Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

You Stream, I Stream, We All Stream; But Why?

Every time I attend a technology conference, I hear a lot of talk about streaming. In fact, I was just asked to speak at a day-long workshop devoted to streaming (and after this post, I may not be invited back…). Wherever you go, you hear streaming. I talk with techs all over the country who want to start streaming their services live. Or their pastor just found out you can do it, and they want to be “live on the internet” next week.

But what I don’t hear talked about much is, “Why are we streaming in the first place?” Let me say this at the outset; I don’t think streaming is bad. It’s a technology and as such, it’s not inherently good or evil. Stream or don’t stream, doesn’t matter to me. But if you are going to stream, at least know why.

When I hear the people talk about why churches should be streaming—and this quite often comes from people who sell technologies or services related to streaming—similar themes crop up. 

You can reach your shut ins; you can get your message out to your community and the world; and you can reach people who watch TV on their mobile devices. 

None of those goals are wrong. But let us consider each one. 

The Shut In

Certainly we have people who once attended our churches who can’t any longer because of health reasons, or maybe due to an injury. It is a noble goal to bring the service to them. But before we invest $10-50K (or more, depending on your existing infrastructure), not to mention the ongoing monthly cost for bandwidth and streaming services ($1K+), perhaps we should see exactly how many shut ins we have. Maybe it would be more cost-effective to duplicate DVDs of the first service and have volunteers drop them off on the way home. If you’re a shut in, watching the service at 11:30 is just as good as 9:00. 

Again, streaming to reach the shut in is not a bad idea. Just be sure you know the real cost for that ministry and know that it makes sense in the big picture.

Reach the Community, Reach the World

This is certainly a laudable goal (and one we’re charged with). And if you want to reach your community by streaming your services to the internet, by all means, get on it! But don’t forget to include a sizable chunk of budget for marketing. Simply turning on a stream won’t get you an audience of even one or two by accident. 

There is so much noise on the internet right now and simply having a stream out there is not enough. You need to tell people about it. A lot. Over and over. Make it easy to find. Treat it like an actual marketing campaign. 

And don’t forget to have someone available to interact with your new congregation. Few churches do this well, but the ones that do have an “online pastor” who cares for this flock. Someone is going to have to answer the e-mail and comments, tweets and Facebook posts (or at least someone should). Who is going to do that?

Again, this is not a good or bad thing‚ Just be sure to consider the whole picture. Technically, it’s not that difficult to set up a stream anymore (especially if you partner with a good CDN), but you’ll be wasting a lot of money being cool if you don’t treat it like a real ministry.

Church on your iPhone

This is the reason I have the biggest issue with. Ostensibly, because young people do so much on their smartphones, some have reasoned that they would like to go to church on their phones, too. I think this is inaccurate.

The 18-28 year-olds I know don’t want to go to church on their phone. In fact, they don’t even care about going to a church that has super-high production values. They go to be with their friends, be in community and talk about Jesus. In fact, if you really want to engage this demographic, ditch the traditional lecture service style and make the service a dialog (now I’m really stepping on toes, right?). 

This age group (as far as I can tell) is much more about relationships and much less about technology. Yes, technology enables a facet of their relationships, but they value spending time with each other far more. 

Moreover, the idea of “church” is not a building or service time. It’s the body of Christ coming together for corporate worship, fellowship and learning (and celebrating the sacraments, depending on your tradition). Watching the service on your phone doesn’t really facilitate any of those things well.

This is not to say that the church can’t change and adapt, but I wonder if we’re trying to adapt because it’s necessary or because this is just cool now.

I should point out that this entire post is referring to live streaming of the service; I’m not talking about video on demand, which is significantly easier and cheaper to do. We use VOD, posting our sermons on our website on Monday morning. This is relatively easy, costs very little and brings a high return on investment; at least for the 20-30 people who watch each week. And also know that I’m not against streaming your service live. If you want to do it, great. I just always want to be sure someone is asking the question, “Why?” How does it fit into your ministry plan? Who is actually watching and how are you interacting with them? I’m not afraid of streaming, though I honestly don’t think we’ll ever get to a point of having virtualized churches; it’s just not the same. 

So if you’re thinking of streaming live, be sure to count the costs—all of them. If you’re not streaming live, do not be ashamed (in fact, be grateful, it’s a lot of work). And don’t let someone talk you into doing it because it’s what all the hip churches are doing (because they’re not).

What’s your take? To stream or not to stream?

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

23 Comments

  1. Dain Swanson

    This post couldn't have come at a better time for me. Just the other day, the Director of Worship at my church asked me to begin streaming our services live on the website. His reasoning: "because we have the technology." We just began recording services to put them on our website. That comment alone made me do a double take and reconsider the reasoning behind it. Thanks for the great thoughts and I have a great many more things to consider before we "go live".

  2. scott.morgan82@gmail.com

    My church has been doing live streaming for a few years now, and while we have had some success at it, it has also been a nuisance. We constantly have connection problems so sometimes the stream doesn't go out live, and we get complaints when that doesn't happen. Reading this article has only helped to strengthen the question in my mind as to why we do this from week to week. I am beginning to see that a lot of the things we do is simply because it was the latest fad which is never the best reason for starting something. It has cost us more money than we anticipated to keep the streaming maintained, and we would probably be better off going to a VOD-type setup. Thanks for your thoughts Mike. As always, I enjoy reading your articles, and have learned much from them and your podcasts.

  3. scott.morgan82@gmail.com

    My church has been doing live streaming for a few years now, and while we have had some success at it, it has also been a nuisance. We constantly have connection problems so sometimes the stream doesn't go out live, and we get complaints when that doesn't happen. Reading this article has only helped to strengthen the question in my mind as to why we do this from week to week. I am beginning to see that a lot of the things we do is simply because it was the latest fad which is never the best reason for starting something. It has cost us more money than we anticipated to keep the streaming maintained, and we would probably be better off going to a VOD-type setup. Thanks for your thoughts Mike. As always, I enjoy reading your articles, and have learned much from them and your podcasts.

  4. mike.d.fair@gmail.com

    We are a church of 300-400 people. We do stream for people that could not make it for reasons beyond their control (health, etc). Our budget is not nearly the $10K-$50K you mention and our internet connection is not being used during service time so we use what we have. We are upgrading the bandwidth but that's because we need a faster service regardless.

    Is our quality that of the mega church stream, nope but I hear time and time again from people how grateful they are to be able to watch the service.

    We were using the free UStream service until the pastor's wife saw a Zombie Apocolypse XBox game commercial (or was it the Coors Light party barge with girls in bikinis, I forget) during the service…oops! πŸ˜€ So there is some monthly cost but I think in our case it was the right move.

    One drawback is that if there is a problem with the service you are using or if there is a problem with a viewers computer and they can get the stream guess who is getting the blame, me! If I had to do it all over again I probably would not stream. I would record the service, then edit and put it on Vimeo or some other service. That way we wouldn't have to deal with some of the breakable parts. There's no way I could take it away now.

  5. mike.d.fair@gmail.com

    We are a church of 300-400 people. We do stream for people that could not make it for reasons beyond their control (health, etc). Our budget is not nearly the $10K-$50K you mention and our internet connection is not being used during service time so we use what we have. We are upgrading the bandwidth but that's because we need a faster service regardless.

    Is our quality that of the mega church stream, nope but I hear time and time again from people how grateful they are to be able to watch the service.

    We were using the free UStream service until the pastor's wife saw a Zombie Apocolypse XBox game commercial (or was it the Coors Light party barge with girls in bikinis, I forget) during the service…oops! πŸ˜€ So there is some monthly cost but I think in our case it was the right move.

    One drawback is that if there is a problem with the service you are using or if there is a problem with a viewers computer and they can get the stream guess who is getting the blame, me! If I had to do it all over again I probably would not stream. I would record the service, then edit and put it on Vimeo or some other service. That way we wouldn't have to deal with some of the breakable parts. There's no way I could take it away now.

  6. jliechty200@gmail.com

    My church of around 170 attendance does live audio streaming. We do it because, well, in our context, it's easy, so why not? We've had a radio broadcast on the local oldies (now morphing into classic rock) radio station for decades. In former times, this was done over a phone line or Marti, but we've been sending our program to the station with a private Shoutcast server for the past few years. Thus, it was trivial to add an audio-only stream over the internet using the free service from the people at netbroadcasting.tv. It's pretty much only used by people who are sick, shut in, or feeling rather pious while on vacation. πŸ˜‰

    We've had people say "it'd be so nice if I could see you all, too!" I asked our pastor who was passing along the request if it was worth it to us to spend $20K+ on cameras and equipment, plus monthly fees for a fiber connection and CDN. Being a rather sensible person, he understood, and I've not heard such requests for a while now.

    Your points about the need to advertise your stream if you want to reach your community with it are applicable to where my church is right now. Our radio broadcast is almost entirely unadvertised; I did get them to start putting it in the bulletin a few months ago, but that's hardly enough (certainly not if we also want to reach people outside of our church!). That question is getting outside of the realm of the technical arts, but as a technical arts, IT, and social media volunteer at my church, you've given me a lot to reflect on.

  7. jliechty200@gmail.com

    My church of around 170 attendance does live audio streaming. We do it because, well, in our context, it's easy, so why not? We've had a radio broadcast on the local oldies (now morphing into classic rock) radio station for decades. In former times, this was done over a phone line or Marti, but we've been sending our program to the station with a private Shoutcast server for the past few years. Thus, it was trivial to add an audio-only stream over the internet using the free service from the people at netbroadcasting.tv. It's pretty much only used by people who are sick, shut in, or feeling rather pious while on vacation. πŸ˜‰

    We've had people say "it'd be so nice if I could see you all, too!" I asked our pastor who was passing along the request if it was worth it to us to spend $20K+ on cameras and equipment, plus monthly fees for a fiber connection and CDN. Being a rather sensible person, he understood, and I've not heard such requests for a while now.

    Your points about the need to advertise your stream if you want to reach your community with it are applicable to where my church is right now. Our radio broadcast is almost entirely unadvertised; I did get them to start putting it in the bulletin a few months ago, but that's hardly enough (certainly not if we also want to reach people outside of our church!). That question is getting outside of the realm of the technical arts, but as a technical arts, IT, and social media volunteer at my church, you've given me a lot to reflect on.

  8. gabegrant@me.com

    "ditch the traditional lecture service style and make the service a dialog (now I’m really stepping on toes, right?)"

    Mike, this is my favorite statement from all of your posts. There is not enough stepping on toes that happens in the church these days.

  9. gabegrant@me.com

    "ditch the traditional lecture service style and make the service a dialog (now I’m really stepping on toes, right?)"

    Mike, this is my favorite statement from all of your posts. There is not enough stepping on toes that happens in the church these days.

  10. gp@gpfarah.com

    Great post! Thanks! Just curious — can you direct me to some churches/folks that do "dialogue" well?

  11. gp@gpfarah.com

    Great post! Thanks! Just curious — can you direct me to some churches/folks that do "dialogue" well?

  12. zachboehm@gmail.com

    I'm totally with you on questioning the importance of live streaming. We started doing it for our radio show a couple of years ago whenever we had guests on the show. Even with an audience of hundreds of thousands and having A and B-level Christian artists in, most video streams would only attract 30-100 live viewers.

    We found, though, that within a week or two, the recorded streams we left up would get thousands of streams. It made us realize we should focus on making the recorded streams the best they can be and let go of pushing "live" on people who obviously didn't think it was as sexy as we did.

    The shift freed us up to make the recorded stream a much better product. We could edit out songs and commercials, insert additional photos, video or camera angles in post and edit anything that didn't work. We could also post it to Youtube (the second most popular search engine in the world and a format our people are in the habit of sharing) instead of a streaming service like Ustream with lots of ads or expense.

  13. zachboehm@gmail.com

    I'm totally with you on questioning the importance of live streaming. We started doing it for our radio show a couple of years ago whenever we had guests on the show. Even with an audience of hundreds of thousands and having A and B-level Christian artists in, most video streams would only attract 30-100 live viewers.

    We found, though, that within a week or two, the recorded streams we left up would get thousands of streams. It made us realize we should focus on making the recorded streams the best they can be and let go of pushing "live" on people who obviously didn't think it was as sexy as we did.

    The shift freed us up to make the recorded stream a much better product. We could edit out songs and commercials, insert additional photos, video or camera angles in post and edit anything that didn't work. We could also post it to Youtube (the second most popular search engine in the world and a format our people are in the habit of sharing) instead of a streaming service like Ustream with lots of ads or expense.

  14. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Thanks, Gabe! Someone has to say this stuff…

    mike

  15. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Thanks, Gabe! Someone has to say this stuff…

    mike

  16. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Zach,
    That is exactly what I'm hoping to help churches see with this series.

    Thanks for sharing!
    mike

  17. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Zach,
    That is exactly what I'm hoping to help churches see with this series.

    Thanks for sharing!
    mike

  18. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Gregg,
    I wish I could!
    mike

  19. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Gregg,
    I wish I could!
    mike

  20. paul@upandatomstudios.com

    Ahh, great wisdom in your comments Mr. Sessler. Refreshing. The same kind of thinking needs to be applied to all venture in the church. New media has us chasing our tails sometimes.

  21. paul@upandatomstudios.com

    Ahh, great wisdom in your comments Mr. Sessler. Refreshing. The same kind of thinking needs to be applied to all venture in the church. New media has us chasing our tails sometimes.

  22. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Paul!
    Great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words. We should catch up some time…
    mike

  23. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Paul!
    Great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words. We should catch up some time…
    mike

© 2021 ChurchTechArts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑