Stop! Don’t Record Your Church Services

Too many churches feel pressured to begin recording and live streaming their services. But is that the right option for your church? Use our checkpoint system to find out.

February 25th, 2016

Would your church benefit from video-recording its services? Live streaming and the desire to record your church services are big trends right now. And everyone seems to want in.

But the fact is that many churches should never video-record their services.

If, however, you’re still interested in recording your services, this article will take you through 3 checkpoints. And if you make it through each checkpoint, you’re one of the few churches that will benefit from filmed services. And if you don’t make it through the 3 checkpoints, don’t worry, there is an equally awesome alternative for your church.

If you’ve ever considered video-recording your church services, this is for you. Ready to start with the first checkpoint? Let’s go!

1. Price

Filming your church services will be expensive. Very. You cannot do this well with just one camera. Let me emphasize this point: You just can’t. You need a complete rig.

Of course, you could just strap a webcam to a tripod and live stream through YouTube. But if you’re in the game of sacrificing quality for cost, why not just throw a teenager on stage to preach the sermon every week? That will save money too. Just an option.

And the simplest rig will cost you anywhere between five and ten thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money.

I wanted to make sure I had my numbers right, so I contacted several other media directors and their estimates exceeded even my price point. One of them said that with just a couple of  upgrades here and there, the final price could easily be closer to one hundred thousand dollars.

Oh my.

At its absolute lowest point, $5,000 is a big chunk of money to spend.

CHECKPOINT #1
Can your church afford the price?
YES: Move to Checkpoint #2
NO: Move to Solution #2

2. Your Church Size

Contrary to what people think, there are very few large churches in North America. Let’s look at some numbers:

  • 95% of churches in The United States and Canada consist of 350 people or less1
  • The average American Congregation consists of 75 people2
  • 50% of all American churches consist of 75 people or less3
  • There are only 35 churches consisting of 10,000 people or more in America4

This data proves one thing – most churches are small. And if your church consists of less than 350 people (95% of all churches), this writer is of the opinion that you won’t have a large enough audience watching your services to justify the price – even if you do have the money to spend. And beyond the financial cost, the cost of operating the equipment each week is high too.

You’ll need at least three or four people operating the cameras and the controls, as well as someone to edit and upload the final video each week.

That means that three to five of your media volunteers will be used each week on this single task (because it’s that demanding). Keep in mind that the average person doesn’t have the skills necessary to manage the camera and editing work. Then consider this:  Do you need to train your people? Do you need to pay them?

Finally, do you have a computer powerful enough to process and edit all of this footage? Do you have enough storage space to keep the hundreds of GBs worth of video footage? Not only is the price very high, but the amount of resources needed is high as well.

And even if you have a talented team and all the right resources, it’s likely that  you don’t have an audience large enough to watch your live stream every week. Because you can’t do this for just a dozen people. You need an viable audience that makes it all worthwhile.

CHECKPOINT #2
Is your church large enough to make this happen?
YES: Move to Checkpoint #3
NO: Move to Solution #2

3. Purpose & Motivation

Why do you want to film your services?

This is the most important question you need to answer before you dive into this mammoth undertaking. If your church is large enough and you have enough money, the final question you must ask yourself is this: why do we want to do this? Is it because you want to reach people that aren’t physically able to come to church each week? Is the best way to reach those people showing them a video of what church was like? In my mind, that’s not what the church is about at all.

The Internet gives you access to your entire city and community at the press of a button. Yet thousands of churches are dedicating exuberant amounts of time & money to simply re-broadcast what’s going on inside their building to the world. Stop re-broadcasting and actually be the church online!

Here’s a thought…if you really want to broadcast your pastor’s message to the world, have him or her jump on Facebook Live or Periscope each week and preach live for 20 minutes. By doing this, your pastor can preach directly to the online audience (instead of simply rebroadcasting a message) and it will only take 20-30 minutes of the church’s overall time.

The most important question you need to answer is: why are we doing this? What’s our motivation?

CHECKPOINT #3
Does your church have the right motivation?
YES: Move to Solution #1
NO: Move to Solution #2

Solution 1. Film Other Things

If you’ve made it here to solution #1, you’ve successfully made it through each of the 3 checkpoints. You are one of the few churches that would benefit from video-recording your services. Less than 1% of churches will ever make it this far.

And that’s essentially the point of this article – 90% of churches shouldn’t film their services. But if you are in the 10%, let me say this – you have an opportunity that most of us never will! You have the resources and the audience that most churches will never have, so don’t focus them entirely on filming your services.

Instead, concentrate those resources on sharing the story of Christ through video. Instead of recording your services, create baptism videos, testimony videos, narratives, welcome videos, etc. If you do this, your resources will go much further and your efforts will have a much larger impact.

We don’t need another church filming its services, what we do need are more churches sharing the greatest story of all time through film.

Solution 2. Audio Record Instead

If you made it to solution #2 you’re almost every church on the planet. Let’s face it, most of our churches don’t have the audience or the resources to pull this off, so let’s try something else.

The Solution: Podcasting (audio recordings of your services).

Podcasting will cost you nothing because you already have the necessary resources. And podcasting only requires a single volunteer. If people miss a church service, they can listen to the podcast. If you want to share your pastor’s messages with a larger audience, you can use a podcast.

You don’t need to be a big church to podcast, because it demands very few resources. Podcasting is the perfect alternative solution for a church that wants to record its services. Here’s how to get started with audio podcasting at your church.

Conclusion

The live streaming/service recording discussion is very complex. There are many considerations to take into account (more than was covered in this short article). The problem I see is too many churches automatically assuming the live streaming and recording their services is the best course of action – it’s not. It needs to be carefully considered. Before jumping into recording and/or live streaming your services, consider the following:

  • Cost ($5,000 at least to do well)
  • Time (multiple volunteers and camera operators)
  • Small audience (unless your church is bigger than average your online viewership will be small)
  • Alternatives (try having your pastor preach through Facebook live for free; or try audio podcasting)
  • Purpose (is live streaming really the best way to reach people online?)

Just remember this: many churches won’t benefit from filming their services. And if your church won’t benefit from it, it’s not worth the mammoth undertaking and resources.

And that’s okay.

What do you think of filming your church services? Do you think it’s something your church will ever try? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

  • Colton K

    Brady,
    If I am choosing the Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18.0 MP DSLR Camera – Black – EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens,
    Is there a difference between the EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens & the 18-55 mm IS Lens? What does the EF-S and the II mean? I found this camera at
    http://americacameras.com for $395 and was wondering if this would be a good setup to start with for our video announcements? Others similar are running between $500-$550 and did not want to choose something that isn’t what it says it is. Also, you mentioned getting a 28mm lens for the Canon T3i for video announcements. Is this something that would be relatively cheap to purchase?
    Thanks!
    Colton Kellam

    • Colton,

      Getting a 28mm lens wouldn’t be very cheap because you’d want to get a high quality lens. The kit lens that comes with the camera will be good enough for now.

      Also, the differences in those lenses don’t really pertain to video as far as I can tell, so I think you can go ahead and make the purchase!

  • Excellent info. Thanks. I totally agree that for DSLR prime lenses are your best friend. Another lens recommendation for DSLR video is the Sigma 20mm f/1.8. I like this lens for video because it gives me a wider focal length than the Canon/Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and it (the Sigma 20mm f/1.8) isn’t a budget buster. You can get the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 on Amazon for about $650 or on Ebay for about $450. Not as cheap as the Canon 28mm f/2.8 but you get a wider focal length and an extra stop in aperture which, when shooting in low light (as churches often have) is critical to getting a decent image. Thanks again for this post. Here’s some additional thoughts on shooting video with a DSLR http://www.picture-power.com/dslr-video.html

  • Colton K

    Brady,
    As we are still in the search for the right camera for starting our journey with video announcements, we are really heading towards purchasing the Canon T3i very soon. Do you know anything about that verses the Canon T5. They were relatively the same price but I wondered if it would be better to stick with the T3i since it is probably newer than the T5 only. Any thoughts?
    Thanks!
    Colton Kellam

    • Definitely go with the T3i for video, Colton.

      • Colton K

        Thanks!

  • Jason Smith

    What would you recomend for a T4i dslr that I’m using for video? It’s Crop factor is 1.6. All of the 35mm lenses in seeing are crazy expensive! Help?! Lol

    • Hey Jason,

      I never owned a 35mm with my T3i. So I don’t have a precise recommendation for you. But keep in mind, investing in high quality lenses is always worth it. You’re going to have your lenses for far longer than your camera.

  • Josh Bissell

    Brady,
    What are your thoughts on the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 25mm f/1.8 lense for the Panasonic GH4?

    • Josh Bissell

      Better yet, what affordable lenses would you recommend (wide angle and portrait) for the GH4? Will the Nikon Nikkor 28mm 2.8 work?

      • I’ve had Nikon Nikkor lenses in the past and I really liked. But you’ll need an adapter for that which will make it more expensive. The best way to get budget lenses is to go with prime lenses.

  • Chad Lamson

    I recently bought a GH2 and a couple cheap FD lenses. We have a service coming up we want to capture. What would be a good lens for the GH2 for filming a service? I’ll be about 20-30 ft away and want to get a standard chest up shot.

    • Chad, you’ll likely want a longer lens for this. Something 50mm and above.

      • Jeff

        if using the GH4 for for recording a service at about 20 ft away, with the 2.3 crop factor, would you recommend a prime 30mm lens?

  • Jeff

    Brady,

    For the GH4, if you could only have two lenses (for video announcements, interviews, baptism, sermon series) and they had to both combine for around $400, what would you recommend (taking into consideration crop factor)? Trying to ball on a budget lol

    • Roxanne Wiedemann

      Hey Jeff – we’re presently using the Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 and a Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 as our lenses.

      • Jeff

        Thank Roxanne, but those two lenses are a little out of my budget. Anything in my listed price point that you guys would recommend?

        • Roxanne Wiedemann

          Hey Jeff – unfortunately every lens we own and use is outside of that range. It’s a great question for the Visual Church Media Facebook group though: https://www.facebook.com/groups/VisualChurchMedia/. Just request to join, then post your question. I’m sure you’ll get tons of feedback. 🙂

  • Vivien

    Checkpoint #1: we failed. Checkpoint #2: we failed. Checkpoint #3: we passed. we have about 300-350 in Sunday attendances (sometimes smaller). have been podcasting (about 4 years) longer than videoing (not streaming…about 2 years). In a 6-month period, our stats show an average of 60 people listening to the podcasts and 130 viewing the online videos. We have folks in attendance now who watched the online video and came to check us out. Even if we can bring one person closer to Christ, we rejoice. Yes, we would love to reach more. Yes, we do work hours to ensure the message is out there in viewing land. We have a GREAT team of talented, creative and committed Volunteers who make this happen. We have one Canon XH-A1 videoing the services. Yes, i’d love to have another cam. i’m just so thankful that we can reach out beyond our community…we have people from overseas watching (how great to see video subscribers from Israel)!! i don’t know if we’ll ever be a mega-church broadcast, but we are doing our part to disciple…spread His Word. The nitty-gritty: Our Worship Leader purchased a 2nd hand Canon for $2500 off ebay. On a Sunday, we have 1 camera operator, 1 sound person, 1 lighting person and 1 visual slide person (we do have backup folks that rotate Sundays, so we don’t burn out). It does take the post-editing 3-4 hours to get the video online (but, that includes the rendering time…so, you can put on some laundry or mow a small lawn while it’s rendering)! We started off capturing to a pc laptop (with gaming specs so it was beefy). it is doable for a small church to step into the 21st Century and post videos online, reach people outside the 4 walls of their sanctuary while not breaking the bank. Online Videos may not be for every church, but i think it’s a viable tool to reach people even for us ‘average’ churches. you might even be able to pick up a nice Cam from another church who is “buying up”! we networked with other churches in our community for guidance and training…now, we have relationships that truly form to create “one body of Believers”! So, i say, if a small church wants to put their videos online..make it a goal. Be creative, think outside the box and call on the resources around you! thanks for all your articles…definitely bookmarked this site!

    • Amanda Valentine

      I really enjoyed this article as well as this feedback post. Thanks for both!

    • Susan

      I am the Media Arts Director at our church and currently trying to get online streaming. We are a church of 250, but limited money. The way you described your church is very similar to ours. I’m ver interested in more details if you are able. We currently record our services with one camera and audio record to garage band. I then edit and post to youtube just the sermon. I’m very unsure of what all i need to live stream…help!

      • Vivien

        Susan…just to clarify: we do not live stream. unfortunately, we just don’t have reliable, fast internet at our church. Located out of town at the end of the cable, i have to say our service is poor. Sorry…i don’t know how to guide you into streaming, BUT there are lots out there on the internet (just checked) that may be able to provide the information you seek. We have decided not to stream as we only have one location and it makes it very easy for congregations to -um- watch from home rather than gather together, which may not be a consideration for other churches. here’s just some website i looked at that you might want to check out: churchtechtoday.com/2013/07/03/live-stream/
        Susan! this one talks about free live streaming from YouTube…didn’t read the whole article, but i might now that i found it! http://blog.capterra.com/a-beginners-guide-to-church-live-streaming/
        Hope that helps somewhat.

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  • Bailey

    Hey my Pastors want to do an online school. and record live. I have my own business in media production, and used to work in TV studios, so at the moment we film and edit as your average system. But now they want to do live streaming or As-Live recording. I am trying to explain to them just how much this will cost an how much work this will be. in long run I know this is less work but in short run, much more work. When I worked in TV we did As-Live recording, and everything was already set up so I didn’t need to set anything up, but now I need to set up from scratch… HELP!

    I have 2 Panasonic GH4’s (great cameras) and we have a PA system obviously with an amazing sound guy. but i need to know what else i need and what equipment you recommend, switcher, cables etc? my cameras are wifi capable (I’m used to big studio cameras so using DSLR’s is new for me) but what does it mean for gear if i have wifi comparable cameras? do i need less gear? or does it not make a difference?

    I’ve heard the Black Magic ATEM Television Studio is good?

    TIA

    • Matthew Bohn

      Blackmagic ATEM is great if you have the money to shell out for it. I just created a live stream for my church (about 60 members) for the sake of reaching people at home. The setup goes through youtube and is working great. I’m using OBS to stream from out iMac and then using a Blackmagic Intensity Extreme to route the video feed into the computer via HDMI. In my setup the computer also runs the slides and OBS was able to create a screen capture to stream what was on the slides as well. Right now it’s a one-camera setup, but it is completely expandable to multi camera. I’m using a canon video camera with a mini HDMI output to capture my video, so I don’t have experience with your DSLR but I don’t know of any way to stream the video from the camera to the computer over wifi, but the hdmi route hopefully will work for you.

      • Bailey

        Awesome thanks for that ?

      • Ryan Keller

        We do this as well. We keep running into 1 problem tho. How do you stop YouTube from seeing the copyright infringement? Even if you have a CCLI?

        • Matthew Bohn

          Well, for us, we made the decision that we would only keep the sermon portion of the service up. So we stream everything, including worship and pre-service, but then when the message starts we have the sound tech hit a button and record to the local machine. We are using OBS and it makes it really easy to accomplish because there is a button for streaming and another recording. We only record the portions of the service that involve the sermon or announcements. After the service is over we stop the stream, upload the video of the sermon, and then remove our live stream from youtube. This has avoided any unintentional copyright infringes for us. We’ve also never gotten flagged for what our band plays if that’s helpful.

          • Ryan Keller

            Thank you Matthew! The copyright was picking up our worship songs lol. With us purchasing the CCLI license and moving to BOXCAST, we will be able to avoid that and keep doing what we are doing! Thanks again for responding and letting me know that!

          • Matthew Bohn

            I’m very glad you found a solution. I wish that our church had a budget to do something like that.

          • Eric T Lucas

            Was there a reason you stopped including your worship?

          • Matthew Bohn

            Well, copies of the messages were the only part of the services that we were getting requests for. The lead pastor believed that people were already listening to Christian radio and worship (such as Hillsong, Elevation, or Bethel) and so only posting the sermon portion would be necessary because viewers were just skipping ahead to that portion of service.

            That being said, we have a special service this Wednesday for Ash Wednesday and the guitarist will be playing and singing within the message, so or this we will post everything for this event.

    • Vic

      Atem switcher is great, but if you plan on growing go with the more expensive option from Atem with the tally light capability. For live streaming look at the Epiphan Webcam terrisita X1 for either Facebook Live or YouTube.

    • John Campanale

      We use the LiveWedge form Cerevo (http://livewedge.cerevo.com/en/) Can stream to all the majors including Facebook Live. We use for local video as well, throughout the campus, and for video storage as well. Just tried Facebook Live and had no problems

      • Jeremy Green

        Hi John, Do you use this in a church setting? We are a church in BC, Canada looking at this device and wanted to just check with a church already using it. We would not be live casting but recording on SD Card to broadcast later. Have you tried that? Also, do you use any HDMI splitters in your set-up?

  • JD Johnson

    You never say the LINK to the stock footage is not available on a cell phone. I do not have access to my email on my church video computer.

  • Miles Gonzalo

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t understand this article.

    The idea that you need a professional Production or nothing is completely wrong in my opinion.

    The single biggest reason we (our small church) broadcasts, is so that members, when sick or the weather doesn’t permit, or for whatever reason cannot make it to church, they can still partake from home or elsewhere. This can easily be accomplished with an HD camera, capture card, and starter level livestream subscription for a fraction of the “minimum” cost you listed.

    Now if the question is if you need a full blown, professional quality live stream, competing for an Emmy quality video…then maybe your answer is more accurate.

    But if the question is whether or not it is worth it to live stream period, then I don’t feel your write up is appropriate. There is no need to scare someone wanting to provide a service for their members with absurd cost predictions.

    • Mick

      I agree. I think the message going out will be more important than the quality of the recording. Also the quote about not being able to do it with one camera and/or person, (You cannot do this well with just one camera. Let me emphasize this point: You just can’t. You need a complete rig). I videoed almost every service for a couple years from one JVC camera and took the card home and uploaded over 600 videos to YouTube. I don’t know how many there were watching but if it blessed one person or led one to Christ then it was well worth it. We weren’t concerned if the recording stopped and started exactly on time, nor if it was up to Joel Osteen standards.
      One thing for certain, it is a lot of work editing and uploading but it was doable. We now live stream to Facebook Live through an Android tablet that works well. Mountain State Baptist Church on Facebook or Mt State Videos on You Tube

  • Emmanuel

    There are ways to do thing on a budget that will look like it is done with a bigger team. 4k cameras now offers digital panning and zooming options that you can control post recording, and only need the person doing the editing to use this, and there’s a lot of good cameras that are now 4k ready that are under 100$ each and offer such options. Live streaming is not a must, even more so if you use the recording as an evagelism tool, where your ministry team who goes around can send people to watch the sermons online, eventually most who starts to get touched by the spirit will move from the online watching to going to the church.

    H9 Ultra HD 4K Action Camera – EU PLUG WHITE is an example of such camera, you could set up 3 to 4 to have different viewing angles and then edit each video feed at home, having the luxury to do the zooming and panning and changing them if you don’t like the result.

  • John Williams

    Wow – what a difference a year makes. Using Wirecast, Wirecast Cam, and two HD Camcorders, this can be done for under $2k.

    But that’s the least of the problems with this article.

    It takes 3 people to run ProPresenter, Wirecast, and Audio…

    Perfection is the enemy of good enough – discouraging people from doing something because it might not be perfect is wrong. We are not perfect, but we are good enough to be a blessing to the people that want to worship with us no matter where they are that week.

    Disparaging teenagers is low. I am 49, and I have two teenagers working with me to make this production work. Perhaps you should listen to a teenager occasionally – you might be surprised at what you can learn.

    If nothing else, community contact and the ability to visit before a visit helps to draw people in for worship.

    Remember – the purpose of Worship is to glorify God, and not ourselves. If noone watches live, it is still praise and glory to our creator.

    • Emmanuel

      When it’s not my turn to lead worship (we rotate every week) I handle Pro Presenter and the mixing board (which is actually what I do for a living)

  • Antonio Rivera

    Our small church sometimes will go live on Facebook and stream part of the service and also will record part of the services and add it to Facebook later on. It only takes one iPhone and internet and it is done! It will not look like a big production but that is not what they are trying to do.

  • David Bailey

    The article seems harsh. I agree with Miles. We have 200-300 views each week, but so many are folks that can’t make it to church, for one reason or another, or young adults that are not yet committed to spending their Sunday morning at church. Remember, one view can be one person with their cell phone, or a family watching from their 65″ flat screen. Our church has the budget for a proper production, but we didn’t start out that way. In fact, jumping into the deep end without learning to swim first could kill an online streaming effort.
    Start out small and make your mistakes early, without too many viewers. There are so many points of failure, It takes time to get it right. Don’t sweat it, we have all been there.

  • Jesse Timmermans

    There are some good points the author makes in this article such as having the right reasons and trying to utilize video more than just sermons. My wife and I own and operate a wedding videography business that we recently started, and I will tell you that high production does come with a cost; however, for a smaller church that is interested in expanding their ministry to the internet starting small scale and building over time can be a great option. My wife and I marvel at the fact that not long ago we were shooting with one camera we owned and borrowing a second. We had a small budget to start with, but we made it work, and people loved their videos we made. Church can work the same way. If it is something your church body is interested in, why not experiment? Starting with simply a consumer grade DSLR and someone who can edit is pretty inexpensive (-$1000). If that goes well and you can expand to higher grade equipment later cross that bridge when you come to it. You don’t need to start out making Hollywood-grade videos to be successful.

    If you have a good reason for creating video content, go for it! We are! We aren’t going to have perfect quality, but we feel it will help spread the gospel.

  • John

    We don’t “live stream” our services, but we do record them and upload them to Youtube as a method for our volunteers to go back and view them as we only have one service weekly. We’re a small church of only about 70 people. From YouTube, I cross post to Facebook and we wind up getting another 100 or so views online. Right now, we’re just recording with a Canon Vixia HF-G20 with mostly a stable picture, but I will do some zooms in on worship if I know a particular good part of the song is coming up or a good solo is coming. We’re looking for another smaller video camera now that we’ll use as kind of a roaming camera for closeups that I’ll mix-in when I process the video in i-Movie.

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