Why Live Streaming For Churches Is Overrated | Ep. #114

Pro Church Daily is the show where - in ten minutes or less - you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus, while navigating the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years.

May 21st, 2018

Brady has often referred to his belief that live streaming your church service is overrated. He breaks down why this is the case and offers some alternatives.

What’s In This Session?

  • An unpopular opinion (0:20)
  • The size of churches (1:02)
  • Brady’s claim (1:17)
  • Price (1:39)
  • ROI (3:31)
  • Motivation (5:13)
  • Alex’s thoughts (6:27)
  • Alternative options (8:20)

Show Notes & Resources Mentioned

The Full Transcript

Alex Mills: Well hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Daily, the show where in 10 minutes or less you’ll get a daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift that we’ve seen in the last 500 years. I’m your host, Alex Mills. I’m joined as always by the boss man, it’s Brady Shearer. And today we’re talking about why live streaming for churches is overrated.

Brady Shearer: I’ll preface this, Alex, by saying hey, I know that this is an unpopular opinion and the purpose of this episode is simply to lay out the case for why your church does not need to live stream. Because I do think that there’s this inherent pressure around live stream because it seems like every church is doing it nowadays, and it can feel like well, our church needs to do this because it’s the thing that you do. And I never like to make decisions simply because everyone else is doing it; I like to make decisions based on empirical evidence, on an expectation of ROI, and on an understanding of my own church.

So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna present a contrary opinion, be the devil’s advocate per se. Although I do believe this, so I am the devil in this case. Well that’s a good start.

Let’s start off by talking about the size of the average church. Nine out of ten churches in America have weekly attendance of fewer than 350 people and the median size of an American congregation is 75 people. So here’s the claim that I want to start this off, here’s what I believe: Knowing that the weekly attendance numbers of the vast majority of churches in the world, I would say that live streaming is not the best option for most churches. When it comes to what you’re trying to accomplish with live streaming, I think that there are much more viable alternatives that we’re gonna talk about in just a moment.

Let’s first talk about the price of live streaming. Now I’m not a live production expert and I often lean on the understanding of others; I do a lot of work in digital, but live production is not my arena. So I asked around and I asked a number of different churches, and leaders, and directors that have been in charge of live streaming and asked okay, what’s like the minimum a church can expect to spend on a single camera set up that’s of reasonable quality? And we should disclaim that by saying we’re not talking right now about like live streaming on your phone; we’re talking about a reasonable level of production with an encoded, and a tripod, and a camera.

Alex Mills: So this is the complete infrastructure to get up and running live on the Internet. 

Brady Shearer: And we’re still only talking single camera; we’re not talking multiple camera. 

And so basically, I heard a bunch of different numbers, but they were right around … The minimum you could expect to spend is about $5,000 for a full rig, and that means a camera, a switcher, an encoder, cabling, tripod, [inaudible 00:02:34] controller on the tripod, which allows you to zoom in, zoom out, move the camera. Of course there are other ways to do it; you can hook up a webcam directly if you got one on your computer. Nowadays you can hold up your phone and do Facebook Live. But we’re talking about a certain level of production quality, because you can do it cheaper, but at what cost?

So to use a comparison, let’s say you as a church knew you needed a website and you thought well we can’t really afford to do a good website, but we know it’s important for the SEO purposes. Let’s throw up a 1995 website that is HTML1 and is not responsive because at least we’ll have it up there. And that will save you money, but at what cost does that come at? Someone lands on that and now you’re making a really poor first impression perhaps. And so that’s the important thing to consider when it comes to price. It’s not cheap to get started in live streaming, especially because I do believe that there are affordable options alternatively that can help you accomplish the same thing. 

Let’s talk about the ROI now. The most important thing that you can do with live streaming, if you are doing it or if you’re considering maybe doing a test run; you could do a test run with Facebook to see how people respond with just your phone before diving into the thousands of dollars of investment and volunteers every week that have to run it. But basically, what are the numbers for your church, and how many people would need to watch this weekly for it to be worth spending all of that money? And then compare the cost to the alternative.

So one alternative you could go with is audio only. So if you did an audio only podcast or an audio … Yeah, an audio only podcast of your message, and this would be the difference between live streaming and a recorded podcast, and that’s part of the comparison, okay? There’s the pro of having it live versus the con of having it recorded and not live, but if just as many people are listening to each and one costs like a hundred bucks to get started and one costs five thousand, and we’re a church of 350 or less because most are, is that a trade off we’re willing to make? Could that money be spent elsewhere? Because when you consider ROI at any decision with digital, really any decision with budget in your church, you’re not making these decisions in a vacuum. If you spend one dollar, or five thousand dollars towards live streaming, that’s five thousand less dollars to spend on what I would consider much more important digital endeavors; your website, social media, paid promotions, other things that now do not have money because of your live stream.

And so when it comes to ROI, figure out how many people are gonna watch and figure out is this money best spent elsewhere? Because if we’re spending it here, we can’t spend it on places that, like I said, I think are much more important; your website, social media, paid promotion marketing, and outreach. 

Final thing to consider, and then I want to pass it over to you because you’re a pastor of a church of about a hundred and I want to hear your thoughts on this: What’s your motivation for doing a live stream? Much like church mobile apps, much like billboards, there’s a certain cool factor of live streaming. You know what’s not cool? Facebook ads. They’re kinda boring. Would I rather drive past a billboard of my church in my community or run some Facebook ads? Well a billboard is much cooler! Would you rather live stream and have your message and sermon and service declared and broadcasted to the world or record an audio podcast?

Alex Mills: You get a cool countdown on your website; “We’re going live in three, two, one.” 

Brady Shearer: That like countdown in the top right that says, “Next time we’re going live in three days, 25 … ” It’s always counting down. Like there’s a certain cool factor, but I think when we’re being stewards of the budget, the time, and the resources and our church is recognizing how limited they are, I don’t think that we should be making decisions based on what other churches are doing or based on cool factor. We’ve gotta consider does this move the needle forward enough based on the money we’re spending for our church’s unique mission statement? And if we’re all about helping people to love God, love others, make disciplines, basically the core mission statement of every single church that follows Jesus, does this effect the bottom line and move the needle forward on that specific mission enough to warrant the spend and cost that we’re gonna put into this?

Your thoughts, Alex?

Alex Mills: Well I think the motivation to live stream is kind of a symptom of what we’ve commoditized Christianity in the Western world to be. We focus so much of our time and energy and resources on this Sunday service, so if we think okay, people aren’t … You know, there’s a certain amount of people who aren’t gonna be at our church service this Sunday, they’re gonna be at home or they’re traveling or wherever, this is the biggest thing that we do; this is where we put all our resources, this is what we think the most important part of church is, we have to get this to them. And I feel like that’s where the motivation for live streaming comes from.

But if we expand kind of our perspective on what we’re trying to do as a church, and this is where seizing the 167 comes into it, it’s like yeah, what we do during that one hour on Sunday is important, but is it worth spending all those resources to get that one hour experience to the handful of people who aren’t gonna be at church? Or do we take those resources and push it into the rest of the 167 hours in any other way, whether it’s … You know, investing that money in anything else. But really expanding our horizons and considering that what we’re doing at church has to reach further than that one hour on a Sunday morning. 

And if we start to think about church with that philosophy, well I think we’ll put less of an importance on live streaming that service, because we’ll realize oh, this isn’t all there is to it; there’s a whole life that our people are living during the week and that’s when they need us. They don’t need us on Sunday morning at 10:30 if they’re not at church; they’re going to be okay for that hour. But maybe on Wednesday evening, they’re not going to be okay, so let’s invest time and money and resources into those other 167 hours and reach them there.

Brady Shearer: I couldn’t agree more. What’s the best way to accomplish our mission statement? Rebroadcast a live event or use these platforms natively to reach people? So for instance, let’s talk about some alternatives. If we’re talking about rebroadcasting a live event versus using these platforms natively, I think your church should live stream. You should have your pastor go live on his or her phone for ten minutes, call that your online service on Sunday, have him do a little bit of a devotion, recap the message, do live prayer requests, interact with the people on the live stream right there. 

Because I do think that it’s definitely something to consider when you’re talking about military, you’re talking about people that are bedridden or stuck and can’t come to church, or are traveling and you want to make them feel connected to your church. If you’re just watching a live stream, you’re a fly on the wall, even if you do have an online pastor, which definitely helps the online experience. If you’re doing a live stream when you are watching your pastor look directly into their mobile device and they’re interacting with you on the fly using a Facebook Live for free on your phone for free on Facebook, that’s an amazing alternative. We talked about audio only as a great alternative. 

If you do really want to do a live stream, I’d recommend creating a private feed that is distributed to those traveling, to those that are at home, bedridden, can’t leave the house, to those who are military, and just have someone hold up their phone or put it on a little like $8 tripod from Amazon, and have that be the live stream. Don’t post it publicly because, you know, the production value for someone that’s not connected to your church probably won’t be worth it. But for those that know your church, they don’t care as much about production value; if they really care about just watching the service, a phone will be fine. We’re so used to video on a phone at this point.

Alex Mills: Well yeah, like InstaStories and Snapchat have conditioned us. They’ve really lowered our standard for the viewing experience as far as quality goes on a phone. You know, I can remember just maybe a year ago even, if you’re watching a video on YouTube that was vertical video, all the comments are just like, “Vertical video!”

Brady Shearer: “Turn your phone sideways!”

Alex Mills: Yeah, and now we’ve just been conditioned. Most of the video we consume on the daily, whether it’s on Instagram or Snapchat, whatever, it’s vertical. And so people are actually … Their standards are being lowered, which can actually work in your advantage as a church, you know, live streaming on Facebook for free from your phone. People are conditioned to watching videos that way; they’re probably going to be watching it on their phone anyways. So that’s okay. 

Brady Shearer: To summarize, if you are a church of 350 people or less, as the vast majority, nine out of ten, are, this is specifically for you. If you’re a church of multiple thousands, live streaming is a lot more affordable. But if you’re a smaller church, don’t feel the pressure to be forced to live stream when there are so many great viable alternatives that are essentially free. If you are thinking about live streaming, if you really want to do it, I would recommend to be a good steward; go through these viable alternatives first. Do the pastor right on Facebook Live for ten minutes for free on their phone, for free from Facebook. Do the audio only podcast. Do the private feed to those that can’t visit the church, but don’t publish it publicly. 

If after all that you’re seeing huge traction and you’re ready to make the investment, go for it. But don’t feel the pressure to do it just because other churches are doing it. That’s how you waste money and that’s how you make a bad decision.

With all that being said, in tomorrow’s episode of Pro Church Daily, episode number 115, we are gonna be talking about gear for live streaming because we recognize that some churches, no matter what we say, are gonna do it and we want to make sure that you’re making good gear decisions when you do. So that’ll do it for today’s episode of ProChurchDaily. We’ll see you next time.