connect with your church family online

You want to start streaming your services online. How should you get started? There are many possibilities I'll walk you through.

Step 1: Proof of Concept

Make sure your internet connection is stable enough to sustain a live stream. This is very easy to do with a phone, and may prove sufficient for your gathering! You can stream this way to Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, or any other platform that has an app for your phone.

I recommend placing the phone horizontal and close to "the action", and let it do the rest. Here's what you'll need:

  1. A way to mount your phone to a tripod. I prefer metal phone tripod mounts since I'd rather not risk the phone falling off a cheaper mount.

  2. A tripod of some sort. You can find them second hand, or get a compact one. Your phone isn't particularly heavy, so you don't need much.

That's all you need! You can read more about specifics for different platforms at the links below:

  1. Facebook

  2. YouTube

  3. Zoom

    1. Tip: If you're playing music, you'll want to turn on Original Sound! Otherwise, Zoom will filter out the music, thinking it's background noise.

  4. Vimeo

Step 2: Improve Your Audio

This step will depend on your particular audio setup (such as your soundboard) so I won't go too in-depth here. But know that most users will suffer through bad visual quality far longer than they will poor audio quality. If they can't hear what's happening well, they'll drop off your stream within seconds of joining.

Some ideas to consider:

  1. You can upgrade the sound on your phone by getting an external microphone. This can often pick up a decent mix from what you already have in the room, particularly if you're focused on streaming someone speaking. Depending on the microphone you use, like the Rode VideoMic Pro, you might need an adapter cable to use it with your phone.

  2. The stream mix will require a different mix from what you're sending to your speakers. The room you're in has a big impact on what you hear, and the dynamics of your stream will be very demanding compared to your room. Simply sending an exact copy of your audio to your stream might work, but probably not. Feel free to try it out!

  3. You can send audio out of your soundboard using an auxilary output, much like you might for a musician's monitor on the stage. This will give you more control over the levels going to your stream, but you'll have to keep track of and listen to what your viewers are hearing.

  4. In addition to capturing the obvious sound sources (like speakers, instruments, and videos you play), consider capturing noise from the audience too. A shotgun mic aimed away from your speakers, but toward audience, can help bring audience reactions like laughter and other responses. Make sure you remember to turn off these mics if people are praying together near them! Or if they're standing near them chatting.

  5. Eventually, you'll want a dedicated person in an isolated environment mixing for the stream. I have personal experience now with Behringer's digital solutions where you have a single digital snake that is then sent to multiple boards like the X32. One of those boards drives your in-room experience, and the other drives your online experience. The levels, EQs, effects can all be different, which is quite necessary for a great experience in both listening environments.

Step 3: Get a Camera

Now that you're getting good audio, and you've proven you can stream through a phone, it's time to step up to using a laptop or desktop!

A dedicated camera with USB and HDMI output can give you room to grow. For now, you can simply plug it in to a computer. But in the next step, we'll step up our game even further! As you grow, this can become a drum-cam or something similar. I've been impressed with Mokose's little cameras. (The smaller SDI versions are quite tiny, but I've found them to have quite a bit worse color quality.)

You can put this on your tripod, and plug it in through USB to a computer. Keep it near the action, of course! Larger cameras with better zoom will cost a lot more to do properly. You can skip this expense by simply keeping close. The further away you get, the more light the lens will need, and the more expensive it will be. Or, a cheap lens with a lot of zoom will always compromise on visual quality. You get what you pay for!

Step 4: Get More Cameras!

This is my favorite step, and I'm almost always coming back to this one. Sometimes it's hard to move people around with cameras, particularly when I don't want to disrupt the in-room experience. But a small camera can be planted without being obtrusive! Second-hand markets like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and eBay can be great options for finding used equipment too. Make sure it has clean HDMI output (there shouldn't be any overlays like menus or battery information) and it should work!

Of course, the camera isn't the difficult part of using multiple cameras. You need a way to switch between the cameras. And what about displaying big-screen content, like an introductory video before a message? You need an aptly named... video switcher!

A very popular option is the Blackmagic ATEM Mini HDMI Switcher. You simply plug your HDMI cameras into it, then press the button of the camera you want to show, and presto, it works! This particular switcher can plug into your laptop through USB-C, and then you can use it like a webcam to stream to your platform of choice.

If you want to omit the laptop entirely, the "Pro" line of the ATEM Mini can be configured to stream to various platforms directly. It'll need a network connection, but it will handle the rest.

Tip: You might notice periodic instability in your stream when connected over Wi-Fi. Particularly when a bunch of people are in your room with their phones! Even if they aren't on the same Wi-Fi network, the congestion caused by multiple devices can cause hard to diagnose problems. If possible, use ethernet to get internet to your streaming device!

Carry On!

There is a lot more you can do to advance your stream further. At each step, decide if moving forward is necessary. Are people engaging with you online? Are people connecting? Are they being drawn in to meet in person, or to form smaller groups of believers? No amount of technology can answer these questions! The technology can help create space. But do the work to draw people, and focus on your people.