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So you want to start streaming your church services. It sounds simple enough, and our church with an average attendance of something like 35 people was able to put together quite the stream all things considered.
Tools of the trade
like a carpenter, there are a set of tools that you’ll need to stream a church service. A carpenter needs a planer, a drill, a way to sand things down, and even a handful of stains to finish off his work.
One carpenter might choose more hand tools over power tools, or one brand over another, but the quality of their work is going to come down to their craftsmanship. In the same way, there are many options for each part of a stream, and usually, there is nothing wrong with any of them. The key though, is if the person leading the development of the stream is able to make the most of the tool at hand. Don’t take the carpenter’s preferred tool away from them if at all possible.
In this article, I’ll point out the specific tools that we use to create the TBC stream, but I’ll also try to give you a generic overview of what’s important when considering your own tool choice.
Chances are, you already have an audio mixer. We were in the position that we needed a new one, so we were able to select one specifically for our goals. The Behringer X32 fit this bill perfectly. I wasn’t instantly convinced when we first talked about getting a digital board. The X32 is fully digital, and I wasn’t sure we needed to spend the money on a digital board. Advancements are being made in the analog space as well, and for a church of our size, we didn’t need anything super advanced.
But, it didn’t take me long looking at the X32 to realize it was the best option. As digital mixers go, it’s immensely powerful for the price. We are also able to do much much more with it than we could have with an analog mixer. For instance we have the assign buttons set up for different parts of our service so that all we have to do is press a button to transition the board to the next talent.
When your goal is getting the best quality you can, good studio headphones are a vital part of the toolchain. I was quick to recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. These have long been my monitoring headphones of choice for their clarity and depth. I wear these for hours on end every day and would recommend nothing else.
You’ll of course need good microphones if you’re going to get good sound. We didn’t purchase specific microphones for this project, and since you will likely either use what you have, or be choosing based on your environment, all I’ll do is point you to my favorite youtube microphone reviewer.
As for a computer, you’re going to need some strong graphics processing, a reasonable amount of memory, and preferably fast storage. We found an optiplex 7020 on the Dell Outlet with 16gb of ram, a 512gb m.2 ssd, and an nvidia graphics card in a mini tower for a very reasonable price.
Cameras are a conversation all to themselves. It might be worth an article just on cameras, but I’ll point you to the camera options we landed on.
To start with, I wanted to pick up something quickly that would not cost us much but would last a long time. We grabbed an ELP camera, much like this one on Amazon. It has an incredible lens that gives you a zoom ring, a focus ring, and an aperture ring, giving you precise control of your shot. It is fully manual though, so it’s the kind of camera you set up right and lock in.
We definitely wanted to get some PTZ cameras, and after much talk and research, we found the PTZ Optics 20X SDI to be the right fit. These are used by a lot of churches because they are just right for an auditorium.
The first and most important choice of software is your streaming software. Once you’ve chosen an application for this, there is little going back. You’re going to be adding in all sorts of options and settings, and your stream operators are going to become familiar with the software, so there would be a lot involved in making a change.
I have a lot of direct experience with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). It’s open source, so it’s free, and it’s one of the most (if not the most) popular streaming software options out there. It’s used by everyone from gamers to vloggers, to professional streams of all kinds. If you’re not familiar with it, I highly recommend you check it out. With a little attention to detail, there is practically nothing OBS can’t do for your stream.
You’ll want to make your own stream graphics too. Yeah, you could borrow from somebody else, but you want your stream to be unique and looking great. I use Inkscape pretty much all the time for even more than graphics, and I have plans to make tutorials about Inkscape which I will be posting on the site here at some point.
Another big part of a church stream is presentations. In OBS, you can use the window capture source to select any open window, including a presentation window in full screen. There are a massive number of different options out there for managing presentations. We haven’t decided on anything specific yet, but that choice is just around the corner. I have my eye on OpenLP, but it has the limitation that it can only do a cut between slides and has no ability to implement a smooth transition.
Depending on your goals, you may want to incorporate some stream enhancements right away. My first implementation of enhancements was a set of bash scripts to do things like start a countdown, set a Scripture reference, and update titles.
With some more time, I was able to move those three enhancements to a powershell project with a winforms frontend. This tool (which I call TOC or TBC OBS Controller) gave us the ability to click a button to show the current Scripture reference overlay, and easy to use controls for starting and stopping a countdown, and setting up and selecting the current title to show.
You’ll also need to decide on where you are going to host your stream. Generally, you’ll find using YouTube or Vimeo as your primary options. We use YouTube and add the stream url to the sermon in the Sermon Manager plugin on WordPress.
Needless to say, there are a huge number of tools that are available to build out a live stream. This is really not hard to put together, it just takes some patience and diligence to build it in a good and professional way. You don’t need 10 people staffing the stream to make it good, you just need some determination and persistence to make something people will want to watch.