Image courtesy of  Steve Bowbrick

Image courtesy of Steve Bowbrick

Last time, we touched on the issue of live streaming or not. I am hearing more and more churches that want to live stream their services and I always ask why? I’m not going to rehash that here; go back and read the last post. Today, I want to focus on those that have made the decision to have an online video presence. And I want to tell you why it has to be good. 

The Competition is Fierce

North Point, Life Church, Church on the Move, Willow Creek, Saddleback and dozens more giga-churches stream their services every weekend. And they do a great job. So if someone wants to go online and watch a well-produced online church service, it’s not hard to find one. Now, you don’t necessarily have to go to that extreme; but you had best not simply throw a consumer grade camera up at the back of the room and post the resulting video online. Not only will no one watch it, there could be more harm than just a low view count. 

Who Watches Anyway?

There are several classes of people who watch church services online. The first class is your own congregation; they couldn’t make it that weekend for whatever reason, and wanted to see what the sermon was about. They are probably the most tolerant of poor video quality. But even then, if the shots are grainy, out of focus, or poorly cut together, or if the audio is poor, they won’t last long. It’s a lot harder for most people to just get up and leave a service in the middle if it’s not meeting their expectations; but closing a window online is easy. You have to do a good job to keep people engaged. 

Another class is the church shopper. We’re finding that more and more people check out a church’s website before visiting the first time. And this may seem like a great reason to post videos of your service. And it is. But only if those videos are good. If the video quality—technically or artistically—is subpar, you have probably lost the chance make a personal impression. Poor video tells people you don’t care enough about church to do this well. It tells them that your church is not worthy of their time. For this group, no video is better than bad video. With no video, they have to attend your church at least once to see if they like it. That gives you at least one shot at making it a great experience for them. 

Don’t Do What You Can’t Do Well

A lot of churches will justify poor online video by saying, “We’re just getting started, we don’t have to have it all dialed in at the beginning.” I would suggest another approach. Start small, but start well. A smaller church probably can’t afford to jump right into a 5 camera shoot with a jib and a full broadcast mix. That’s OK. But start off with a single, high-quality, manned camera and just do the sermon. Get that nailed. Make sure your lighting is great, the image quality is excellent and the audio is top-notch. This isn’t that hard, though it’s also not necessarily cheap. 

Later on, you can add additional cameras and a switcher for more visual interest. You can even start adding graphics. Only after that’s fully dialed in should you attempt the music set as that is easily the hardest. Your lighting will need to change, and you’ve got to figure out audio. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult to do well. If you’re a volunteer-run church, plan on spending some money to have professionals come in and help you get that set up. That doesn’t guarantee every weekend will sound amazing, but it’s a good first step. 

It’s a classic walk before you run situation. Start small, but start well. Don’t make the mistake of putting poor video online and thinking that just because it’s there people will watch it. Pastors (hopefully) don’t phone in their sermons because it’s not that big a deal (it is). We shouldn’t be doing a poor job on video simply because it’s online. If anything, being online should mean it’s more important because anyone can see it. Put your best foot forward and do a great job in everything you do. Hey, that sounds scriptural!

  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

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