What We Learned in the First Year of Live Streaming Our Services

They say that technology is the great equalizer. What was at one time very expensive and reserved for only those who could afford it is now available to the masses.

Take music recording and production for example. At one time, you needed wads of cash and a state of the art recording studio, let alone the engineer and production personnel to produce a quality album.

Today, it’s remarkable what can be done with just a laptop, some software, and a few instruments. The same is true for websites

And it’s not just about the easing of the financial constraints that existed in the past, it’s about accessibility at every level.

This is especially being realized in smaller to medium sized churches. The era of internet and technological accessibility is giving churches a broader platform that never would have been available to them in ages past.

Our church began live streaming our services a year ago this month. It was a decision that took some time in the making but we had become convinced it was a natural progression for our church.

Just to be clear, the primary reason we ventured into live-streaming was to further the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, plain and simple. Without that as our primary motivation, moving in this direction can be seen as extending a platform for selfish and personal reasons. Something we need to continually guard our hearts from as a church.

I’m not going to get into the technical components of how we did it and what we purchased, but just let me say that it took about $5000.00 to get into the game. Surprising when you consider that it would have cost four times that a mere decade ago. (As an aside, if you want to know the breakdown of equipment you can message me and I will pass that on to you).

For the sake of this post, I want to tell you what we’ve learned just a year into live-streaming, and hope it gives you some idea on whether or not its something for your church to consider.

1. It builds community, not destroy it.

To be clear, we would love everyone to be physically present at church on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, that is not realistic. In the past, if people were unable to be physically present, they missed out altogether.

There are thousands of reasons for people to be home on any given Sunday- sickness, weather, shut-ins, away on holidays! It no longer means they have to miss out. I’ve been surprised the number of times we’ve been thanked for providing a live-stream, because it still made people feel connected to the church, regardless of the reasons they had for being away.

This particular point is the biggest criticism raised concerning live-streaming, in that it devalues community and is not theologically true to the portrayal of a biblical church. Not to debate those points, because they are valid concerns to say the least, but what we’ve found is this – for those who want to be part of the church, the live-stream is an invaluable resource.

In other words, the live-stream promotes community for those who are seeking it, but who cannot always avail themselves to the physical version of it.

2. The majority of our media has switched to video from audio.

We’ve seen an interesting progression. We’ve heard how video is the most digested form of media, and we have seen this play out in our analytics. We’ve offered our messages on iTunes, website, etc. Since live streaming, the number of audio downloads is dwindling while the video content steadily grows.

Another interesting fact about video, is that we know how many are actually online during the service. In most audio formats, it comes after the service. Most churches record the service and then post the message on iTunes etc., but that is after the fact.

The live stream is more conducive to being there in the moment. In fact, we count the number who are online as part of our Sunday attendance figures.

3. It’s far easier for people to invite someone to watch the stream, as opposed to inviting them to church.

We have started to promote this to our people as a means of giving someone a ‘first look’ at the church. We all know before people attend they most likely have checked out the church’s website.

Now, they can actually experience a service, all from the comforts of their own environment. I have a friend that I have been witnessing to for years, and was resistant to my invitations to church. He showed up one day about six months ago and found out he had been watching the live stream and finally got comfortable enough to show up in person. By the way, he, his wife, and two members of his family have rarely missed a Sunday since.

We also noticed large spikes when we held special services, like baptisms. The reason, family members who lived far away who were watching loved ones online. That was just one category of people we were seeing actively on the live stream.

I’ve been approached by people in our church who have family members who live in other parts of the country or world, whose relatives do not go to church but watch us online.

4. The technology allows for less volunteers than before.

Our present system is pretty basic. Two wall mounted cameras, a device for streaming the content, an iPad and one volunteer controlling the feed. Yeah, you read that right. One volunteer. That’s how basic it can get.

It doesn’t have to be large platformed camera crews and video editing consoles manned by a team of engineers and technicians. Even though that would be awesome and a dream to work towards, we have one person, sitting in the congregation, with an iPad, managing the live stream from their chair. Most of our volunteers are even sitting with their families while doing it.

That’s hard to beat in terms of cost benefit analysis. Minimum cost/volunteer ratio for the benefits received. Hard to argue with it when you really boil it down.

Some of you may be wondering about the quality of production. For the money we spent, quality is far better than I imagined it would be. In almost every case, issues have boiled down to either human error, or unforseen technical glitches. All of which were easily resolvable.

5. You get more traction beyond the Sunday morning.

As with all internet and social media platforms, they allow us to get more traction, regardless what it is we are promoting or selling. For a church, the extension of a Sunday morning is a win all around.

I mentioned earlier that we track the number of people who are online during the service, we also track the numbers following. On a typical Sunday, the number of views have grown three to four times larger by the time Sunday evening rolls around. Those numbers continue through the week and beyond.

Hope this post has been helpful to those of you considering this option. You can check out our live stream here if interested.

Having been a year in this environment, there is one thing that I can say. Once you dive in, there’s no turning back.