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Live Streaming for Churches: A Practical Guide

The church has left the building. We’re no longer able to gather as a family, which makes our connection to each other more difficult and significantly more important.

When it’s not considered safe to gather in person, it’s time to get creative, utilize technology, and be the Church outside of the building in new ways.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:14 

Live Streaming Best Practices

Live Streaming is one way to broadcast your church services. If your church is starting from scratch with live streaming, we’ve put together the things that you’ll need to know. If you’ve been livestreaming for a while now, you are still probably considering new ways to engage people in the new dynamic of “church at home.”

Although people can’t hug and smile at each other as they would in person, you still want your livestreaming church’s experience to be edifying and engaging.

Live Chat While Live Streaming

Most live streaming services have a chat feature that makes the online service interactive. Have staff or volunteers log into the chat and respond to comments and questions and ask questions to engage the online audience. 

Comments and questions to engage a livestream audience:

  • Let us know where you’re watching from today!
  • What were your biggest takeaways from the sermon?
  • Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and share your notes to encourage someone!

The chat feature is also a wonderful way to make sure that the service is accessible for everyone. For example, one church set up tech support to help senior adults get set up to view the service. Another sent snail mail to every household with instructions on how to watch their service on multiple platforms.

Change Up Service Times

The same rules don’t apply in the livestreaming world, and your streaming times don’t have to be the same time as your normal church service times. You can choose your livestreaming times based on when your audience is online. Most streaming services have audience insights and for using Facebook live, your page’s Facebook Insights can help you see the most popular online times for your audience.

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don’t overthink it.
Most smartphones can do this.

It’s important to know your congregation and try to anticipate needs and questions. But don’t overthink it—most of this can be done from a smartphone. No matter how simple your setup (even if you’re streaming from an iPhone on your desk), people will appreciate the sharpening and consolation of a sermon and the ability to connect with others.

Getting Started with Live Streaming

Big Principle #1: You don’t have to replicate, you can innovate.

Too many churches are trying to reproduce everything from their in-person gathering online.  It doesn’t work and it’s a mistake to try. At least for most churches.

If you’re new to services online, don’t try to recreate everything.  An online service can become something new, something fresh.

You can show pre-produced music.  Or you can downplay music and corporate worship. You can share an informal message from home rather than a polished sermon from a stage.

These things are not better or worse…they are different.  And it’s okay to be different.

Big Principle #2: Start where you are.

It’s easier than ever to show up online, and you don’t need fancy equipment and expensive tools to go live online.

Some good news in a time of widespread distress: there’s no shortage of options for live streaming your church services and continuing to share the real good news about Jesus.

Examples of Live Streaming Options

Check out the insanely practical tools that churches use to live stream. 

Church Online Platform – This streaming tool is a free resource from Life.Church that includes features for real-time chat, live prayer, chat moderation, and more.

Facebook Live – Streaming through Facebook Live is a simple option and a great place to start if you’re new to livestreaming. While it does have its drawbacks, such as the difficulty embedding a replay onto your website and the pressure to pay to reach most of 

The best way to get started is easy and free, right? These are not only free to and easy for you to use, they’re easy for people to watch as well. 

Before you throw up a camera and start live streaming everything that you would normally do in a worship service, there is one major topic to consider first: music. 

Copyrighted Material

Christian Copyright Solutions provides many churches with the licenses they need each week. Did you know that each of the following may require a license by law?

  • Playing pre-recorded music 
  • Performing songs live in person
  • Projecting or printing song lyrics
  • Live Streaming any / all of the above  

A lot of churches assume that if they have one of these licenses, everything is covered. This isn’t the case. For example, many churches use CCLI to cover their in-person worship music. CCLI also has a live streaming add-on license that you’ll need to check into if you plan on going live, since that’s what we’re talking about here. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what they are along with links to more detailed information and action steps (in their own words, since this is all specific legal language).

Streaming Licenses

The WORSHIPcast Streaming License covers more than 25 million secular and Christian songs across all genres from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, including holiday and patriotic music. 

The CCLI Streaming License covers more than 300,000 Christian songs from the CCLI catalog. If your plans are only to stream Christian music, and your church already has a CCL Copyright License, the CCLI streaming license is a good fit.  If your church or ministry plans on streaming any music outside the Christian genre, you will need WORSHIPcast. 

If you plan on streaming just your worship services, the CCLI streaming license has you covered. For streaming worship services, special events, and guest performances, your church will need the WORSHIPcast license. 

Don’t Forget the Lyrics

Need to show lyrics? This feature is only available with the CCLI license and only for the titles in the CCLI catalog. There is no blanket lyric streaming license for secular music available currently. Neither license allows you to stream sound recordings. 

A Quiz For Your Specific Needs

CCS has put together a super-helpful quiz and also free guide to help you make any decisions for your church.

Royalty-Free Music Libraries

Additionally and for a limited time, One License is offering a free one month license to help ease the transition period for churches dealing with COVID-19. 

Check out the insanely practical ways that churches have adjusted their worship for streaming. 

  • Skip the licenses and create a Spotify playlist that people can play in their own homes before and after the preaching or teaching.
  • Skip the fancy and go for a more casual and stripped-down “living room” feel for musical worship. It may also help people feel less self conscious about singing along from home.
  • Don’t feel like you have to pretend that things aren’t “business as usual.” Pastors can and maybe should address viewers at home. It may even be a good idea to rework the setting for worship services. Whether more traditional and formal or modern with more stage production, ask yourself if it’s helpful or hurtful to continue a “stage” presence.
  • Some churches are incorporating at least one more kid-friendly song in the worship set. Remember that whole families will be worshipping together, maybe for the first time!
  • Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL incorporated more scripture readings, prompting parents to read their Bibles aloud. What a beautiful example for their kids!
  • Bobby Smith, a modern worship pastor in the Atlanta area promoted a #HouseChurchJF hashtag, “collected the different posts of people worshipping all around, and compiled them to build a sense of togetherness in the midst of dispersion. Pretty cool to see so many people dig in.”

Ideas and Best Practices

Here are some good ideas and best practices for your church service live stream:

  • Use a tool like Typeform to ask a question or two before people actually enter your live stream.  It’s a great way to gather information and serve better.
  • Don’t forget about the people who show up early.  Have something playing in the background before the service officially starts.
  • Make “eye contact” with viewers by looking at the camera to build a sense of connection. 
  • Avoid creative but unnatural camera angles that remind viewers that they are spectators to something happening somewhere else.

Our lives have changed rapidly, and with that so have our methods of living. But it’s not all for naught. We are forging new ground to go be the church outside of our own church walls. To bring the church to people, right where they are. 

This is an opportunity. An opportunity to expand ministry and go to the ends of the Earth.

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