Editor's note: A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 82% of U.S. churchgoers reported their churches were offering streamed or recorded worship services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As states reopen, churches are facing the question of whether to continue streaming once the need for social distancing has passed. We asked video veteran Will Adams — whose church has been streaming services for more than a decade — about his take on the value of church livestreaming in a post-pandemic world.
Why livestream after the pandemic?
If someone asked me why I believe their church should offer livestreaming even after this pandemic passes, I’d say the better question is why not.
Livestreaming is not costly — you probably have all the tools you need. But beyond this, it also offers another form of outreach, and your members will be grateful to have an option to stay connected with the church when they can’t be there in person. Let me break down these reasons in more detail.
1. Livestreaming church services is affordable
Thirty years ago, Frazer Church, where I now work, started its own broadcast television station. Pulling this off required the installation of a microwave tower, an expensive TV server, and a bunch of other complicated stuff. More recently we had to replace all this gear during the transition to high-definition TV. I say this to point out that broadcasting over television has always been extremely complicated and expensive. We still have to employ a broadcast engineer just to keep our signal on air.
Livestreaming online is the total opposite.
When I started working at Frazer 12 years ago, we had only just started streaming church services online. At that time we had fewer than 20 people watching, and it was considered more of a novelty than a necessity. Now things have changed drastically, and our stream is available across several platforms, and many of them — like Youtube and Facebook — are absolutely free for us to use.
While our TV station gets our message out regionally, we have people all over the world who are watching us online via livestream thanks to our overseas mission partnerships. And all of this is at minimal cost to us. The livestreaming software options for churches are affordable, and the required equipment is probably in your hands as you read this.
2. Livestreaming church services is easier than ever
It used to be that the only way you could stream was through a complex series of adapters and converters to a high-end computer with a hard-line internet connection. All of this has changed over the past decade as smartphone technology has gotten more available, affordable, and sophisticated.
I’m often asked what kind of video camera or photo camera is best for under $500, and I usually say that if you have a good smartphone, you already have it. It’s hard to overstate how much easier smartphones have made things for church media workers. Not only can you take pretty decent photos, but you can livestream directly from your mobile device.
With all the tools that are available to enhance livestreaming via smartphone, it is the first method I recommend to churches who are getting into streaming their services. Now it’s possible to run a multicamera setup, bring in external audio from a soundboard, and livestream to multiple platforms all from a phone or tablet. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have that kind of capability even from a wired-in, clunky laptop computer, and now we’ve got everything we need in the palms of our hands.
3. Your church’s livestream is its new front porch
Years ago there was some concern that emphasizing our livestream would encourage people to stay home and not come to church in person. We’ve actually found the opposite to be true. Once when I made a call for new volunteers to help with our church’s broadcast, I had a family approach me and excitedly say they wanted to help because it was watching online that made them want to visit. Similarly, we had another family say they saw our services shared online by a friend and they wanted to be part of what they saw happening in that livestream. These people and many others like them would never have come to our church in person if it hadn’t been for what they saw online first.
We all know that word-of-mouth is the best kind of advertising you can get. Having your services live online allows people not only to talk about your church but also to share the worship service itself. Instead of asking someone to come to a building full of people they don’t know, you can share a link with them. Many first-time visitors say that a church’s livestream played into their choice to visit in person.
4. Your members will appreciate your livestream too
There was a family in our church who joined a few years after I started working here. Let’s call them the Smiths. Mr. Smith came down with a terminal disease that made it difficult for him to leave the house. I saw his adult daughter in worship services, and she would tell me how much it meant for Mr. Smith to be able to watch the worship service from their home. For months I would see Mr. Smith log onto our stream to say hello and add his words of encouragement each Sunday. After Mr. Smith died, I’ll never forget his daughter telling me with tears in her eyes how grateful she was for the media ministry, which had helped Mr. Smith stay connected with his church.
Similarly, one of our military members once returned from deployment and handed a flag to our pastor. It was from his unit who had all watched our livestream every Sunday. We’ve sent five missionary families out since I’ve worked here, and they all watch our stream whenever they’re able. Whether from a parent with a sick child or a member who works Sundays, these days I get messages almost every week thanking me for providing our livestream to our members.
In case you need me to say it again…
Livestreaming isn’t a why anymore. It’s a why not. Including livestreaming in your church’s strategy for worship is using the tools you already have to leverage what you’re already doing to reach more people for the cause of Christ.