By Mike Harland
“Not everything that can be done, should be.”
The first time I heard my friend and award-winning producer and songwriter, Greg Nelson, say this, I found it to be funny. At the same time, I knew he was absolutely right.
Anyone with a computer can now stream their worship services on the internet and many churches are doing so every week. There are plenty of good reasons a church would want to do this.
- The members who cannot attend can still watch the services.
- People who are new to the area can learn about the ministry of the church.
- Individuals who need Christ can hear the gospel.
- The ministry of the church can cost effectively expand across the world.
But there are some valid reasons to approach streaming with caution. And, Greg’s quote is a great reminder that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
Churches are wise to approach this exciting opportunity with the same care as any of their decisions about ministry. Here are a few of the hurdles to clear as you venture into this expansion of your ministry.
1. The Legal Hurdle
Unless you’ve acquired a license to stream copyrighted material, you don’t have the legal right to do so—even for ministry purposes. One way some churches avoid this is by streaming only the content of their pastor’s message, leaving out all music. Unless you’re willing to take the steps for legal streaming of music, I would urge you to go that way.
There is more than one place to acquire such a license and the process is not cost-prohibitive or complicated. If you simply search the internet for “streaming licenses” you will easily find options.
2. The Ministry Hurdle
One great benefit of streaming is the potential to reach people your church would never reach any other way.
But that benefit also brings responsibilities each church should consider: How will you respond to comments? Will someone be available during the worship to interact with viewers? How will you follow up with people who reach out to you?
3. The Visual Hurdle
Streaming your service can be as easy as setting up a single phone and posting it through Facebook Live. I’ve seen many churches do just that. But if you do it that way, are you giving the viewer the very best experience of the worship services of your church?
Churches that broadcast or video their services can take advantage of the equipment used for broadcast and recording to stream a quality video experience. But using only a single phone might actually give a bad impression of the worship gathering of your church.
The content of the message may be amazing, but if there is no view of the congregational engagement or the people’s participation, much less an alternating perspective from a different vantage point, the online experience might be less than desired.
4. The Audio Hurdle
This is the biggest problem I see that churches have when it comes to streaming. And, until you’re ready to invest in the required steps to make the audio quality of your streamed worship good, I highly recommend you wait on streaming, or choose to stream only the sermon content of your service.
In the same way the various sound sources in music have to be mixed together for the congregation to hear them all in balance, the streamed audience sound also has to be mixed well. Mixing sound for broadcast (essentially what you’re doing with streamed services) in an effective way requires a separate set of ears and in most cases, a separate sound console to build an independent mix for broadcast.
It’s not enough to run a single source from the sound console for the streaming audience. It can be equally harmful to run only a feed of the room sound through a phone or tablet device.
Speech will be unintelligible, instruments and voices will be out of balance, the music will be too loud or too soft, and the audio in general will give the audience a poor impression of what is happening when your church worships corporately.
An alternative: Streaming to a closed group
If you’re not able to address some of the production hurdles but you want to make the gathering of your church available for people who cannot attend for various reasons, consider making the live stream of your church available to subscribed viewers.
This is easily done with a closed group through a social media platform or by sharing a link with only those viewers you want to include. When you’re able to provide a quality experience online, then you could make your stream open to anyone who can find it online.
Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (CSB).
If you feel called to stream your services, make every effort to protect the perceived worth of your ministry and to present the gospel in the clearest way by making it the best experience possible for the viewer.
If your vision is outpacing your capabilities, go slow at first by streaming only the sermon to a closed group. As you gain capabilities and become more and more equipped to provide a great experience for the viewer, leap over these hurdles on your way to a profound way to share the gospel through your church.
Greg was right. Not everything that can be done, should be. But I believe that everything that can be done well to carry the good news to the people we serve, should—and must—be done.
Mike is the former director of Lifeway Worship.