Getting Started with Webcasting Online Worship

John Zimmerman and Matt Kennedy share a mutual interest in using technology to reach people for Christ. They say it’s easier than you might think to start streaming your church worship services live so that people at remote locations can join you.

John Zimmerman and Matt Kennedy share a mutual interest in using technology to reach people for Christ. They say it’s easier than you might think to start streaming your church worship services live so that people at remote locations can join you.

“Technology has been a lifelong hobby for me. I vividly remember, as a teen, getting a TRS Radio Shack computer with a green phosphorescent screen. It took me 20 minutes to write a program to scroll my first name across the screen. When I became a Christian and pastor, I constantly asked how cutting edge technology can be a tool for church outreach or efficiency. I don’t know the technical aspects of how to write HTML code but I know how to talk with the people who do,” Zimmerman says.

Matt Kennedy got interested in stage technology during high school, where he ran a lighting control booth. Now he’s an electrical engineer. He has worked with a professional sound company and as a videographer at a summer camp.

From radio broadcast to webcast

Corry First United Methodist Church began doing live radio broadcast of its worship services in the 1960s. Thirty years later, when the radio station became automated, the congregation had to switch to a delayed broadcast. No one was on duty at the radio station on Sundays, so there was no one to flip the switch.

Zimmerman came to Corry in 2004 from a Pittsburgh congregation that delivered live audio services. Corry FUMC started online broadcasting in 2006. “We started with audio. We put together a Christian music internet radio station from the multimedia room at church. We added programming such as Sunday worship and experimented with Christian talk radio,” he says.

Kennedy says that new technologies make it even easier for churches to broadcast online. “We use SAM Broadcaster radio automation software. It runs on an inexpensive PC. You don’t need a MAC. You don’t even need a new PC,” he says.

No glitz required

“I’ve found that when we as a local church stream worship for local people, their expectations are lowered. They don’t expect 700 Club glitz and quality. They are happy for the opportunity to participate with live worshipers at a church,” Zimmerman says.

Kennedy recommends starting with used equipment from local dealers, Craigslist, or B & H Photo in New York City. “When I first got here, we had a 1998 vintage camcorder that still put out pretty decent picture quality. We’d convert it to digital on a low-end interface. We used the free Windows Media Encoder to capture audio and video.

“We don’t have the bandwidth at our facility to handle multiple connections, so in 2009 we began using Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder in connection with a live streaming provider called Primcast. They provide us with a server and we pay a flat monthly fee for up to 50 users at a time,” he says.

The church now uses Wirecast to record and stream services via the web to online worshipers’ computers or mobile devices. Wirecast can switch between cameras and overlay graphics and text. Corry FUMC uses EasyWorship on a separate PC for worship lyrics. For their live interactive broadcast platform, they’ve chosen Ustream.tv.

CoverItLive chat software lets the online ushers moderate and edit comments. “For online worshipers we know, we can set it so their comments go live immediately,” Kennedy says. With CoverItLive’s personal messaging, an online usher can have a private pastoral chat with someone. The software also lets ushers add photos, live hyperlinks, and Twitter feeds.

Besides streaming its Sunday services, Zimmerman and Kennedy have experimented with offering online adult Sunday school or Wednesday night Bible study so that people who are traveling won't miss a segment. Their former youth pastor also produced and uploaded segments of youth group events so parents could check out what their teens were learning and doing.

They’ve even streamed a funeral service so that family members in Austria could join in. “We use the same equipment to record and video a wedding, so offering to stream it live would be a natural add on,” Kennedy says.

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