How to Broadcast your Church Worship Services Live Online

Mike Mazzalongo

The basics of live streaming include capturing a video signal and streaming it to a remote platform where everyone will then connect and watch. Here is a general diagram of the components necessary. For our full setup and a write up on all the equipment needed, keep reading!

Background

We first started live streaming online worship in 2006 at the Ville-Emard Church of Christ in Montreal. This was the early days of online streaming before platforms like Ustream were founded. We originally used Windows Media Encoder and our members were connecting directly to our laptop in the back of the auditorium (thanks to our tech guy Silviu Frantescu). The system started to stress out at about 10 users.

Over the years, I have worked out a lot of kinks that come with the technology and equipment needed. Here is one approach you can take to broadcast your worship service online.

The first thing we'll cover is the equipment needed to get started. I'm going to show you how to set up a bare-bones system, as the churches I have worked with haven't had the biggest budgets for this area. I'll also include the difficulties we've had with each area, so you can perhaps plan/avoid these things.

Equipment Needed for Live Streaming Church Services

As you know there are a lot of options for each of these areas. The trickiest part is getting them all to play nicely with each other. Here is our current setup that we use for our live broadcast at the Choctaw Church of Christ.

We currently stream at 720p 30fps and for our BibleTalk.tv videos we also record separately with another camera in 4k 60fps for on-demand viewing. Recording separately allows us to control the quality of the videos better and have a more polished finished product. At one point we tried streaming at 60fps but this caused problems for some of our viewers with slower internet.

General Overview

Here is a diagram showing all the working parts and cabling.


1. Microphones for Live Streaming

Pulpit Microphone

At the podium you probably already have some type of microphone hooked into a mixer/amplifier and then dispersed to some speakers. If this is true, you are much closer to broadcasting than you think. We use a Shure Gooseneck Microphone. Other brand options I would suggest are Peavey or Audio-Technica.

Nice audio is key to a good live stream. Many viewers can handle a little bit of a choppy or blurry video as long as they can hear properly.

Crowd Microphones

Audience Participation – We have one crowd microphone in the rear of our auditorium (where we have Bible class before worship services) this picks up questions or comments from the class and we also turn it on during our singing. Currently, we have a table-top microphone attached to the ceiling. I found the paint used in our building and gave it a coat so it blends in nicely. It is currently routed into our main mixer and we use separate outputs (in the mixer) to only send the crowd mic output to our live stream and not the main auditorium speakers.

We also have two Shure choir microphones in the front to pick up congregational singing. We currently have all of these running individually into our mixer so we can turn on different mics at different times or if a baby is crying directly under a microphone we could mute that specific one.

Microphone difficulties

2. Cameras for Live Streaming

A nice HD camera will really take your broadcast to the next level. We've used a handful of different cameras throughout the years. Our current camera is the Sony EVI-H100S. Check for current models:

Sony PTZs Panasonic PTZs

This robotic camera is attached to our ceiling away from children's idle hands. The main reason I chose this particular one is because of the 20x optical zoom. Being able to get really close to your speaker will change the whole feeling of your video. Being able to see the expressions of the speaker on the stage and not just that the person is on a stage is huge.

The main reasons I went with a PTZ camera are easy of use and zooming. We do not always have volunteers to run camera so these creates a single operator in the sound booth. Also we have Bible class in the back section first then move the lectern to the front for worship. So instead of having two cameras setup, I went with the zoom option. Zooming does affect the quality of your picture so keep that in mind.

Non-robotic Cameras

I recommend Panasonic cameras. We have used several of these through the years and have had very few issues. Our current camera is the Panasonic HC-X1000.

We use these for our on-demand videos, because we can hard wire the microphone directly into the camera through the XLR inputs. This provides high-quality audio that doesn't go through the mixer and isn't affected by any other technical influences. These cameras have HDMI outputs, so you could do both at the same time: record to the SD card in the camera and send the signal to a computer for live streaming.

All-in-one Cameras

There is a new line of cameras currently being developed like the Mevo Camera. These cameras connect to your phone and do everything wirelessly.

As the specs on these get better, they will be an interesting option for churches to use. The idea of it is wonderful, however, without adequate lighting the quality of the video was just not there yet. For the price ($400 range) these may be something you check out anyway and see if it will work with you. Since you can do everything (film, edit, stream) for just the price of the camera. In my opinion, when these cameras work off an 8k+ file size (currently using 4k) this will be the way to do easy streaming in the future.

Tripods

We use Manfrotto tripods. They are really solid units for the price and they have fluid heads and are lightweight for easy moving around. Sturdiness and having a fluid head are the main things to look for here. If these are openly available in your room, you want something sturdy that cannot be pulled down.

Camera Difficulties

3. Mixers for Live Streaming

I won't go into setting up your mixer in this article because you most likely have something setup to amplify your speaker. The main thing to look for in a mixer (for live streaming purposes) is what type of outputs your mixer has. Our current mixer doesn't have this, but most of the ones I see these days have USB output. This keeps your audio digital and should not introduce any feedback or distortion.

If your mixer does not have USB output check out the BEHRINGER Audio Interface. It has an XLR input and a 1/4" input. In the back it has a USB cable that connects to your computer for super easy and clean audio. It can normally be purchased for around $30.

Mixer Difficulties

4. Computers for Live Streaming

The first thing to check is the technical requirements for the streaming software you are using (vMix & OBS). You'll want to make sure whatever setup you have is above these levels. If you are at the bottom level of their specs you're probably going to be having some issues (like choppy video).

Your computer should have at least an i5 processor. I would go with an i7+ processor if you can afford it. I'm partial to Macs but you can do live streaming with Windows cheaper.

5. Hardware for Live Streaming

There are some additional hardware items to consider inside and alongside your computer.

Capture Cards

The first is a way for your computer to recognize your video stream. The most common ways are through USB, Thunderbolt on Mac and PCI capture cards on Windows. I prefer Blackmagic Design for most options, based on price and quality. There are cheaper and more expensive options available.

Video Switcher

Other hardware to consider is a video switcher. There are many options, however, most of this is done digitally now in your software. An item I wanted to include in this is the Kramer VP-460. We used to use this switcher to beam our song slides and video signal to some HD monitors in the back of our auditorium. This particular unit has an SDI loop, meaning our video signal comes from our robotic camera into the Kramer switcher and loops right back out and goes into our computer for live streaming at the same time.

6. Software for Live Streaming

There are many types of live streaming solutions these days. Many come with switcher software alongside their live streaming software. We'll start with a few options if your live streaming solution doesn't have a switcher.

Video Switcher Hardware

The first was the ATEM Studio hardware switcher mentioned above in the capture card section. This is a hardware version of software like vMix or Wirecast. The basics of switching is that you have PowerPoint slides from your sermon or songs that you want to mix together with your camera(s) into one single feed that is then broadcasted to the internet. The switcher allows you to mix these all together in real-time. The ATEM switcher does this on standalone hardware and then sends the signal to your computer for some other piece of software to figure out how to broadcast. vMix, Wirecast, and others, which I will call software solutions, offer the whole package in one.

Video Switcher Software

Software solutions connect directly to your live streaming platform and automatically taking the mixed together video feed and send it to the broadcaster. The software solution is probably the path most of you reading this want to take. Both of these options allow for you to also send the live feed out to monitors in your auditorium or nursery, however, the hardware solution will probably do this better and cleaner than the software solution.

We currently use vMix for our broadcast. We also separately live stream BibleTalk.tv on Twitch 24/7 using OBS, a free open source broadcasting software well worth downloading and exploring.

Other switcher software that I don't have much experience with include: Live Stream Studio, VidBlasterX, and SwitcherStudio. There are also options to use an iPad as a switcher with Rico and others.

7. Live Streaming Platforms

The option we are currently using is YouTube Live. I am quite happy with the quality and ease of use when teamed up with vMix and/or Wirecast Play. Plus, I was uploading our videos to YouTube anyway for on-demand viewing, so this saves a big step (as far as time goes).

There are many different platforms out there, I'm not sure why you wouldn't want to use YouTube as it's completely free and can already offer streaming of 4k and 360-degree videos, my only guess is because of the other types of videos found on their website. Here are some other options besides YouTube:

I do encourage you to support Christians who build media projects, however, I'm not sure these aren't just bigger companies marketing to churches.

For more information on some of these services and on building church websites, check out my article Building a Church Website.

7. Patience

You may think this is a gag but it is really important. You are working with so many different moving parts, gadgets from different companies and weird settings that something is bound to go wrong. I remember sitting in our booth for hours trying to get the video feed to appear on the computer only to find out I was setting the sources as 30fps instead of 29.97fps. So be patient and remember you are doing this for God and for people who want to learn more about Him.


If you have any questions about getting your church worship services online feel free to email me.

https://bibletalk.tv/live-streaming-worship-services