors feel the pressure of getting up to speed on the latest tech tools and are asking for help in various forums around the web.
Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Which platforms should I use for a Sunday morning video?
Although I answered this question at length in my previous article, I’ve had a number of follow-up questions. The three common ones are:
- Can people without Facebook access a Facebook Live video? Yes. You can copy the embed code (available when setting up a Facebook Live for a Facebook Page on a computer) and place it on your website or copy the URL from the video on a browser during the stream and send it to non-users during or after the broadcast. They won’t be able to comment, but they will be able to watch.
- If I use YouTube, will my video be covered in ads? Not disruptively, no. When you see ads at the beginning or during a YouTube video, it’s because the channel has enough subscribers that they are able to opt-in to monetization, which allows ads and revenue for the content creator. You either won’t have that option or can avoid selecting that option when the time comes.
- What about Zoom for Sunday morning services? If your numbers are less than 100 and you have a strong internet connection, this is a valid option. You should also set up a paid account if you’re leaning in this direction. There’s a way to stream a Zoom call between a smaller number of leaders over YouTube (for $54.99/mo.), and that seems preferable to a massive call. Zoom eats up bandwidth quickly with all the video streams coming together, so make sure to take that into account. Zoom does allow for a better sense of accountability for those in “attendance” and dial-in for the less tech-savvy members, but the drawbacks should be considered. It’s worth noting that Cisco WebEx is another great alternative solution to Zoom and has similar capabilities of streaming to Facebook Live (at $13.50/mo.).
Can someone walk me through the basics of livestreaming on mobile or on my computer?
You can register and view my how-to webinar from SEND Network. Livestreaming is a fairly easy process as long as you decide to keep things simple. The goal is not to replace the church gathering (what the church is, by definition) nor to be the best livestreaming pastor, but to clearly and effectively communicate the Word to those at a distance (much like the apostle Paul did using the technology of his day).
Should we go live or upload a pre-recorded sermon (or something else)?
This decision will rest on what your church and pastors and volunteers are confident with. There are pros to each approach:
- Pre-recording: You can refine the end product; it will have a higher production value; you can easily include slides or announcements; you can schedule it and send a link in advance.
- Livestreaming: You can interact with the audience and allow them to interact with you; the setting is more intimate; the notifications reach more of your followers.
If you pre-record, you can capture video using the camera app on your mobile device, PhotoBooth on a Mac, or the webcam app on your PC. You may want to edit the video (using a free PC app, or iMovie, which is free on Macs) before uploading. You’ll want to consider how to boost lighting, add Scripture references, and clip out errors or unhelpful content. Schedule the video for a particular time on Sunday on as many media as possible (one of the final steps after uploading to Facebook and YouTube is a step that allows you to precisely schedule your video’s release). Make sure the description and cover image look nice. Scheduled videos in YouTube are assigned an inactive permalink that you can share with your congregation in advance.
Three hybrids have been suggested to the pre-recorded route:
- Faux-live: You can theoretically “livestream” a prerecorded video if you know what you’re doing. This practice is generally frowned upon by Facebook and YouTube, and it will be rather clear to your church members that what they have watched was not broadcast live depending on how the video ends.
- Facebook Watch Parties: You can pre-release your sermon video early on Sunday or on Saturday and then schedule a watch party with any Facebook group (i.e., a group for members or groups for individual small groups). Here’s a four-minute video on how to set up watch parties. This seems like a great middle-ground solution that gets people together to watch the sermon virtually. The pastor can be in the comment thread during the sermon to answer questions and add comments.
- Facebook Video Premiere: This feature allows viewers to experience a pre-recorded video as if it were live and should be used for any Facebook sermon uploads scheduled for Sunday mornings. The only downside compared to live is that the pastor cannot address questions or discussion over video.
Should I go to the church building and preach from the pulpit, do it in a smaller room, or do it from home?
It seems like there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these:
- The pulpit conveys a sense of “church as usual.” It may be helpful for your members to feel a sense of normalcy during this time. At the same time, everyone watching is watching fully aware that what is happening is entirely abnormal. It’s also hard to provide interaction with viewers from the pulpit, and interaction is one of the primary functions of livestreaming (if you go that route).
- A studio of some sort allows you to provide a higher-quality presentation of the Word. This can be helpful for a congregation who is hungry to hear the Word presented and applied by their pastor, but the high-quality nature of such an environment often pushes churches to try too hard or overcomplicate the process.
- A home environment allows you to communicate “I’m in this with you,” in a pastoral manner. This can be helpful to members feeling lonely and isolated, but if the lighting and audio are terrible, your sermon may not be effective.
How do I include slides in a livestream?
In order to do this, you will need a separate tool. Here’s what I’ve recommended to a number of pastors (see screenshots in my Facebook Live version of this article):
- Download OBS Studio to your PC/Mac (free).
- Set up the main scene by pulling in a camera (ideally one physically attached to the PC/Mac and is high quality). This is the speaker-focused view.
- Set up a secondary scene that includes a view of the PowerPoint via window/display capture (you’ll find this in the “sources” panel). This can be a full-screen view that cuts away from the speaker, or it can be a portion of the screen that overlays the camera feed of the speaker. Either the speaker or (better) a tech team member can run the slides.
- The speaker or (better) a tech team member can cut between the two scenes as needed throughout the message.
- Schedule your live event on YouTube or Facebook and copy the “stream key.”
- Paste the stream key into OBS (under “settings” and “stream”). Click “start streaming” to sync OBS with YouTube or Facebook, and then select “go live” within YouTube or Facebook once you’re ready to go.
- At the end of the stream, click “stop streaming” in OBS and “end live” in YouTube or Facebook.
If this is beyond your level of tech skills, you could either deliver your livestream with a projector or monitor beside/behind you that includes the slides (just watch out for screen glare), or you could pre-record your video, add the slides, and upload as a scheduled video. Another possibility (although this isn’t quite how it was designed) is to set up a paid WebEx account and stream the conference to Facebook and use the screen-sharing function.
How do I stream to multiple platforms (i.e., Facebook and YouTube) at the same time?
You have a number of options, but these three are the most common:
- Restream.io is $19/month. It generates a stream key that goes into OBS (see previous question). Then Restream pushes that video feed to whatever locations you want it to go (including Facebook and YouTube).
- A Mevo camera will set you back around $500 to $1,000 depending on accessories, but it allows for easy sharing to multiple locations, nice shots, and a quick way to go live without any extra assistance.
- Boxcast is an all-in-one solution that pairs with higher-quality equipment. You’ll need to plan on about $99/month to go this route.
What if I want to have multiple remote presenters?
Some churches are trying to limit exposure and keep as many leaders separated during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are four great methods to do this:
- OBS Method + Skype (free). This is the only completely free way to do a multi-leader stream. You’ll need to set up OBS, add the NDI integration via a quick and free download, set up Skype on your device, and then create a scene in OBS that pulls in the Skype participants into a scene. From there, you can send the stream to YouTube or Facebook.
- Paid WebEx ($13.50/month) + Facebook Live. Although paid and limited to Facebook Live only, WebEx is a strong conferencing platform from Cisco with a history of delivering well for corporate clients. You can set up a video conference that streams to Facebook Live (not YouTube at present) with a paid account. The video conference would continue as usual with users speaking over webcam and the ability to share screens and make annotations (particularly helpful if you want to make markups on a Bible passage).
- Ecamm Live ($12/month) + Skype. This is a popular option in the YouTube creator community. It’s really powerful, but it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Skype can be hit-and-miss, so just keep that in mind if you go this route.
- Zoom + Webinar feature (total of $55/month). Zoom allows users to add a webinar feature ($40 extra/month) that allows you to stream your conference to YouTube. This may be attractive to those who are committed to using Zoom, but it may be cost-prohibitive for most.
How should I think about equipment purchases?
Here are some principles that seem helpful when thinking through this question:
- Embrace where you are. Don’t feel bad if all you’re using is a smartphone. Something is better than nothing, and your concern for your people will show. Embrace the informality and intimacy that is possible when you’re on your mobile phone in your living room. You’re experiencing what your flock is experiencing.
- Involve your members. You’ll be surprised how many little tools come out of the woodwork for something like this. A young professional may have an HDMI-to-USB device. A retiree may have a high-quality camera. Suddenly you’re able to involve others in the process and increase the quality at the same time. Some church members may appreciate the chance to serve in this way.
- Try asking other churches (or try being the church that offers). Don’t be surprised that another church in the area might be able to let you use their equipment or if they have something you might be able to borrow or buy on the cheap. And if you’re in the position to make a difference in this area, consider opening your studios for pastors in the area to record their sermons in advance.
- Don’t buy what you won’t use long-term. If you don’t plan to do any sort of livestreaming or video capture after your church is able to meet again, try to keep your costs low.
- Don’t buy what only one person can use. Try to buy tools that are easy for a wide range of volunteers to use, not just the tools that your most tech-savvy volunteer knows how to operate.
What equipment should I add to my existing livestream?
If you’re using a computer, consider improving your audio with a Yeti USB microphone ($120), a USB webcam (many excellent options from Logitech), or a DSLR camera (expensive) that feeds video through a HDMI-to-USB converter.
Can’t I get a CCLI license for streaming?
Yes. CCLI covers livestreaming your own performance of copyrighted songs with a streaming add-on (never play someone else’s recording on a livestream). The catch is that it doesn’t cover what you do with that video after the stream. Some churches edit the video after the stream to omit the worship portion for this reason. I recommend you substitute by sending out a Spotify playlist or YouTube videos that would allow members to meditate on the sermon’s themes in song throughout the week.
What about images from the web?
You should try to use images that are public domain/creative commons. I use sites like Unsplash, Pixabay, Flickr (most images are in the Creative Commons, but there are occasional exceptions), and IMB for stock imagery. If images are Creative Commons or public domain, you can usually use them without any attribution. Wikipedia is a great source for many public domain images. One trick you can use is a filtered Google image search (select Tools > Usage rights > Labeled for reuse).
How should we handle giving?
Your Sunday videos should include a call to give and a link in the comments for viewers to give. Churches without online giving should immediately consider it. Start with any existing church-management systems or app tools your church is currently using. Often those existing investments allow online giving at no/low rates. Also check with your denominations and networks. In my state, the Baptist Foundation is helping churches establish online giving at no cost. Even platforms with a setup cost are likely worth the fees in order to avoid taking a large hit on giving.
Will video servers have enough bandwidth to cover Sunday broadcasts?
If you’re using Facebook and YouTube, you’re unlikely to experience much risk. If you’re uploading and scheduling pre-recorded video, you can always do your upload before Sunday to ensure that their servers aren’t struggling to process video on a Sunday morning. If you’ve selected a more church-centric streaming or hosting service, you may find that they struggle to keep up with demand. As mentioned before, Zoom has been struggling to keep up with demand, especially for churches attempting to engage more than 100 participants who are all using their webcams to call-in. Perhaps turning off the inbound video streams of participants will help lighten the load on these massive Zoom calls.
How can I stay informed about the needs in our church and community?
Our church uses a Typeform to help people report needs to the pastors. These responses feed into a Google doc and an email goes to one of the pastors when the form is filled out. You can also feed these responses into a free project management tool like Trello using a handy free tool called Zapier.
We also use Facebook as a message board of sorts. I recommend creating main posts for the big things: prayer requests, praises, and perhaps one where people who are having trouble getting groceries can report their needs.
What methods are available for small group, prayer, and other meetings?
Here is a comparison of the main options that I’ve seen churches using:
|Tool||Interaction||Current Freebies||Next Level Costs||Paid Features|
|Zoom||Webinar w/dial-in||Video conferencing with up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes with current exceptions for educational institutions.||$14.99 (Pro), $19.99 (Business), $40 (Webinar add-on)||Pro account unlocks 24-hour video duration and more admin features, Business account adds up to 300 participants, and Webinar feature adds ability to stream to YouTube.|
|Webex||Webinar w/dial-in||Video conferencing up to 100 participants for as long as you want with dial-in.||$13.50/host||Recording features, more admin controls, ability to stream to Facebook Live.|
|Google Meet||Webinar w/dial-in||Technically nothing unless you are a nonprofit that agrees to Google’s terms.||$6/user/mo. (Basic), $12/user/mo. (Business), $25/user/mo.||Basic account includes video conferencing of 100 participants, Business includes up to 150, and Enterprise up to 250.|
|Skype||Video chat||Chat with multiple people, no duration limits, screen sharing||International dialing is one of the few Skype costs.||n/a|
|Microsoft Teams||Text/Webinar w/dial-in||Unlimited users, guest access, file attachments up to 2GB per user, lots of integrated apps, audio/video calls||$5/user/mo.||Larger file attachments, scheduled video, meeting recordings, online events up to 10k people.|
|Video chat/text||Strong cross-platform video chat tool with group features.||n/a||n/a|
|Jitsi||Video chat||Basic cross-platform, multi-participant video chat tool.||n/a||n/a|
|Marco Polo||Video Walkie-Talkie||1-to-1 and group video, distributed in an asynchronous walkie talkie method.||n/a||n/a|
|GroupMe||Text/SMS||Large-group messaging service that also works with SMS.||n/a||n/a|
|Slack||Text/SMS and Video chat||10k searchable messages, up to 10 app integrations, 1-to-1 video calls||$6.67/user/mo.||Unlimited messages, unlimited app integrations, group calls w/screen sharing|
Depending on your church and your needs, different tools on this list will be more useful to you than others. Let us know what’s working well for you via comments on social media.
What about those without internet or smartphones?
Zoom has a call-in feature for its meetings (although it’s likely limiting this to paid accounts). You could text the dial-in number to members without smartphones. WebEx, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams also offer similar features.
Some churches are providing training or benevolence funds for connectivity for older members struggling with tech to stay connected. In general, an audit of who is able to remain connected and how is important. For more pointers in this area, check out this article from TGC Africa.
How can we keep our people informed throughout the week?
Here are a few suggestions for maintaining community in a time of disruption:
- Regular announcements and updates via social media and email.
- Calling through designated portions of the church directory on a daily basis.
- Hosting “Family Hangouts” certain evenings with a more fireside feel via video conference.
- Creating a special landing page on your site or re-working the home page to address the pressing needs of your church.
How can we minister the Word well throughout the week?
In addition to community, your church members are likely to have more time to devote to the study of the Word and greater anxiety due to the financial and physical concerns of the moment. Here are some ways to minister the Word throughout the week:
- Sharing daily devotional videos on social media.
- Hosting regular prayer meetings via video conference tools.
- Sending regular emails with top resources, articles, podcasts, and so on.
- Recording a hymn or original song (see copyright notes, above) and distributing it over social media.
- Sending devotional books, coloring books, or other Sunday school material to children.
- Hosting video calls for children to read a Bible story, study a catechism, or share a devotional.
- Hosting video calls for students with a devotional and game night can provide fellowship and Word-ministry.
Ultimately, we’re all trying to find ways to continue some level of ministry and community during this challenging time. As your church discovers helpful tools or methods, please share those in TGC’s COVID-19 group.