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Communications Basics

Live Streaming vs. Pre-Recording Sunday Services

I was recently asked by a pastor friend of mine during this COVID-19 lockdown about the pros and cons of live streaming and pre-recording. My church has done both—we livestreamed for the first 4 weeks and then have been pre-recording since. (Our reasoning behind switching had more to do with the protection of our worship team and others who were gathering to do the livestream than the following pros and cons.)

So here are the pros and cons of each, with some tips as well. And then at the end I’ll help draw some conclusions.

Live Streaming

Pros

  • like actual church in the sense that what you are seeing is actually happening at the same time you’re watching it—which increases the community feel of watching it.
  • The ability to do live Q&As and interact with viewers in the video
  • Can be done straight from a phone very easily (though production value will be lower in this case)
  • Facebook and YouTube algorithms highly prioritize livestreams—so it will be easily found by your congregations and others too! Plus your followers/subscribers will be notified.

Cons

  • Tends to be more glitchy and cause technical challenges on the side of the person doing the streaming.
  • It is what it is—you can’t go back and edit it. This may be seen as a pro or a con depending on who you are, and I see it as a pro because when I have the ability to edit I end up overthinking things and invest way more time than I probably should, trying to perfect the transitions, color, audio etc, while with a livestream you just do the best you can and it is what it is. However there are definitely drawbacks to being unable to edit things if there is some sort of erroneous information or bad transition etc.

Tips

If you are going to livestream here are a few tips to make the most of it:

  • If you’re going to livestream, take advantage of the medium, interact with your viewers in real time! Do a Q&A or at least acknowledge some of the comments as they come in!

Simple stream from phone:

  • Use facebook or Instagram depending on your audience if its not a scheduled stream. (e.g. you’ve spontaneously just decided to do a short devotional one morning.)
  • Use YouTube if its your Sunday service or something regularly scheduled that people will know to look for.

Streaming with a DSLR or multicam set up:

  • You can purchase a CamLink to connect almost any DSLR or mirrorless camera to your computer. (You can even connect a multicam switcher to this—which is what I have done to create our multicam livestreams.)
  • I’d recommend capturing audio through an audio interface rather than through your camera.
  • I’d recommend using OBS for your livestream. It’s fairly easy to figure out yet very powerful for free software. It’s also very stable.
  • If you have the option, use a variable bit rate so that you don’t drop frames.
  • You can stream to both YouTube and Facebook (and other platforms) using services like Restream.io, Vimeo, or Castr.io
  • You can integrate pre-recorded material in OBS which is nice for making smoother transitions as well as getting more people involved without having to have a huge group together in the same space during the livestream.

Pre-recording

Pros

  • No issues with the glitchiness of livestreaming
  • Ability to edit it to perfection… or at least avoid awkward transitions and cut out other unnecessary moments, not to mention ability to fine-tune color correction, framing, audio compression, EQ, etc.
  • Can be done by individual pastors/leaders from home on a mobile device or computer and sent in to an editor to compile.
  • Allows you to integrate videos from lots of different people within your church. (E.g. for easter our pastor started the service with a little welcome and then said “He is risen” and then we edited together a bunch of people from our congregation responding “He is risen indeed!”)

Cons

  • You’re not actually watching it as its happening, so it does tend to feel a little less like a shared community experience. (There is a workaround for this that I’ll share in the tips below)
  • No ability to interact with viewers in the video like reacting to comments or doing a Q&A.
  • You’ll need to have someone who can edit the video together. If you’re a pastor or ministry leader who hasn’t done this kind of thing before, you can learn editing software but it’d probably be better to find someone in your congregation who knows what they are doing.

Tips

  • If you pre-record I’d recommend you use the “Premier” function on both YouTube and Facebook which will allow you to stream it as if it’s live at a specific time (and then it will just look like a normal video post after the premier.) This will allow it to feel more like a shared community experience as you’re whole church can watch it at the same time together. Plus this does bump it back up a bit in the Facebook and YouTube algorithms so that it will be shown to more people and your followers/subscribers will be notified.
  • Make sure your lighting is good and your background audio is kept to a minimum (again, watch my tips for video at home here)
  • You can still do a Q&A with a pre-recorded video, you just need to ask for questions ahead of time. You can send out an email or social post ahead of time or ask for questions in one video and answer them in the next.

Conclusions

I prefer livestream, however during this time I see the reasoning behind pre-recording for the safety of our church and community… so for that reason I’d recommend pre-recording and using Facebook and YouTube’s Premiere function—it gives you the best of both worlds during this time.

And finally, if you’re going to pre-record, I’d recommend doing it from home—the whole reason we’re doing any of this is to keep people safe from COVID-19 so if you’re going to gather everyone together anyway, it makes sense to do just do it Sunday morning and make it a livestream, but if you have the ability to pre-record at home and edit together, that will better accomplish the goal of limiting potential exposure. And it sends the message to your church that you are in the same boat they are and you’re showing the love of Christ by doing your best to protect your congregation and community!

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