4 Excellent Web Hosting Options For Churches

4 Excellent Web Hosting Options For Churches

The do-it-yourself trend is great for an awful lot of things—planning a wedding, redoing your bathroom, or making an eight-prop copter with safety issues—but not so much for creating a professional-looking, reliable website (unless you’re already an expert, in which case please go right ahead).

Your website says a lot about your church. If you haven’t made it a priority, chances are it’s not attracting new members, and it may even be reflecting negatively on your organization. That doesn’t have to be the case! Now it’s easier than ever to have a polished and informative site that will make a positive first impression on visitors—with a minimal investment of time, thoughtfulness, and even resources.

There are a ton of church web hosting options available, but not all are a good fit for your unique needs. So if you’re just starting a website or wanting to upgrade, below are the tops on our list of the best (and most affordable) church website hosting options around and the criteria that landed them there.

4 Of The Best Church Web Hosting Options

Our top picks are below, but first, here’s why we chose them:

  • They passed the “eye test.” Their own websites look professional and include a portfolio of sample sites they’ve built, designed, and hosted. We clicked off of a site within three seconds if it didn’t give the initial impression of being clean, professional, and attractive.
  • They emphasize support. Customer support is mentioned prominently and passionately on their websites. If the site goes down or you can’t figure out how to update content, they won’t make you wait around for help.
  • They design responsive websites. They’ll make sure your site looks good on both mobile and desktop.
  • They make online giving easy. Plenty of hosts offer the option for online giving, but these hosts go the extra mile to make the user experience extraordinary.
  • They make it easy to live stream. The hosts below don’t try to do it themselves (good call—it’s not their area of expertise), but they do frequently partner with live streaming providers to give you what you need.

Haven’t thought about live streaming your church services yet? Find out why you should be—and how to get started—with this free guide to church live streaming.

And our top four church web hosting options are…

1. Clover Sites

According to Clover Sites, every church is unique, so every church website should be unique. They only do custom designs (no templates), so your website will be reflective of your individual church. You’ll get all the tools you need to manage and update your website, and making edits is easy with drag-and-drop tools and real-time previews. A neat feature here is the use of parallax scrolling, a new (and awesome!) web technology that, when used correctly, can really make a site stand out. They are also happy to work with third-party live streaming providers.

2. Ekklesia 360

Ekklesia 360 is a little pricier than the others on this list, but they also have the richest features. A particular bonus is their powerful database tool, ChMS, which allows you to create customized member lists and track interactions with your congregants. They also make it easy to integrate third-party live streaming services into your website. And don’t worry about getting things up and running—they have a team solely dedicated to onboarding new clients and getting your site off the ground.

3. Ministry Designs

Ministry Designs gives you all the tools you need to design a great site, including a broad selection of attractive templates—no tech expertise necessary. Or, you can enlist the help of their experts to build a custom design exclusively for your church. A drag-and-drop website builder makes it easy to update the site yourself, and they also offer Parallax scrolling technology as well as custom add-ons like database configuration and e-commerce options. The initial setup fee is $1,000; after that, it’s $20 per month. One of the coolest things about Ministry Designs: Each of their team members has extensive background in church ministry, so they get it.

4. ChurchDev

Like Ministry Designs, ChurchDev also offers a wide range of beautifully designed templates. They offer to customize any template with whatever features you need; you can also order a new custom design for an additional fee. Unique features include the Prayer Wall, which connects congregants with prayer requests, and a secure church member directory. All of their offerings are included in the standard price—there are no add-on fees or services. Live streaming is supported in all designs, with the help of a third-party provider. They’re also big on support: The average response time to inquiries is less than an hour.

At Stretch, we’re happy to partner with your church web host to help you get the most out of your new website. Live streaming your church services has a number of benefits, and we can get you started, even if you have a small budget and a small staff. Together with your new website, you’ll soon be reaching more people—and making more of an impact—than ever before. 

Everything_You_Need_To_Know_About_Live_Streaming_Your_Church_Services_Stretch_Internet

How To Select A Live Streaming Video Provider

How To Select A Live Streaming Video Provider

Fact: Many companies make a rushed, ill-informed decision about which live streaming video provider to use.

Fact: That’s not advised!

Reading this article may help ensure that you don’t make that same mistake.

When you buy a car, you can’t just look at the price tag—and you can’t just look at the aesthetics. You have to look at the overall package and make sure you’ll be happy driving it today and in several years. The same goes for partnering with a video streaming provider! There are a number of critical factors you have to take into consideration before making your decision. So, we’ve made that process a little easier for you!

Below, we’ve outlined three critical steps you should take and four questions to ask yourself before selecting a live streaming video provider (as well as five ways you’ll know if you’ve made the right choice).

3 Steps To Take Before Selecting A Live Streaming Provider

1. Do your research online. Educating yourself about different video streaming providers and hosting options is easier than ever. Before you narrow down your list of options, be sure you spend a good amount of time surfing the web for providers that will help you with a successful streaming venture. You should be able to get a feel for their technology, look at the streaming experience they provide, and dig up any positive or negative online reviews.

2. Select vendors specific to your industry type. Once you’ve compiled your master list, you should whittle it down based on the streaming video providers who focus on your market. There’s a misconception that all streaming providers are created equal—that they can all accommodate any vertical—but there’s something to be said for finding a vendor who understands your area of business. For example, if you need to stream a business seminar, you may want a vendor who can incorporate a PowerPoint presentation—or if you’re streaming an athletic event, live statistics may be critical for the user experience.

3. Talk to those they’ve worked with. Instead of simply asking for a list of references, ask your streaming provider for a full client list. That way, you can bypass the stock references and cold call someone who has worked with the provider in the past to get an honest opinion. The first question you should ask is, “What happened when you ran into problems with your live stream? Tell me about that experience.” It doesn’t matter if their problem was big or small—every streaming and hosting provider will have issues at some point. You may want to offer the following prompts to get more information: 

  • “Did you try to reach out to them when the issue occurred?”
  • “How quick was their response?”
  • “What was their response?”
  • “Did the problem get fixed right away?”
  • “If it was a lengthy fix, did they stay on it until it was complete?”
  • “How was their communication throughout that process?”

After you learn about the experience, try to get a better understanding of the live streaming video provider as a partner—not just a third-party service provider. For example, ask about a time that the live streaming video provider went above and beyond for the company. Whether the company had a question about equipment or its IT department was struggling and the streaming provider stepped in to help, it’s always good to learn more about a provider’s performance in this area.

4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Selecting A Video Streaming Provider

1. Will I see advertising from the streaming provider during my live stream? Some “free” live streaming services make their money by cluttering your video stream with advertisements. Of course, this greatly diminishes the user experience. We’ve even heard from clients that their previous provider would put 15- or 30-second midroll advertising in their live streams. Of course, if you’re at a critical point in your broadcast  and your users are interrupted by a soft drink commercial, you can bet that the user experience will a negative one.

2. Will I see the streaming provider’s branding during my live stream? Again, it’s important to ask yourself what kind of experience you want to provide your user with. If you cannot control the messaging and branding of your live stream, that is a big red flag.

3. Will I be able to customize the streaming experience to meet the wants and needs of my viewership? For example, if you don’t see any options for your users to live comment or interact with social media, that could be an issue for your user experience.

4. Will my viewers be able to watch my live stream on Apple TV or Roku? You may want your users to be able to access the live stream from set-top boxes like Roku and Apple TV. If your streaming provider doesn’t currently provide that (or isn’t in the process of rolling it out in the near future), that’s a red flag. Successful live streaming today examines a broader way to reach an audience—not just through traditional computers and phones.

5 Ways To Know You’ve Selected The Right Streaming Provider

1. Your provider is proactively monitoring your eventsnot just sitting around, waiting for you to reach out to them if there are problems with the live stream. A good live streaming provider will have a system in place for their support specialists to monitor a broadcast so, if something goes wrong, they will be ready to respond to the issues appropriately. For example, our team has a system in place that requires support specialists to check on an event at least every 20 minutes.

2. Your provider has a phone number you can call if you need to reach themnot an email-only option that forces you to wait 24-48 hours (or longer) to hear back from someone. Having someone get back with you after a few hours (or a few days!) may work if you’re getting your hot tub serviced, but it does not work for a live-streamed event with a shelf life of 90 minutes or so.

3. Your provider understands how important the user experience is. Does the video provider understand that your live stream should be more than a basic video player embedded in a basic web page? That may work in certain cases—but if immersing the user in the overall experience is important, your streaming provider should be able to accommodate you.

4. Your provider understands the power of your brand and wants to help you build and create that brand. A live stream may be the first opportunity your users have to experience whatever you’re providing—whether it’s a sporting event, business conference, or church service. Thus, you’ll want to give the best impression of your organization—and your streaming provider can help with that.

5. Your provider understands the whole spectrum of streaming, how each and every decision will impact your organization, and what you need to be prepared for. If you want to know what kind of equipment you’ll need to make something happen, how a pay-per-view user platform compares to a free one, or how you can best monetize through sponsorships or advertising, your streaming provider should know how these things impact you and be able to help you figure out the answers.

A Final Piece Of Advice

Do not underestimate the value of live support for your events.

It doesn’t matter how “plug and play” or “streamlined” a live streaming solution promises to be—there will be problems with your stream eventually. And if those problems coincide with a very important event or a critical time in that event, your ability to successfully deliver on your promise of a great user experience will be solely tied to your streaming provider. If they can proactively monitor your feed and troubleshoot any issues that arise, your users will continue to come back to your service. 

If you would love to live stream your event but want a partner to guide and assist you through the process, let’s talk! At Stretch Internet, we stream more than 60,000 live events every year with an emphasis on providing outstanding support and memorable experiences. 

Everything_You_Need_To_Know_About_Live_Streaming_Your_Church_Services_Stretch_Internet

Countdown to GameCentral 2.0

So, if you’re a Stretch client, you’ve probably heard about this little thing we’re calling GameCentral 2.0. The excitement is building! Now just weeks away from the start of the academic year, we’ve started to field a lot of questions about the platform and our scheduled roll-out, and we figured it might be helpful to post an update on our timeline and plans as we get closer to kicking off the year.

Here are answers to the five questions we’re hearing most…

Continue reading

Diving into High Definition

For the past year or so, we’ve quietly started providing HD streaming for a select number of our clients. The results have been fantastic. Check out some samples from Northeastern (you can use the scrubber to move to different points in the video). Kudos to Northeastern’s Imry Halevi and his crew for their outstanding productions.

http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/northeastern.portal?mode=link&eventId=28307&broadcastType=video
http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/northeastern.portal?mode=link&eventId=37535&broadcastType=video

We’re excited to start making this functionality available for even more clients. Beginning this Fall, any school that has the required bandwidth and hardware (more on both of those in a minute) can stream in HD through our GameCentral portal. There will be an extra cost (there’s just no way around it since HD requires almost four times as much bandwidth). If you’re interested, contact us and we’ll put together a reasonable package – we’re looking at HD as an enhancement to our current service, not a means of generating tons of additional revenue.

While making the switch to HD isn’t incredibly difficult, it is important to understand and consider several requirements before diving in head-first.

1) You’ll need to have upload speeds of 3.0 Mbps or greater from any venue at which you plan to stream in HD. So, make sure to connect a laptop up to any network you plan on using and visit http://www.speedtest.net to get a good baseline reading on your bandwidth.

2) You’ll obviously need an HD video source (just because a camera connects digitally into your computer doesn’t mean it’s capable of producing HD video). True HD video needs to be transmitted at 720p, 1080i or 1080p – and this is become pretty standard on most cameras. (Most manufacturers aren’t shy about throwing a big shiny “HD” sticker on their cameras, so that’s the first clue that you’re in good shape). If you’re in the market for a new HD camera, our staff can also provide recommendations for good HD cameras ranging in budget from $750 or so all the way up to $5,000 (or beyond). If you’d like a custom recommendation, just ask!

3) If you’re using a computer (as opposed to an HD-compatible TriCaster or other device), you’ll want to make sure your machine has enough “horsepower” to handle HD encoding. Our streaming software (Wirecast) definitely uses more juice to encode at HD bit rates. It’s easy to see if your computer is up to the task – we can generate an HD settings file for you, have you start up a broadcast and check the CPU stats right inside of Wirecast. We can’t emphasize enough, however, that this needs to be tested well in advance – we don’t want you to run into any surprises on game-day!

Assuming you meet those three criterion, you’ll be all set from a logistical standpoint. But there are some other considerations. Streaming in HD is great for users who have enough bandwidth to view the stream, but you can run into problems if you’re trying to cater to users who have slower connections, or are trying to watch the broadcasts on a 3G mobile device, for instance. We’ve got a great long-term solution coming down the road, which will allow for true “transcoding” – this means you can send us a single HD-quality stream, and our servers can automatically break the stream down into lower bit-rate options based on a user’s available bandwidth. So, for instance, a viewer who only has a 1.0 Mbps connection might automatically be connected to a 750 Kbps stream.

In the meantime, many schools are utilizing Wirecast to send TWO streams to us simultaneously (one in HD, and one in standard definition). It’s as simple as having us build a settings file that can output both streams. The only hitch is that this solution does require you to create two events in the Stretch Internet CMS (one would point to the HD stream, and the other would point to the standard definition stream). The viewer then has the option to choose either stream in the portal. Again, this requirement will go away when we’ve put transcoding in place.

We’ve already heard from several schools who are ready to go for 2012-13, and it’s not too late to hop on board. Give us a shout or drop us an e-mail if you’re interested, or have questions, and we’ll be happy to help!

Happy streaming…

Lots of new toys

OK, first I gotta say that I love our blog name – there was definitely some debate in our office about what we should title our new blog (let’s just say that one idea involved clip art of an alligator – don’t ask). Is Taffy a little corny? Maybe… but admit it, you’re gonna remember it, right?

Alright, down to business.

Who says summer is time to rest? Our development team has been hard at work to get all kinds of new and exciting features in place for the Fall. Consider this a sneak peak…

•Live blogging! When we unveiled our GameCentral interface last summer, we included a live chat feature. And while many schools have used and enjoyed the feature, a lot of schools have held off simply because a chat room can open the door to, well, let’s just say some “colorful” commentary. With that in mind, we’re putting the finishing touches on an integrated live blog (which, like the chat, will appear in the portal adjacent to the audio or video stream). This new feature will allow our clients to utilize a more moderated environment; the admin can choose to approve or ignore user comments for inclusion in the blog, promote other users, include hyperlinks and all kinds of other pretty cool things. You can even use the interface for a blog-only event.

•Mobile live stats! (And, yes, I am going to add an exclamation point after every item because these deserve exclaiming!) We’ve got a beautiful graphic interface set for our mobile live stats this year. We’ll be ready to show off the baseball/softball interface at CoSIDA – and the Fall sports will not be far behind. We’ve spent a lot of time to make sure the interface is pleasing to the eye – but also incorporates the play-by-play and statistical information in a logical and useable way (which isn’t as easy as you’d think when you’re working with a lot fewer pixels!). So, any mobile device with a web browser will be able to access live stats. And, remember, we’re still the only provider to support both StatCrew AND DakStats (you’re welcome NAIA schools).

•Media downloads! (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but this feature is already live and there’s a link available in the client CMS). Most of our clients have – at some point or other – asked us if they could get a copy of an audio or video file from one of their archives. Now, that functionality exists with just a few clicks. As soon as we’ve posted archives (which happens almost immediately after the event for video – and within 48 hours for most audio events), our users can download the corresponding MP3 (audio) or MP4 (video) files and edit them to their heart’s content. We also support batch downloading, in case you’re looking to download several files at once.

•Automatic audio archiving! For our clients who broadcast audio by dialing into our studio, we’re now going to provide the option to manually start/stop a recording of the audio through simple commands (for instance, 1# might start the recoding, and 2# might stop the recording). The benefit, you might ask? For clients who utilize this feature, their archives will be available almost immediately following the game in the On-Demand tab of the portal (no more waiting for our staff to edit the files).

•Integrated Twitter feeds in the portal! We’re pursuing a means of allowing our clients to have their most recent Twitter feed automatically scroll through the ticker area (above the media player) in the portal. Pretty cool stuff. So, let’s say you have a fan watching a live women’s basketball game and you just tweeted the final score of the MEN’s basketball game – within about 60 seconds or so, that tweet will scroll through the ticker. The possibilities are pretty exciting.

•Pre-roll integration! We already provide the means to incorporate rotating footer graphics and gateway graphics (splash screens) in the portal; now, we’re adding the ability to include pre-roll audio and video clips as well. You’ll be able to upload an audio or video commercial, for example, and have that commercial play as soon a user clicks on a “Watch” or “Listen” link – as soon as it’s done, the stream they requested will automatically begin playing.

So, there you have it! We’ve got several other exciting features coming as well, but this should at least get your feet wet. Let us know your thoughts!