The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused a lot of churches around the world to rethink how they do church services. Since the outbreak late last year, many churches have stopped meeting in person in order to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the virus. Even if your church can’t meet in person, you can still meet and worship together through live streaming. Last month, Indigitous put on a webinar entitled “So You Want to Live-Stream Your Church Service” and also posted a Live Streaming Guide that is regularly updated with resources to help your church figure out how to live stream well.
Even before COVID-19 forced churches to close their doors, many were live streaming their services. “The church needs to be where people gather,” says Lim Chee Harn of Hope Singapore. That church has been live streaming their services and has learned through trial and error what works. One key takeaway was that online content should enhance, not replace, personal presence in the community. Some think of online church services as being impersonal and more about content consumption than gathering as the body of Christ, but Chee Harn doesn’t think it has to be that way. “The best way to do church online is to intentionally work to move everyone possible from being alone on the screen toward being in community with others and being incorporated into a covenant community,” he says.
Content: Knowing your audience
Covenant EFC had never really thought about live streaming their services until COVID-19 forced their hand. Since then, the church started creating streaming content and sharing it online with a congregation that cannot meet in person.
Speaking for an online audience is different than giving a sermon to people who you can look in the eyes, though. “We need to be able to acknowledge that they are there even though we can’t see them,” says John Rajan Nair, Video Producer for Covenant EFC. One practical step that John advises is for the speakers to look directly into the main camera and acknowledge the people at home as being part of the service.
“When you prepare your content, be mindful that you are going public,” John says. Jokes and comments that might be fine within the four walls of your church building because of the culture of your church can easily be misunderstood or misconstrued by a wider online audience.
It’s also important to include the online audience in your service at appropriate times. “Don’t just in the beginning welcome them and then completely forget about them,” John says.
Content: Copyright and licensing
If you’re going to include worship songs in your church live stream and you’re going to perform songs more recent than the 1920s, there’s a good chance those songs are copyrighted. During a sermon, speakers will also often show photos or videos. When live streaming your church service, anything that you show you must either own or have permission to use.
“We can’t just pick pictures from a Google search and then dump it in your PowerPoint slide,” John says. John recommends finding images at royalty-free sites such as Unsplash and Pexels. If unsure about your church’s current licenses, check to see if they include live streaming. For example, your CCLI license may allow you to perform worship songs in person but does not allow the streaming or recording of them. When Covenant EFC was unable to obtain a CCLI streaming license, they reached out to COMPASS (Composers and Authors Society of Singapore) and Hillsong Music as other options.
Capturing your church service
If you’ve never recorded video of your services, it can be hard to know where to start. In terms of camera angles, Joash Lee of Faith Methodist Church recommends keeping it simple with a few easy-to-follow rules. For shooting the speaker from the pulpit, Joash recommends:
- Medium shot of speaker in center with little headroom
- Rule of thirds to left or right of stage with sufficient noseroom
- Be mindful of protruding heads (and hands)
- Place the camera at a low foot traffic area
The primary camera for the pulpit should be a medium shot with the speaker in the center with little headroom. If you have a multi-camera setup, the second camera should be to the left or right of the stage, also a medium shot, using the “rule of thirds” and offering sufficient noseroom.
One important rule is to always follow the speaker. “If the speaker moves and goes out of frame and the camera doesn’t follow they feel a bit disconnected,” says Joash. As the speaker moves, always follow and keep the speaker in frame.
For group shots, such as a choir or worship band, Joash makes the following camera shot recommendations:
- Center the group with an imaginary border around them
- With a second camera, shoot a wide angle using the rule of thirds
If you only have one camera, Joash recommends positioning the camera in the middle with a wide shot of the stage, able to capture any group, and the zoom in to a medium shot when wanting to focus on an individual speaker.
Encoding and streaming
If you’re new to live streaming, it can be hard to know what hardware and software you need for the encoding and streaming of your church service. According to Steven Yeoh, Technical Director for Hope Singapore, you will need the following:
- Video capture device
- Broadcasting software encoder
- Unique stream key
In the below video, Steven gives a tutorial on using each of those.
Engaging with your congregation
It is not enough to just share a video online. Your church, when meeting in person, is so much more than the content of a sermon, and your church when live streamed online needs to be more than that as well.
“With church online you can do your online ministries with a group of people who will engage people in real time,” says Jerico Je Layugan, IT Manager for Hope Singapore. “They will be able to reach people in their time of need. No need to wait until the service is over.”
Hope Singapore uses the Church Online Platform from Life.Church. By making the live streamed church service interactive, you help people to still feel like they are attending church even when they can’t go in person. People watching the service online can request prayer, chat with others in the congregation, share notes, and more.
How beautiful are the feet
It is our privilege as followers of Jesus to bring the Good News to the world. “We’re called to proclaim peace and salvation, especially in light of the world we live in, with so much terror, pain, shame, and stuff that is fear driven,” says Indigitous co-founder Simon Seow. As people around the world are in fear of the coronavirus, food and supply shortages, lost income, and more, it is vital that we as the church continue to broadcast that message even if the church congregation can’t meet face to face.