Do we need it?
In our world today there are lots of reasons to offer a great online church experience. It is very important to have an in-person connection with a group of believers. Sometimes people can’t always make it to church. It could be a sick child or a business trip that takes them out of the area. But they still may want to be able to connect with their home church.
Another reason for having a feature-packed online presence is for snow or other inclement weather. Depending on your church’s location this could rarely happen, or it could be a frequent occurrence. Having a chatroom can help bring your church together online when they can’t be together in-person.
The Church Online Platform
Life.church has created an extremely helpful tool that is available to churches for free. It’s called the Church Online Platform. It’s hosted on their servers so technically you don’t even need your own website to use it. You can, however, set it up to use your website domain and customize the look to match your site’s colors.
Having this part of your site hosted through a bigger organization actually helps out with your site’s bandwidth usage. Let’s face it, a lot of churches don’t have great web hosting. This gives your users a great experience without them realizing they have even left your site. It is also more equipped to handle a large number of your members accessing the site at the same time. You know, if your church is closed for a snow day.
- Live Chat Room
- Live Prayer
- Host tools to moderate chats
- Online bible Tab
- Notes tab
- Live video embed code (From Youtube, Facebook, etc)
- Simulated live stream
What it doesn’t provide is the actual stream. It is simply a place to display your stream. You’ll need to insert an embed code from any streaming service. This could be Youtube, Facebook, Churchstreaming, Restream.
How do I stream?
The simplest way to get started is to use your phone on a tripod, which is a great start. You can stream right to Facebook using the Facebook app. You can do the same with Youtube as well and many other services.
The best way though is with a dedicated camera and a computer or video encoder. Or even a multi-camera setup using a video switcher to cut between cameras. Here is a review of a really great switcher and below is a link to another great inexpensive option. (Affiliate link)
A great free software option is OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). This software has a bunch of features. It can even act as a video switcher if you have the hardware to input all your cameras. With OBS you will be able to stream to almost any streaming service.
You will need a device to get the video from your single camera or switcher into the computer running OBS. This is a capture card or capture device.
One of these two devices is what you need. There are many other options out there as well. (Affiliate links)
For Youtube, you can set up an embed code to always show what your Youtube channel is streaming. Just copy your Channel ID from this link (when you are logged into your account). https://www.youtube.com/account_advanced
In the code below replace CHANNELID with the ID you copied from the above link.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/live_stream?channel=CHANNELID frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Copy and paste the code above with your channel ID into the video tab for your Church Online event as shown below.
What is a simulated live stream?
This is one of the coolest features on the Church Online Platform. Let’s say you do have bad weather and need to cancel church. You can simply choose a sermon or entire service you have streamed to youtube in the past and play it instead of a live stream. It will start broadcasting at the time you set it to. Like when your service normally starts. When people get online to watch they will all be watching it at the same point of the video. If a person joins in 10 minutes late, instead of starting from the beginning, they will tune in 10 minutes into the video. This allows people to be able to use the chat window to talk about the sermon as if they are sitting in the same room. It makes it feel like a live experience rather than watching an old video. You can specify that it is a replay so there’s no fear of deception of course.