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7 Ways to Improve Your Church Streaming Presence in 2024

Friday April 12, 2024. 02:00 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
Streaming is here to stay. It is your front door for welcoming new attenders, and it strengthens your congregation’s connection with your church when they’re away. However, poor streaming experiences can become a back door through which attenders slip away.

During the pandemic-era streaming bonanza, production quality played second fiddle to the urgency of getting something — anything — online. But now that the dust has settled, expectations have increased. Besides, the people we’re trying to reach live in an online world. Instead of being measured by our good intentions, our level of production must stack up with everything else. Quality issues impact participation.

Your stream may be a viewer’s only experience with your church, which makes it as important for them as the in-person experience is for those in the building, perhaps even more so because viewers cannot experience everything that people in the building do.

Here are seven ways that you can raise the bar to improve engagement when streaming your services.

Lighting Tops the ListVideo Cameras: Improve Image QualityImprove Your ShotsBuild a Trained Production TeamUpgrade Your Video Production StationImprove Your AudioInteract with Your Participants

Lighting Tops the List

Lighting is essential for streaming quality. Ultimately, video streaming is built upon the quality of the image. Good, flicker-free stage lighting can make a mediocre camera look good and a good camera look professional. Because a lighting update may make the most noticeable improvement in your video stream, let’s dig deeper.

Front Wash

Your key light is the primary light source for your subject, but your front fill is equally vital. An even front wash provides a consistent appearance for anyone speaking or singing from any point on the platform. Because a camera lens overemphasizes dark zones and hot spots, vital facial expressions and emotions can be lost along with their opportunity to connect and engage.

Front washes need a consistent, pleasing color temperature verified by white balancing each service day with all lights at standard sermon levels. If you cannot replace fixtures with an overly warm or cold temperature, then consider using color-temperature filters. A handheld light meter or smartphone app will help you measure your fill lighting and color temperature. Visually verify your lighting through the camera monitor when making lighting and camera adjustments.

Pro Tip: Use white lights rather than mixed colors for your wash to avoid ghastly tint combinations.

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Back Light

Help your worship leaders and presenters stand out from the rear wall by using a back light (also called a kick, rim, halo, or hair light). This helps the viewers’ eyes focus on the subject by adding depth to your image on-screen. Back lights should be positioned 45 degrees above and behind the subject’s head and shoulders. If your subject moves around the platform, then you’ll need a wash of backlighting for even coverage.

Background Lights

Sometimes forgotten, background lights (also called wall or ambient lights) can elevate your streaming quality by reducing harsh shadows created by key lighting and front washes. They add depth to your image and — especially if colored — enable the foreground to stand out without creating floating heads or a flat, washed-out look. Background lights can be one of the most inexpensive improvements you can make!

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Congregation Light

Seeing the crowd tells your viewer that they’re participating in the room rather than watching a video performance. To do this effectively, there needs to be enough FOH room light that the congregation can be captured by the camera. To create silhouettes, all you need is wall lighting around the perimeter of the congregation. Increase the sense of being present by using some level of house lighting so the viewer can visually experience all the laughter and emotion in the room.

Pro Tip: You may want to have the people onstage avoid white clothing, which can blow out the camera, or clothing colors that disappear into your background and create floating heads. Also, discuss potential issues with anyone designing sermon props or stage features, like large whiteboards, to avoid problematic color/lighting issues for your stream.

Call (800) 222-4700 to discuss and clarify your specific lighting needs with an expert Sweetwater Sales Engineer.

Video Cameras: Improve Image Quality

Today’s viewers expect a quality image. Even your most loyal and committed congregants may stop watching a streamed service if the video quality is poor. Increasing the quality of your cameras can be a big step in improving viewer experience. Because camera cost increases with the capability to handle low-light environments, good lighting expands your range of camera options at lower prices. If you use multiple cameras — and you probably do — then having the same brand of camera can simplify color matching your video feeds.

Consider that your video stream is typically a potential guest’s first experience with your church. It tells them whether they’ll find life there and connect well with your people and events.

Camera Resolution

Typically, zooming significantly and positioning a camera farther from the subject require higher resolution. Some video consultants recommend 4K as the standard, matching the TV quality that many viewers are used to. Other video consultants suggest that 1080p is completely functional for viewers who are watching on phones, especially through highly compressed platforms like YouTube. A wise approach is to know your viewers, consider what you want them to experience, and then use your gear and techniques to provide the smooth level of viewing experience that keeps your viewers engaged and distraction-free.

How Many Cameras?

Most streaming setups use at least two or three cameras. One camera is often set up for a wide, static shot to be used as an establishing shot and as a go-to view while adjusting the other cameras, which handle close-up images and alternate viewing angles. Some churches incorporate mobile, boom, or cable cameras to add motion and versatility.

You may find it clarifying to view YouTube clips of services exemplifying the experience you desire for your congregation. Turn off the sound as you count the number of viewing angles used during each of the different types of service elements. Keep in mind that a single camera can create multiple shot types.

To learn more about the advantages of PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) and traditional cameras, check out this article.

PTZ vs. Traditional Cameras for Church Video

Pro Tip: Rather than retiring cameras, consider mounting them unobtrusively on a platform, wall, or stand for occasional unmanned shots in your sequences.

Call (800) 222-4700 to talk with a professional Sweetwater Sales Engineer to clarify the camera options that can help you improve your stream.

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Improve Your Shots

It may seem obvious, but training and rehearsing with your video team can make a drastic difference.

Here’s a great exercise. Review with your team a selection of short clips streamed by similarly sized churches from your region. Choose churches that you think successfully create what you would like to accomplish. Observe how their shots convey a sense of story by being intentional, well framed, and well timed. Create a storyboard or shot list that you could use for a similar sequence during one of your services.

How you present your church visually can help your viewers stick around long enough to connect more powerfully with your content.

Shot Content

During your services, a good practice is to seek shots that forward the story or communicate emotion. As you consider the types of shots to use in your stream, try sitting down for a few minutes in the auditorium.

Note where your eye tends to go. You look at who is singing. You look around the room. You look at the person playing an intro or a solo. You notice what’s in the foreground and background. You watch the person preaching as they cross the platform. You look at the face of the person being baptized.

Focusing your shots on what your eye wants to see allows your mind to stay engaged. You can do the same for your viewers by designing shots that provide them with a similar opportunity.

For additional considerations to help as you develop your shot sequences, check out this article.

Best Camera Shot Sequences for Streaming Church Worship

Shot Length

In most churches, shots during sermons tend to be quite long and static, sometimes lasting 30 seconds or more. During music segments, most churches use a combination of short, medium, and long shots. The specific shot length is impacted by the style of church, the pace of the content, and the use of motion (push, pull, push-pull, pan, boom, gimble, cable, track, etc.).

Modern churches known for high production quality strongly tend toward short, two-second, mostly static shots. Medium shots last four seconds with some being static. Long shots last eight or more seconds and usually incorporate motion.

Typical contemporary churches primarily use medium shots of seven seconds, mostly motion. Short shots last three to four seconds and are generally static. Long shots last 10 or more seconds and are mostly motion.

Small and traditional churches primarily use medium-length shots lasting seven to 10 seconds, usually motion, even if the motion is slight. Long shots of 15 or more seconds are mostly motion, and short shots are seldom used.

Using motion on medium and long shots engages the viewers’ brains for a longer amount of time than a still shot of the same content. Cueing a long motion shot gives another camera operator an opportunity to focus and frame the subsequent shot. It enables maintaining an appealing stream with fewer shots, which is especially practical for smaller teams.

For more info on church shot length, read this article.

Best Video Shot Lengths for Streaming Church Worship Services

Shot Types

Your shot sequence steps the viewer through a story. Continually repeating the same sequence of shots can bore and disengage the brain. Instead, keep your viewers’ attention by replicating the same journey that your own eyes take when you are in the auditorium.

For example, during a song’s beginning, you may first look at the overall team or at the person playing the song’s introduction. You shift your focus toward the person speaking or beginning to sing, looking more intensely at them as they build toward a chorus. When other singers join in, your focus shifts to include them. If the congregation claps or otherwise engages, then you may notice that. When someone plays an instrumental, you may momentarily shift your attention there. Your shots can improve the viewer’s natural sense of being in the room and increase their desire to return.

To build your shot-list repertoire, check out this article.

Developing a Shot List for Worship Services

Build a Trained Production Team

One simple way to improve your viewers’ streaming experience is to expand your team. Having more people can allow each technician to focus more successfully on a smaller number of tasks. Not only will you build redundancy and future-proof your program from illnesses, vacations, and transitions, but you’ll also give more people the opportunity to serve and grow. From maintaining gear to operating cameras, running the switcher, monitoring the feed, and calling the shots, you have plenty of tasks that require attention.

New people make mistakes. It’s part of the learning curve. When churches employ on-the-job training, often the congregation suffers. Instead, move the mistakes to a safe time unpressured by a service. Run through shot changes, discuss best practices, and learn to do what you do more smoothly. Walk through a plan to address when something inevitably fails. Practicing tech during music rehearsals can provide a relaxed opportunity to experiment and improve both individual and team performance while you have the freedom to talk about issues immediately. Not only will your new technicians advance more quickly, but you’ll reap the added benefit of developing better relationships. These things translate into technician satisfaction and retention.

As your team develops, a tech comm system becomes even more important for successful communication. Sweetwater carries a wide range of helpful wired and wireless intercom systems.

Shop intercom systems.

Upgrade Your Video Production Station

Improve your stream quality by making your video production stations more effective.

Merge Your Monitors

Moving from individual monitors for each video feed to a single multi-view monitor greatly improves the video director’s ability to see the room and make informed shot calls. If your video switcher or video production software does not enable you to output to a multi-view monitor, then consider a multi-view solution.

The Blackmagic Design MultiView 4 monitoring box allows you to view up to four camera feeds of any video-standard combination and loop back individual or summed feeds. With additional features such as custom labels, audio meters, tally indicators, and optional remote control, it’s a handy go-to when creating a great production.

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A multi-view camera monitor benefits other technicians in addition to your video producer. Enable your lighting technician to see how well the lighting design translates to the camera. Our eyes function differently mechanically than a camera and may miss something that becomes glaring or distracting to anyone watching online. A video monitor will reveal dark and washed-out areas on the platform and point out when the foreground gets lost in the background. Pay particular attention to this monitor during the pre-service technical run-through (another great quality-improving technique). This way, you can adjust the lighting before issues impact your viewers.

The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Extreme broadcast/streaming switcher is an affordable option that allows you to mix feeds from up to eight camera or video sources and two audio feeds. Its built-in hardware streaming engine allows livestreaming via Ethernet with integrated support for YouTube, Facebook, and other major platforms. Its built-in multi-view mode enables you to simultaneously monitor all your A/V channels on a single screen.

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Expand Your Encoder

If you need a more powerful encoder or want to output multiple streams simultaneously — like to your foyer, green room, YouTube, and Facebook — then consider an encoder upgrade. The TASCAM VS-R265 4K/UHD audio/video streamer generates up to eight simultaneous streams while also recording and decoding 3840 x 2160 4K video. It’s perfect for livestreaming to content delivery networks (CDNs) such as YouTube, Wowza, IBM Watson Media (formerly Ustream), AWS Elemental MediaLive, and CloudFront.

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Need an even more robust switcher? Check out these highly rated options.

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Improve Your Audio

The front-of-house (FOH) mix is seldom optimal for online video use. It lacks the sound of the congregation, the natural room ambience, and the impact of stage volume. You can dramatically improve the audio quality in your video by creating an independent mix with an engineer who is free from the room sound and can apply ambient mics, reverb, EQ, compression, remixing, and limiting to improve the overall video sound at maximized streaming levels.

Some FOH audio consoles enable a remote control for adjusting levels in a submix routed to an audio send without taking over the console. If so, then all you may need is a separate space, an iPad, and someone to run the mix.

Alternatively, you can use a separate dedicated mixer. If you only need to mix busses and a few individual channels, then you won’t need something as robust as a duplicate of your FOH audio console. While using a smaller console of the same brand and series as your FOH console allows you to train new audio engineers and may simplify the learning curve, the following mixers are also worthy considerations.

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Interact with Your Participants

Think of those who see your online content as participants rather than as viewers.

Participating in a livestream is not the same as sitting in the room during an actual service. During a sermon, it would be inappropriate to maintain a running conversation with the person next to you. Online etiquette is different. People online often want to participate by engaging in the chat window.

One great way to leverage this desire is to have at least one staff member or trained volunteer focusing solely on interacting with the online people who are commenting. In addition to monitoring the comments as people connect and responding so that your viewers feel like they are a part of the church community, this solution provides the mission-critical possibility of directly addressing ministry opportunities as they occur.

It used to be that the regular service provided the singular time that you could connect with your entire congregation. Because of the internet, that’s no longer true.

Consider streaming at times outside your regular service times. Your church’s streaming presence may provide the only interaction that your viewers have with any church, and they may be hungry to connect throughout the week. Plus, the capabilities to schedule release times and to archive files for playback make this convenient for everyone.

Whether your segments last two minutes or two hours, you can share stories of what the Lord is doing among your people without the time limitations imposed by a service structure. Give a thought for the day. Comment on current, real-life issues. Share prayer requests and opportunities to get involved. Highlight ministries and serving opportunities. Particularly among younger demographics, strong online participation often generates and supplements in-person participation. Leveraging your online content can help activate involvement, connection, and vision casting.

The possibilities are endless, and you can literally reach out to the whole world. Streaming well makes a lot of sense.

Use Your Sweetwater Resource

Sweetwater Sales Engineers are experts at helping you achieve your music and video streaming goals. Not only do they continually study to remain at the forefront of available technology solutions, but they also have full access to some of the best specialists in the industry.

Call (800) 222-4700 to discuss how you can create a high-impact streaming experience that will keep your congregation coming back for more.

Pro Tip: Make updating easier by selling your unnecessary music and video gear on Sweetwater’s Gear Exchange. Sweetwater will waive the seller fees when you get your payout as a gift card, so you can make the most of your resources!

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The post 7 Ways to Improve Your Church Streaming Presence in 2024 appeared first on inSync.

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