Point your camera at a religious service, touch the “Go Live” button, and your stream could reach dozens or even thousands of people in places you’ve never heard of. You can’t be sure what effect it might have on your audience.
Maybe you’re a rabbi sitting in front of a webcam in your office, about to play guitar and chat online with visitors to your weekly online-only synagogue. Or maybe you’re behind a camera that will sweep across 4,000 parishioners in a megachurch and send the service out to 50,000 viewers around the world.
Both these examples are among the roughly one thousand religious organizations that share their services on Ustream.tv each week. Whether the audience is vast or small, each producer wants to offer a high-quality, reliable video stream that is a gift for viewers to receive.
We asked experienced producers who stream religious services to share with us the top tips that make their work successful and rewarding. Read on to get their advice. And get started free with IBM Watson Media to stream your own religious service.
- Start with an abundance of bandwidth
- Harness social media
- Emphasize audio to build your impact
- Make viewers feel present
- Connect everyone with the chat module
- The biggest impact might come with the smallest audience
1. Start with an abundance of bandwidth
Be sure to test your upload speed, says Emmanuel Davies of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Maryland. (Set your encoder to use no more than 50% of your available bandwidth—see details here.)
Much is at stake at Emmanuel’s church: Up to 4,000 parishioners attend a service in person, and the church’s streams received 1.8 million views online in 2016. “We’ve been using Ustream for about a year, and we switched to it because we had too many reliability issues with our previous streaming platform,” Emmanuel says.
To ensure enough bandwidth for uploading, the church stopped using a 500-Mbps connection that it shared with other businesses through a cable provider. “Everybody was pulling on that bandwidth,” Emmanuel said. It was worth it for the church to get a 100-Mbps dedicated fiber connection, which is working well.
2. Harness social media
First Baptist Church of Glenarden also has a social media team that expands the church’s digital outreach. The team monitors the chat module of Ustream to answer viewer questions and handle any viewing issues. Social media networks also enable the church to spread the word about its streams.
“The surprise for me is how many people watch us from around the world,” Emmanuel says, after viewing reports in Ustream’s metrics console. “We have viewers in Jamaica, Germany, Africa, Southeast Asia, China—countries you would never think of—and they watch our events consistently. We stream hundreds of events a month. Ustream has widened the footprint for our us, and for other organizations, to spread our message out in a matter of minutes that used to take years to achieve.”
3. Emphasize audio to build your impact
At Southern California’s Grace Community Church, where two to three thousand attend services each Sunday, Kevin Ford directs audio visual and uses Ustream to reach those who can’t attend in person. “A separate audio mix is essential,” Ford advises. “If you have a standard resolution picture, but a separate sound mix that sounds great, it’s going to work. I have a film background, and I’ve always said that sound is 51% of the movie. Maybe you can only afford a two-camera fixed setup for video—make sure you invest in a new audio setup before you invest in a new video setup.”
“Ustream’s uptime and availability has always been a great plus for us,” Ford adds. “The Ustream player is simple, straightforward and easy to use, and we’ve embedded and re-branded it to provide a simple experience on our website. We also love Ustream’s audience tracking capabilities. We can monitor buffering and see if people are having trouble. And the ability to see how viewership changes minute-by-minute over the course of a service is very helpful.” See more details that led Ford, in a review at TrustRadius.com, to note that “Ustream is a blessing to the House of Worship market.”
4. Make viewers feel present
In Marietta, Georgia, Catholic Church of St. Ann serves as many as 6,500 parishioners in person while also streaming two masses per weekend. Ed Bolduc, Director of Music and AV, and Jim Herrel, Parish Administrator, want to help people who can’t make any of the masses in person feel like they can be present in the room. A few production tricks help achieve this.
One involves audio. Many churches stream audio straight from the board, Ed explains, but that puts too much emphasis on the singers on the stage, who are behind the mics. “We strive more for room sound,” says Ed. “We bleed in the piano mic, and draw mostly from two mics that are fixed below the balcony, so the sound makes you feel as if you are there in the congregation.”
It’s a powerful result, the two say, and the effect needs to be protected by turning down the mic level of the person presiding over the ceremony when singing begins. “Otherwise, that person’s voice will dominate the singing,” Ed says.
“We use multiple cameras with different views, and that gives a perspective of the entire church,” says Jim Herrel. “Sometimes our rituals begin outside the church. On Palm Sunday, we had 1,500 people in the parking lot enter the church in a procession, and we captured the outdoor portion using my iPhone.”
“[IBM Watson Media] is the only platform that we’ve ever used,” notes Ed. “We enjoy the simplicity and the fact that’s always available.” (A key factor enabling reliability is that IBM Watson Media uses multiple CDNs. See why here.)
5. Connect everyone with the chat module
When Rabbi Steve Blane sits down in his Manhattan office in front of his webcam, he reaches as many as 150 people around the world who attend his online synagogue, Sim Shalom. He makes the service interactive by using Ustream’s chat module. “I built this community from the ground up with the idea of streaming video and not just streaming, but chatting with my community,” he says. “I interact with my community as I stream and they interact with each other.”
“You gotta talk to everybody,” Rabbi Blane adds. “It’s wonderful. I know hundreds of people around the word, and I’ve never seen them physically.”
6. The biggest impact might come with the smallest audience
At Catholic Church of St. Ann, “we never thought we would stream a funeral, but the more we did it, the more we realized how powerful it is for families,” says Jim. The church now streams not just funerals, but also weddings, christenings, and confirmations, enabling those who can’t attend because they’re sick, home-bound or far away to take part.
“People send us pictures of their relatives in Hong Kong or other countries watching their streamed event,” says Ed. “Wherever they are, zooming in on their child making first communion helps everyone feel connected.”
When a woman from Ireland passed away, a pub in her Irish home town filled with those who were grateful to be able to see her streamed funeral.
A grandfather had made it in person to the christening of every one of his first five grandchildren. The sixth he was only able to see from a screen in his home as he received terminal cancer treatments.
The most powerful form of streaming inspiration may not be one-to-many, it seems. It’s one-by-one.
Get started free streaming religious services and other events with IBM Watson Media.