Using Media in Your Online Church Service
Adapted from this Lightstock photo.
We all felt it. The shift in the Church during COVID happened fast and many churches had to be pretty scrappy in how they reached their congregation. Remember when most church attendance happened exclusively in person? It’s crazy to think that today that’s only true for about half of churched adults.
According to a recent Barna study, one in five (20%) is still primarily attending online, and one in four (26%) is mixing online and in-person worship. The highest increase in attendance comes from Millennials with one in three attending both online and in person.
The numbers don’t lie. Live streaming your church service is no longer just an add on—it’s a necessity and an expectation.
An Introduction to Using Media in Your Online Church Service
First, you might be asking,“why should I add media to my church streaming service?”
Adding high-quality media to your churches online service—just like adding it to your in person service—provides a better experience for the watcher. On top of that, according to this study, visuals are directly correlated to attention span. It cites that:
“attention levels during a sermon were 142 percent higher when the audience was treated with verbal and visual communication as opposed to just verbal communication.”
Now that's something to pay attention to. We also know holding the attention of an online viewer could be even more difficult with so many possible distractions around them while they sit at home. On top of that, if your church live stream looks a little too “make-shift”, it might discourage people from watching. So if adding high-quality visuals can help your message translate more clearly through the screen and keep their attention, then it’s probably worth adding to your streaming service.
The next question you might be asking is, “So then, how do I incorporate media?” There's not a simple answer to this question, so we have to break it to a lot of our newer members that—just like incorporating media into your in-person service—there's some infrastructure investment you have to make before you'll be able to use lower thirds or a countdown in your churches online service. And, just like with your in-person presentation, there's no one right way to do it, but we can help you get started.
Actual live streaming has a massive range of complexity and cost. On one end, you need zero dollars or skill to livestream from your phone. On the other end, some larger churches utilize hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tech infrastructure and employ a team of skilled people to execute their live online church service. Fair warning, we're about to get pretty technical here. If you know you just want to use an "all-in-one" solution, feel free to skip to that section.
There are two central pieces of technology that separate those two ends: the video switcher and the encoder . A video switcher is a piece of hardware or software that allows you to switch between (or combine) multiple unique video feeds.
Think of it as the visual equivalent of an audio mixer—except generally, you won't be combining more than a couple of video sources as much as switching between them. It's the key that unlocks the power of using media in your online service, but its usefulness goes beyond live streaming. If you want to have a multi-camera setup recording your service, incorporate lower thirds on top of IMAG on your screens, or seamlessly switch between your presentation software (like PowerPoint or ProPresenter) feed and a camera, you'll need a switcher.
While most people opt to use a hardware switcher like the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini (don't worry—it's a reference to how technology seems like magic sometimes, not an occult reference) , it's definitely possible to use a software-only solution - we listed some below. (like the popular, free OBS). You'll be limited by your computer's inputs and processing power, but if you're only using a single-camera setup, this is a good solution.
Just like the switcher, a video encoder can be hardware or software. Its job is to convert the video feed from one format to another—generally from high-quality, high-resolution video feed of your camera to something with smaller file sizes and bit rates, more suitable for streaming. Many software based live streaming solutions (like OBS), include an encoder in their workflow.
Popular All-In-One Solutions for Live Streaming
There are a lot of services selling all-in-one solutions for live streaming out there—here are some of the most popular in the church market:
If your church is like most, you probably want to stream to Facebook, Youtube, and maybe even embed it on your website or in your app. One of the primary benefits of using a service like one of these, as opposed to piecemealing your own system together, is that they make it significantly easier to stream to multiple platforms at once.
Another Option is Pre-recorded Production…
Although the practice of pre-recording services grew significantly when the world shut down in 2020, under normal circumstances it is not usually the best solution unless you have a complex service or program. For example, Easter may be a more ambitious service for your church and therefore you may need to pre record certain segments.
You will need to spend the week before recording segments such as worship, announcements, sermons, and editing it using a standard video editing software such as Premiere Pro, Final Cut, Da Vinci Resolve, or even iMovie.
While editing, you would incorporate media that you downloaded from Igniter and schedule the finished video to "premiere" or go live during normal service time on your preferred streaming platform.
It wasn't that long ago that hosting media-rich online services was something reserved for only a few churches and even frowned upon by many. If 2020 taught us anything in that regard, it’s that live streaming is more of a necessity than a luxury, and whether you like it or not, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.
Using Igniter's Media in Your Livestream
Once you have the infrastructure in place, you can begin incorporating media very similarly to how you would in an in-person service—specifically, by using a presentation software like ProPresenter. You would treat your presentation output just like any of the other video signals fed into your switcher.
How you utilize your presented content will probably look a bit different than it does in person. In person, you might leave content slides up for as long as the speaker is talking about that content, but in your online service, that might feel awkward—which is exactly why we started offering lower thirds with our title graphics. (Click into any product and scroll through the carousel to find the lower third variation.) We also created a more generic collection of lower thirds that can help in a variety of contexts. Read more about how we created those in our Ultimate Guide to Lower Thirds.