Video Streaming on a Shoestring Budget
Allow people who are traveling, home-bound, or considering your church to join the service electronically.
Video Streaming on a Shoestring Budget

My church has a little less than 300 people in weekly worship attendance. We don’t have the budget to buy expensive cameras, and we don’t have the space to put up tripods. Although we have these restrictions, I wanted us to try streaming our services so our current church body could worship with us when they weren’t here.

For our streaming, I took into consideration that we have:

  • About 50 snowbirds (people who go south for the winter)
  • About 5 to 10 home-bound or shut-in people
  • A couple of people in the military who have to travel a lot
  • Several business people who have to travel
  • Families who like to travel (especially during summer)
  • People who have to miss church when they’re sick
  • People who aren’t sure what it will be like at our church who want to “try us out” anonymously

Although there is an evangelism aspect to streaming, my main purpose was for “community continuity.”

To do streaming “right,” you need to have two to three professional cameras on tripods and camera stands. You need to have a mixer board where different camera angles are streamed, and a streaming service that can handle your load.

Since we didn’t have the money to do it “right,” as noted above, I decided to use one stationary camera, a streaming service, and no mixing board.

Yes, our quality isn’t nearly as good as it would be with several cameras and a mixing board; however, for right now it gets us into the field and gets our church community used to having streamed services. As we grow our Internet Campus and donations come in, we will upgrade our equipment.

Selecting and Setting Up the Camera
Check the Internet quality at your church before buying a camera as you may need to upgrade your Internet plan. (See below for more details on which type of Internet quality you may need.) Luckily, we didn’t have to upgrade ours since our speed with our cable Internet was perfect for our needs.

The video camera I bought is a Panasonic HC-V250K Full HD camera with built-in Wi-Fi (cost: $288). My goal was to be able to turn it on and not have to touch it during the service. This did the trick. If you have someone (and the funds) to run a mixing board and people to run the cameras during the service, you will want to look for a different camera than what I bought.

This camera is HD and does great in lower-light situations like at our church. I have been surprised by the good quality of the image.

This camera has built-in software which uses a company called Ustream to upload its video to the Internet. The software made it seamless to do, and just about anyone can get the stream running on Sunday. Several people are trained at my church in how to turn the camera on, but it is pretty easy to setup every Sunday, taking only about 30 seconds on Sunday morning to turn on and start streaming. There is a little extra work needed the very first time you hook it up and set it up, but after that, just about anyone can get it going for you.

About Ustream
Ustream has streaming through iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Anyone with those devices can view your stream. Ustream also allows the stream to be embedded into your website or into theirs. (To see it on our website, click here.) You also can see stats on how many people have watched your stream and where they came from.

Ustream is free for up to five hours of viewing, then it will start showing commercials. I don't know what the commercials are like because I upgraded before we went live to avoid having them. But the free version might be perfect for smaller churches. We pay $100 a month for the “Silver” plan, which gives us 100 hours a month of viewing, plus Ustream hosts all our previous videos so we can have them in a video archive on our website.

Internet Requirements
You will need to have a decent Internet connection at your church for the upload stream. Try to make sure you have at least 1.5 upstream (1.5 Mbps up). Also, make sure you are using an 802.11n wireless router. A “g” router (instead of an “n”) will probably be too slow.

It’s important to make sure nobody else is using your Internet during the service. You need to make sure your upload stream is the best it can be so those watching don’t see buffering because of you. Our camera uploads in HD, so it does need the bandwidth (but the picture quality is still fantastic). Your upload speed is not dependent on how many people are watching. For your side of things, it doesn’t matter if one person is watching or a million. When people are watching, Ustream’s Internet is used, not yours.

The Results
When I launched the streaming, I didn’t expect many people to “tune in.” But we are averaging over 30 people a week through our Internet Campus now. This is shocking, but exciting!

Think about streaming! It’s a good way to reach those you aren’t reaching now and a good way to keep building your community of faith!

Mark Maddox is a pastor who previously owned (and eventually sold) a successful website business. This post is adapted from “Technology – 2 of 3 – Video Streaming on a Shoestring” and first appeared on Maddox’s blog, Used with permission.

If your church website allows online giving, see "Keeping Your Church's Electronic Giving Safe" by Dan Busby, Church Finance Today.

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