If you want to live stream worship services to your congregation, the solution can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
The following blog post is focused on simple. As I write this, a significant number of people have reached out to me for advice on launching live streaming options for their congregation as the world deals with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. You may be in the same boat: needing a live streaming solution that can be cobbled together in days, not weeks or months.
Below are the answers you need.
Start With What You Have
For starters, let’s start with what you have. Almost every church I visit has an audio mixer and microphones to amplify sound in the auditoriums. This same audio mixer can also be used to send audio online.
As for video, almost everyone I know and meet is carrying a high-quality, high-definition video camera in their pocket. Smartphones can produce high quality video streams.
With that in mind, let’s fill in the gaps with other *necessary equipment.
Equipment and Software Checklist
- Internet connection
- Audio mixer
- Audio adapters
- Audio cable
- Smartphone adapter for tripod
- Charging adapter for smartphone
- Extension cord
- Online destinations
Here are some extra details to consider:
Your smartphone can be used as both the camera and the computer, transmitting the video and audio to your congregation’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and/or other online destinations. If you don’t have a smartphone, purchase something like an iPod Touch. You can download any necessary apps (such as the Facebook Page app or YouTube app) to stream to your destination(s) of choice.
You need a solid (fast) wireless internet connection.
The download speeds don’t matter as much as the upload speeds. I recommend a minimum of 10 Mbps upload speed to increase your chances of a successful broadcast. You can go to speedof.me on your smartphone to check your speed.
If people cannot hear, they will not watch.
If your congregation has an audio mixer already installed, then skip to the next section. If not, you need something better than your smartphone’s built-in microphone, especially if the smartphone is going to be more than five feet away from the people speaking. I am a fan of Behringer’s X32 Compact digital audio mixer because it works great, sounds good and will give you lots of options when you get ready to upgrade to more professional live streaming equipment.
[RELATED: Why I Love Digital Mixers]
Audio adapters and audio cables
You need to get audio out of your mixer and into your smartphone.
Everyone has a different audio setup, so there are multiple ways to get audio out of your mixer. Whether it’s XLR or 1/4″ stereo jacks, you need to either use a spare audio output or split the audio coming out of an existing audio output. If both are available, I recommend XLR, but you could even use the mixer’s headphone jack in a pinch. Consult your mixer’s user manual for best solutions.
On the other end, you need to convert the audio into a format your smartphone can use. If you are using an iPhone, this device can be used to convert an XLR audio connection to an Apple lighting connector:
There are other options similar to this, but Rode makes great stuff that I’ve used for years.
In between the mixer and your smartphone, you will need an audio cable or a wireless transmitter. The length depends on the distance between your mixer and where you intend to set your smartphone. If you want wired (which is usually more reliable) then I recommend you visit websites such as monoprice.com, sweetwater.com, bhphotovideo.com or amazon.com to purchase the cable you need.
If you want wireless, I’m a big fan of Sennheiser’s XSW-D XLR Base Set:
It has great range, rich sound, automatic audio leveling and is easy to use.
Tripod and smartphone adapter for tripod
You need a tripod sturdy enough to hold your smartphone steady and tall enough to hold your smartphone nearly eye level.
If you’ve got a cheap tripod laying around, use it. Your smartphone isn’t heavy and won’t be moving that much so a fancy tripod isn’t necessary. If you need one, any inexpensive tripod you find at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc., should work fine, like this:
I’ve used Manfrotto tripods for years. They hold up well. Their Element line of tripods are a good value.
You will also need an adapter to hold your Smartphone to the tripod. Manfrotto makes some, but I also like this one by Vastar:
Whatever you get, just make sure it opens wide enough to hold your smartphone with its case.
Charging adapter for smartphone and power extension cable
Your smartphone probably only has one port, but if you’re going to be bringing external audio into that port, you will need a splitter to also keep your smartphone charged while in use. If you are using an iPhone, this Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar from Belkin can do the trick:
You will also need your smartphone’s charger and an extension cord to keep the smartphone charged during extended use.
If your smartphone camera looks grainy, it’s a sign you don’t have enough light.
Most smartphones don’t perform well in dim lighting. Therefore, the more light you can shine in the room and on the stage, the better your video will look.
If you only want to stream to Facebook or YouTube, then download the app for that platform. However, if you want to stream to multiple platforms simultaneously from your phone, consider a service such as Vimeo or Restream. It will cost you a few bucks each month, but you will gain the ability to simulcast your live stream to multiple destinations simultaneously. (Note: to use Restream on your phone you may need to follow these instructions.)
Put the smartphone as close to the “action” as possible. Ideally, the camera should be 5-10 feet from the speaker and as close to eye-level as possible. The back of the room is too far away for your online viewers to feel connected, and I don’t want to look up your nose when you are streaming.
You’ve got to crawl before you can walk and walk before you run. All of us make mistakes, even the pros, because we’re human.
Don’t be nervous about quality. Just be honest with your congregation. Tell them we’re going to try this, learn from our mistakes and keep working to make it better every week.
Ask questions. I am a member of several Facebook groups, such as Streaming Idiots and CMG | Visual Church Media, who are filled with lots of helpful people willing to answer your questions.
Don’t put it off. Give it a try today because tomorrow never comes.
Test it out. Make sure it works, then test it again.
Don’t be the only person in your congregation to know how to do this. One day you will be on vacation or sick.
Teach others what you know. Leave the world around you better than the way you found it.
In the coming days, as time allows, I will add blog posts for equipment suggestions regarding more advanced live streaming setups. In the meantime, go make me proud and share your love of God with the world.
Dennis Washington is a multimedia communications specialist for Alabama Power in Birmingham, Alabama. In his spare time he helps church leaders develop successful communication strategies and growth plans.