An Introduction to Using Media In Your Online Church Service
Adapted from this Lightstock vector.
One of the most common questions we hear from people who are newly discovering Igniter Media is:
I'm excited to incorporate media into my livestream this weekend—I'll be using my phone/tablet to go live on Facebook. How do I add Igniter content?
Unfortunately, there's not a simple answer to this question; so we have to break it to a lot of people that—just like incorporating media into your live service—there's some infrastructure investment you have to make before you'll be able to use those lower thirds on top of your video feed, or that countdown to start your service. And, just like with your live presentation, there's no one right way to do it.
With that in mind, this post isn't a step-by-step guide to get you set up, but more of a high-level overview to get you asking the right questions.
Option 1: Prerecorded Production
Generally, "live" means that your content is being aired or broadcasted at the same time that it is being produced, but it can also refer to the time during which prerecorded content is aired (consider the advent of DVRs and "pausing live tv").
During the Great Quarantine of 2020, a lot of people assume churches are live (in the former sense), but the reality is, most churches are actually pre-producing their services (either in whole or in part). They're spending the week recording segments (worship, announcements, sermon, etc) that they're editing together using a standard video editing software (Premiere Pro, Final Cut, Da Vinci Resolve, or even a simpler solution like iMovie). During editing, they'll incorporate media they download from Igniter, then they'll schedule their finished video to "premiere"or go live during normal service time on their preferred streaming platform(s).
It won't make as much sense when we're all back to meeting in-person every week, but as long as it's an option, we think this is generally the best approach for most churches for a lot of reasons:
When social distancing or shelter-in-place measures are at play, it's easier to minimize the number of people who have to be in the same room to pull to create your service, since you can break the production up into pieces.
Similarly, you can be flexible on location. Your pastor might like preaching his sermon from his living room or office, but your worship leader wants to be on the stage. It's possible when broadcasting live, but a lot harder to pull off.
With the dramatic increase in churches livestreaming on Sunday mornings, we've heard a lot of reports of failing livestreams and connectivity issues due to high traffic (specifically on Facebook). You're less likely to have these problems if your video is uploaded beforehand.
There's less of a learning curve—you probably already know someone with video editing software experience.
Your team that's normally "on" during your weekend services, can worship with their families.
Option 2: Livestreamed Production
Actual livestreaming has a massive range of complexity and cost. On one end, you need zero dollars or skill to livestream from your phone. On the other, some larger churches utilize hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tech infrastructure and employ a team of skilled people to execute their livestream. There are two central pieces of technology that separate those two ends: the video switcher and the encoder .
A video switcher is a piece of hardware or software that allows you to switch between (or combine) multiple unique video feeds.
Think of it as the visual equivalent of an audio mixer—except generally, you won't be combining more than a couple of video sources as much as switching between them. It's the key that unlocks the power of using media in your online service, but its usefulness goes beyond livestreaming. If you want to have a multi-camera setup recording your service, incorporate lower thirds on top of IMAG (what is that?) on your screens, or seamlessly switch between your presentation software (like PowerPoint or ProPresenter) feed and a camera, you'll need a switcher.
While most people opt to use a hardware switcher like the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini (don't worry—it's a reference to how technology seems like magic sometimes, not an occult reference) , it's definitely feasible to use a software-only solution (like the popular, free OBS). You'll be limited by your computer's inputs and processing power, but if you're only using a single-camera setup, that might not be a problem for you.
Just like the switcher, a video encoder can be hardware or software. Its job is to convert the video feed from one format to another—generally from high-quality, high-resolution video feed of your camera to something with smaller file sizes and bit rates, more suitable for streaming. Many software based livestreaming solutions (like OBS), include an encoder in their workflow.
Popular All-In-One Solutions for Livestreaming
There are a lot of services selling all-in-one solutions for livestreaming out there—here are some of the most popular in the church market:
If your church is like most, you probably want to stream to Facebook, Youtube, and maybe even embedded on your website or in your app. One of the primary benefits of using a service like one of these, as opposed to piecemealing your own system together, is that they make it significantly easier to stream to multiple platforms at once.
Using Igniter's Media in Your Livestream
Once you have the above infrastructure in place, you can begin incorporating media very similarly to how you would in an in-person service—specifically, by using a presentation software like ProPresenter. You would treat your presentation output just like any of the other video signals fed into your switcher.
How you utilize your presented content will probably look a bit different than it does in person. In person, you might leave content slides up for as long as the speaker is talking about that content, but in your online service, that might feel awkward—which is exactly why we started offering lower thirds with our title graphics. (Click into any product and scroll through the carousel to find the lower third variation.) We also created a more generic collection of lower thirds that can help in a variety of contexts. Read more about how we created those in our Ultimate Guide to Lower Thirds.
It wasn't that long ago that hosting online services was something reserved for only a few churches and frowned upon by many. If 2020 has taught us anything in that regard, it's that church is where the people are, and when that can't happen in a building, they'll seek that connection out online.
How has your church adapted to the normalization of online worship? What are some of the things you've learned? What has surprised you? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.