Technical Tips for Church Online

Jon Wygant

July 1, 2021
5 min read

2020 propelled our church into the online space for the first time. In the midst of all that was happening in the world, our team had to think fast and change quickly. The new challenges we faced led us to do things we had never done before. More than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first sent us into quarantine, so much about our church has changed. Our message isn’t going anywhere, but our methods are constantly evolving to match our current context and meet our current needs. One of our staff values is to Remain Flexible. The past year has shown us just how valuable that value is for our community.

Recently, we shared some of what we have learned in our article, 4 Tips for Church Online. There we offered a high-level perspective on how to approach church in the digital world. In this article, I want to get a bit more technical. As important as we believe our previous tips are, my guess is that the main challenges you have faced in implementing an online experience at your church are not due to misunderstanding or undervaluing the importance of church online. My guess is that some of your greatest barriers to entry have been technical. What equipment do we use? How do we set up a live stream? What is the key to a good stream mix? My hope here is to answer some of those questions for you, or at least to offer some direction as to where you could find the answer you need.

Your approach to church online is going to be unique to you. Styles will vary, but here are two main options for how to pull off an online experience.

1. Record & Upload

This is a simpler starting point. Pulling off a service live online requires a lot and leaves room for error. A good place to start is to record a service ahead of time, edit and upload. This gives you flexibility on time and location, allows you to use a wider variety of equipment, and enables you to edit and refine your product before releasing it into the world. Pre-recording eliminates the need for some of the higher-end broadcast equipment. You can shoot on film cameras and fix any errors in post. You can clean up and improve audio before releasing. This is especially helpful when capturing a full band. It is very challenging—if not impossible—to match the quality of edited audio on a live stream. Pre-recording can help to improve quality and eliminate errors across the board.

The main drawback to this approach is that it adds a lot of hours to the process. When streaming live, you have to live with things that you would change if you could. When given the option, your instinct is always going to be to fix anything that you can. With this approach, the end of your capture is just the beginning of the process. Video editing, color correction, vocal tuning, audio mixing, etc. all take time. Each video draft requires a render that may take hours. Small mistakes can cause big delays. This option may be more accessible, but it is less efficient than the alternative.

2. Capture & Livestream

The second option is to stream your service live. This approach requires more equipment, preparation, and training, but is the more efficient strategy. Streaming live removes the hours that your team would invest in editing, but demands that everything is ready to go when your stream begins. It leaves little margin for error, so preparation is key.

You will need to use broadcast cameras and lighting. Both are critical. Great cameras with bad lighting produce a poor result. Good lighting can’t fix bad camerawork. For audio, you will need to set up a separate stream mix. Mixing for the room is completely different to mixing for the stream. Those levels won’t translate from one to the other. At VOUS, we have a stream console backstage with a separate engineer, but you can use matrices to produce a stream mix without running a separate console. One key to a good stream mix is to capture audio in a controlled environment. The more you can reduce noise and capture clean audio, the better. In order to improve our stream mix, we have switched to using Kemper guitar amp profilers and have recently started using a drum shield.

In order to stream your service live online, you will need to use an encoding service. Encoding is the process of taking a video file and converting it into a streamable format. We do this through Resi—which has a great dashboard and good customer support—but there are other options out there. The encoding process requires some hardware, which you can either purchase or lease, depending on which service you use. Once your video is encoded, you will be able to select your streaming platforms. We currently stream our services in three places—YouTube, Facebook, and Zoom. Each platform comes with its benefits and reaches a distinct audience. Live streaming is a challenge, but it is worth the effort.

In the past year, our church has taken both of these approaches to church online. We have experienced the challenges and benefits of both options. We are constantly learning and working to improve our processes and our product. None of what we do would be possible without the faithful servant leaders who come alongside our staff each week to make church happen. They are the silent heroes in all of this. My hope is that this article helps you and your team as you navigate church online for your community. I don’t know the challenges you’re facing, but I know that God has graced you to lead as only you can. If you remain flexible, you may bend but you won’t break. You are the right person for the job!

As a bonus, here is a list of some of the gear we’ve been working with, along with a breakdown of how we run our cameras and computers.

Church Online Gear

  • Ross Carbonite Black Switchers
  • Ross Ultrix Router
  • Resi Encoder and Decoder
  • Panasonic Varicam LT
  • Canon Cine-Servo 25-250mm Lens
  • Canon CN-E 18-80mm Compact Servo Zoom Lens
  • Canon 16-35mm Lens
  • MultiDyne Silverback V Fiber Equipment
  • Clearcom FreeSpeak ii System
  • MacBook Pro Computers (5)
  • Jimmy Jib 9ft to 30ft
  • DJI Ronin 2 with Ready Rig GS Stabilizer
  • Grass Valley T2 iDDR Playback
  • DiGiCo Quantum 338
  • Waves SoundGrid Server


Cameras

Camera 1 - Tripod

  • Canon Cine-Servo 25-250mm Len
  • Tight Shot (usually head to just below the belt line).
  • During worship this camera is used on lead singers with slight motion to replicate a mobile camera.

Camera 2 - Tripod

  • Canon Cine-Servo 25-250mm Len
  • Head to toe shot during sermon and announcements
  • During worship this camera has slight motion to replicate a mobile camera. This camera pans right and left and zooms in and out during worship to capture dynamic shots of the entire stage.

Camera 3 - DJI Ronin 2

  • Canon 16-35mm Len
  • This is a mobile camera that captures band and crowd shots.

Camera 4 - Tripod

  • Canon CN-E 18-80mm Compact Servo Zoom Len
  • 45 degree to stage
  • Head to toe shot during sermon and announcements.
  • During worship this camera has slight motion to replicate a mobile camera. This camera pans right and left and zooms in and out during worship to capture dynamic shots of the entire stage.

Camera 5 - Jib (Crane)

  • Canon CN-E 18-80mm Compact Servo Zoom Len
  • This camera usually stays zoomed out and has constant motion sweeping toward and away from the stage.
  • Occasional up and down movements as operators sweep back and forth.


Computers

CG1 - ProPresenter 7 - Lower Thirds and Live Lyrics

CG2 - ProPresenter 7 - Top Thirds and Videos

CG3 - ProPresenter 7 - Confidence Monitor

Resolume - LED Wall and Banner

Zoom - Zoom Experience

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