Regardless of the size of their congregations or the number of services they conduct, most churches have at least tried their hand at livestreaming within the past year.
Whether you have a full team and a line-item budget for your livestreaming programs or you have just one member with a smartphone, livestreaming comes with unique benefits and drawbacks.
Here are four pitfalls to avoid:
Failing to promote
Church members who are not able to attend in person will often find a way to watch a livestream service, but your goal shouldn’t be to just attract those people who know about your church. To attract online visitors, promote your livestream.
Make sure that your regular attenders are aware of the day and time you are streaming and how to connect. Send an email reminder or text the day before you stream and encourage them to invite friends. Post a notice on your website and on social media. Give people a heads up about what you are going to discuss and what they shouldn’t miss, and make it easy for them to find you when you go live.
Poor audio and video quality
Not every church has the resources to purchase high-end equipment for livestreaming. Thankfully, it’s not always needed.
Concentrate on three primary areas in order to provide quality livestreaming:
- Reliable internet service. Wired connections are usually best.
- A good microphone. Don’t use the microphone on your webcam, computer or phone. Also avoid using wireless headphone mics, which often capture a lot of background noise. Purchase a quality microphone, and keep it close to the sound source.
- Sufficient lighting. Regardless of whether you use your smartphone or some other camera, sufficient lighting is key to a quality video. If there is not enough natural light, make sure the room is well lit by others means.
In addition to these three elements, it is important to stabilize your camera. If you are using a smartphone to record, purchase a tripod if you don’t already have one. No matter how steady your hand, holding a camera while recording usually results in a dizzying experience for viewers.
Not engaging with your online audience
Obviously, you already try to engage with those who are in front of you during a standard worship service. It’s important to make online worship engaging, too. To engage with an audience you can’t see, you need to pretend that they aren’t invisible to you.
- Look directly at the camera and talk to the people watching online as though they were right in front of you. Welcome them separately. For example, after your first greeting, you might say, “And we want to extend a special good morning to all of our online viewers today.” Let them know that you recognize they are watching.
- When you are making announcements, include ones that are for your virtual members. For example, after announcing times and locations for small groups, you might add, “For our online viewers, make sure to check out the list of free Bible studies on our website. We encourage you to read one this week and discuss it with another believer in your life.”
- If you have regular viewers, make a note of their first names and specifically welcome them sometimes. For example, “Sherry, John and Tina, thank you for joining us again this morning on our livestream. We are so thankful that you are with us each week.”
- Assign someone to monitor the comments. During the service, a staff member or volunteer can interact with the viewers by posting and answering questions and responding to comments. Make note of particularly relevant questions and address them at the beginning of the next week’s livestream. For example, “Before we begin this week’s sermon, I want to address a question asked by one of our online viewers. Sam asked …”
While the ultimate goal for many churches is to encourage in-person attendance, many online viewers may never come to your physical location. Occasionally, you may even want to ask for their opinion on what you can do better or what topics they might like to learn more about. Include those in your online audience in the worship experience as much as possible so they will continue to return.
Failing to test
One of the biggest mistakes regarding livestreaming is the failure to test.
It is a livestream, so most people think mess-ups are inevitable. While mistakes are always a risk, you often can avoid technicalities by conducting a few tests.
For example, don’t start the livestream exactly when your service starts. Start it a few minutes before the actual content. Maybe your worship minister can arrange for some piano music, or you can turn the camera on a stained-glass window.
This slow “in” give your viewers time to join the stream and get settled. It also allows you time to make sure that the streaming is taking place as it should.
In addition, you may want to arrange for a private viewing party before your actual livestream service. Assign a small number of volunteers a link to view it. In this way, you can test your streaming service and your audio and video equipment and have time to work out any kinks.
Of course, all the best made plans sometimes fail and things will go wrong. For that reason, it is important to have a back-up plan.
What will you do if you lose audio or video? How will you recover if your internet service blips and you lose your stream midservice?
Even if you can’t avoid every livestreaming mistake, you can plan for how you will handle them. Work hard to make your livestream a captivating and encouraging place where your virtual congregation feels welcome and wanted.