Saturday, November 27, 2010

Broadcasting Church: A Geek's Experience

A couple weeks ago I was walking through my church atrium and zing--pain shot through my lower back. I hobbled upstairs and lay down on the nearest bench. The pain subsided enough that I was able to fulfill my volunteer duties and return home. I lay down in my bed, pulled out my laptop computer and went to the church web site. From there I watched the service live.

Across this nation and the world there are millions of stories like mine. Except most of them don't end with the member being able to "attend" remotely. It's time that changed.

Broadcasting use to be difficult. It required bulky (and distracting) TV cameras and a staff of trained operators. The equipment was expensive and of course required a cooperative TV station. Thanks to internet streaming technology that is no longer the case.

At it's most basic level all you need is a laptop, a digital video camera, a free account on and at least one geek in your church. You don't even have to have a internet connection at the
church--simply save the video to your laptop's hard drive, take it home and stream it using a web cam simulator.

The great thing about internet broadcasting is that it scales. Your local church geek may already have most of the equipment needed to broadcast in a small church setting. If you are in a larger church the size adds new challenges--but you'll have the resources and probably a team of geeks available to meet them.

The first challenge in a large church is simply the size of the stage. If your church is anything like mine you'll need cameras that can zoom, pan and tilt.

In our church we installed three robotic cameras to capture different angles.

The video feed goes into a control room where the video is mixed and then uploaded to They provide us with a video viewer component that we embed in our church web site. (Click here to see what it looks like.)

They also allow us to archive the stream so that members can catch up on missed sermons or review parts of the service they might want to see again. (Click here to see what that looks like.)

The audio at our church is a bit different. In addition to the typical sound system for years we
have broadcast an audio stream to WSMC radio. The station has a booth where the audio is
remixed for the radio audience. That same audio stream is fed to the video broadcast booth where a small mixer allows us to control overall levels.

The technology is very cool and a lot of fun, however, like anything technical it has no meaning outside of the human dimension. I find that broadcasting over the internet has four distinct and meaningful human elements.

First, it allows people with physical aliments to remain connected with their church.

Second it allows people that are geographically separated to remain connected. Since our church is connected to a church run university this is a huge part of our ministry. Once we got a call from a mother in California (we are located in Tennessee) who couldn't hear her son's cello because the audio on his microphone was off in the radio booth. If it weren't for the mistake we would never have known--but there are certainly dozens of family members tuning in to see their brother, sister, son, daughter or friend involved in a service.

Third, it allows individuals who are only marginally connected with the church to establish/make a stronger connection. For those of us who have been church members our entire lives we don't realize how intimidating it is for an "outsider" to walk through the door.

Lastly, broadcasting provides an opportunity for geeks young and old (there is a guy in his 70's on my team) to be involved in church activities.

One last word--don't expect massive immediate success just because you are on the internet. We get approximately 30 concurrent viewers in our church with a physical attendance of hundreds. It may seem small but for those 30 people it matters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very Cool. Thanks for the post. - Lonnie W.