The 10 Best Resources & Blogs For Tech-Savvy Churches

Thanks to the internet, these days no one has to try anything new without help. That’s just as true for churches, that, luckily, have tons of resources at their fingertips which can help with everything from writing marketing email subject lines, to building mobile giving apps, to setting up digital libraries for church members.

Sometimes, though, there’s almost too much help to choose from, which is why “best of” posts tend to come in handy. You may already be familiar with some of the most popular church resources and blogs on our list, but we tried to dig a little deeper to offer a few additional resources you may not have yet discovered. We hope you’ll give them a read to see if they line up with your church’s goals.

And, of course, if live streaming your church services is anywhere on your tech to-do list, you already know where to go for help!

Not ready to start live streaming your church services but want to know more about it? Download this free guide to see what’s involved before you take the leap.  

The 5 Best Church Resources

1. Courageous Storytellers

Its mission is to help church communicators tell the story of their church in the best way possible—so it provides all the tools you could ever need to get the job done. Resources, knowledge, training… it’s like having an extra person on your team who has all the answers, even for those questions you didn’t know you had. Some resources are free; there’s also a membership option to get access to new monthly resources along with everything Courageous Storytellers has ever created.

2. That Church

The founders of That Church believe in doing and changing, not listening and following. To that end, all of their company’s resources and events are geared toward helping church leaders inspire change. They provide a podcast, an online magazine, mobile apps and a TV app(!) for easy access to all of their material; they even have a live stream of their annual conference. You can get anything you want, however you want to get it.

3. Pro Church Tools

Ninety percent of the weekly content Pro Church Tools publishes is free and was designed specifically for the purpose of helping churches reach their audiences. It has an extensive collection of audio, video, and text resources; members of the Pro Church Academy get access to even more video courses, cheat sheets, templates, and formulas. The idea here is that anyone can succeed in getting their church noticed—despite small budgets and no experience.

4. Church Technical Leaders

Developed for church technical artists, this site intends not only to be a learning resource but also to serve as a place for like-minded technical individuals to foster relationships. On its website, “The City” makes connection-building easy, giving users a way to meet church and technical leaders anywhere around the world. It also has a terrific blog (“The Sacrifice Of My Pride” by Martha Shafer is recommended) and offers day-long LeadLab events periodically to learn more about church tech.

5. Church Media Spot

Church Media Spot has an exhaustive list of resources to improve your church communications, including videos, graphics, photos, music, websites, and fonts, as well as links to a variety of learning resources like conferences and church blogs. If you’re looking for practical tools to get your message across more effectively—and wow your audience while you’re at it—this is the place to go.

The 5 Best Church Blogs

1. Church Tech Today

Articles in this blog cover a range of faith-based technology subjects, arranged under the broad topics of communications, software, hardware, worship, and “kidmin” (youth ministry). (There’s even a live streaming subcategory—hands in the air! See “Live Streaming As Ministry” for some great advice on getting started with live streaming.) This one is worth following.

2. Faith Engineer

Written by the pastor—and, pretty much, tech director—of a growing church in a rural town (formerly a design engineer), this blog stands out for its truthfulness in showing the difficulties small churches face in utilizing technology. If you’re in a similar situation and are searching for some real-life perspective on the subject, take a look here.

3. The Creative Pastor

With articles like “10 Items Under $20 That Every Church Tech Booth Needs” and “Four Simple Steps To Improve Your Church’s Social Media,” this blog is direct and practical. The Creative Pastor (aka Kendall Conner) is a self-described “media geek” who wants to make church media simple for even the most inexperienced folks, putting awesome within everyone’s reach.

4. Ministry Tech

Technically a magazine that publishes articles online, Ministry Tech is all about technology and software and how they can be used to support ministry. Its articles cover everything from online giving and security to church management software and effective church blogging. You can even subscribe for free and get the newest issues as soon as they’re published; or, subscribe for monthly tech trend reports.

5. Steve Fogg

Steve Fogg describes himself as a “church communications person who is keen on the power of utilising social media” to help churches grow online. His articles mainly revolve around digital branding, communications, and marketing, with the occasional podcast and ebook offerings. Steve’s writing is clear, simple, and from the heart, which makes his posts easy and interesting to read. It’s an excellent resource for churches seeking technology solutions for bolstering their brand.

We’re sure there are more gems out there—do you know of any church resources or blogs we should add? Tweet us @stretchinternet and let us know!

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Live Streaming: The 4,500-Word Ultimate Guide

Live Streaming 4500-Word Ultimate Guide

Our entire team here at Stretch is, if nothing else, ambitious. We have a tendency to go all out—just ask the group of elementary school kids we took to task on a recent company laser-tag outing. Let’s just say there were more than a few “No mercy!” rally cries from our overzealous bunch. That’s why it seemed perfectly reasonable to go all out on our blog, too, which is how we ended up with this “everything you could ever possibly want or need to know about live streaming” (aka ultimate) post.

So have a look around, skip to the parts you’re most interested in, and then, hopefully, you’ll have some new bits of knowledge you can put into action. And if you still have questions about anything you’ve read here—including questions about your own streaming setup or our live streaming platform—give us a shout. Our ultimate ambition with this post (see how we did that?) is to help all of you live streamers out there reach your goals. Good luck!

Table Of Contents
Part 1: The History Of Video Streaming
Part 2: The Equipment You Need To Live Stream
     Basic Live Streaming Equipment
     Advanced Live Streaming Equipment
Part 3: Live Streaming Technology Advancements
Part 4: How To Live Stream
     Choose A Live Streaming Platform
     Prepare Your Streaming Setup
     Starting Your Live Stream
     You’re Live Streaming! Now What?

Part 1: The History Of Video Streaming

Live web streaming exists thanks to several early innovations, starting with George Squier’s work on signal transmission in the early 1920s. Squier came up with a way to transmit audio signals over electrical lines and received several patents for his work. His original intent was to deliver music directly into homes, but when radio caught on, he made a change of course. Instead, his company, called Muzak (sounds like a modern day startup, doesn’t it?), sold and delivered prepackaged “elevator music” to stores, offices, elevators, and factories.

In the decades following, another foundational element of live streaming, the internet, slowly evolved. This worldwide network of computers would eventually make it possible to share continuous streams of data with people around the world. The first live stream actually took place on June 24, 1993, when a California band called Severe Tire Damage broadcasted a live performance to the world from outside the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The stream utilized new technology, called the Mbone, that made audiovisual broadcasting possible; up until that point, it had mainly been used for academic purposes.

By the mid-1990s, however, the primary focus was on audio-only streaming. In 1995, a company called Progressive Networks introduced RealAudio, a compressed audio format that allowed people to listen to music as it was being downloaded. Once audio streaming paved the way, it wasn’t long before live video streaming came to fruition.

Live event streaming has come extraordinarily far in 20-plus years. Today’s technology is developing faster than ever, with new and exciting developments year after year that are progressively making live streaming more accessible to everyone—even giraffes.

Part 2: The Equipment You Need To Live Stream

For all its technological advances, live streaming is still pretty simple if you want it to be. The equipment you choose to use depends on your level of experience, your budget, and your goals. Over time, your organization will likely evolve in all three of these areas, which will affect the live streaming technology you use. The basic equipment needs are the same across the board, but because most people vary in their current situations, we’ve found that there are two different categories of live streaming equipment: basic live streaming equipment and advanced live streaming equipment.

Basic Live Streaming Equipment

If you’re still considering live video streaming or if your organization is about to experiment with it for the first time, we can guarantee you’ll find success if you keep it simple. Trying to do too much right out of the gate not only opens the door to added technical challenges (there’s enough of those to go around at every level of experience), it will also be mildly to monstrously frustrating for all those involved. Live event streaming should be fun! If you follow the guidelines below, you’ll end up with a good-quality broadcast—and your hair still intact.

Here’s what you’ll need to get going.

A Video Source (Aka A Camera)

You might be tempted to spend thousands of dollars in this area, but there’s really no need—$400-$500 will get you a fully functional camcorder that can handle the job. Any consumer camera that’s less than five years old will have what you need to start streaming.

That said, your live stream may have certain requirements that will be better met with a more expensive camera. For instance, if you know you’ll be shooting from far away and need to zoom in quite a bit to really capture the action, it’s advisable to buy a camera with high-quality zoom capabilities. So consider how you plan to use the camera before making a purchase.

Download our free guide to get popular camera and encoder options for churches.

A one-camera production is best to start, because it’s the simplest option. As you gain more experience with live streaming, you may want to add additional cameras (and check out the advanced live streaming technology list below).

It’s also possible to use an iPhone or an iPad as your camera. In that case, the only things you’ll need as far as live streaming equipment are the device itself and a mobile live streaming app. While there are several app options, we always recommend GoCoder from Wowza, which works with a variety of live streaming platforms, including ours. This handy app delivers your video and audio content to any device and it’s very easy to use. Your streaming provider may also have its own application for streaming live video from a mobile device, so be sure to check on that first. Or, if you’re using Ustream, Livestream, YouTube, or a social network to stream, there’s no need for an app—you simply stream directly from their mobile applications.

A word of caution, however, that there are some drawbacks to using an iPhone or an iPad for live streaming: The picture quality on mobile devices doesn’t stack up to what you’d get with a traditional video camera, and the lack of optical zoom means you’ll need to stay fairly close to the subject you’re focusing on. Also, you’ll likely want someone manning the device, whereas with a traditional video camera, you can set it up and walk away. Lastly—but maybe most importantly—beware of data charges if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network!

That being said, if your mobile device is all you have to start, it’s a good temporary solution. In fact, it’s a great way to test if your live stream is a viable product in the first place, before traveling too far down the live streaming road. It’s also a good secondary live stream setup if you’re trying to stream two events simultaneously, or if you’re streaming an event without a physical location.

A Tripod

It might sound like an “extra” piece of equipment, but having a tripod eliminates the slight shake that always accompanies a hand-held camera. (We know you think you’re holding steady, but trust us, you’re not.) The professionalism it will add to your broadcast will make it money well spent.

And to all you iPhone/iPad streamers—we recommend tripods for you, too! In addition to the tripod, you’ll also need a mount to hold your iPhone or iPad in place.

A Computer

You probably already have one of these—either a Mac or a PC—and most likely whatever you currently have will get the job done, as long as it has either a Thunderbolt port (Macs) or a USB 3.0 port (PCs). To check on your computer, look for the following:

  • USB 3.0—Depending on the computer manufacturer, one of two symbols will designate the USB port: Either the inside of the port itself will be blue, or the port will be labeled “SS” (which stands for “Super Speed”).
  • Thunderbolt—most often found on Apple computers, this port will be labeled with a lightning bolt symbol.

An Encoding Device

Video encoding is the key to streaming live—it’s the process of converting your video input into a digital format so it can be played back on a computer and then sending it to either a content delivery network (CDN) for distribution on the internet, or a live streaming provider (like Stretch). The process of encoding helps make large video files smaller so they can be moved more easily over the internet. It is absolutely essential for live web streaming.

There are two types of live stream encoder devices:

  • A hardware encoder is a separate device dedicated to video streaming.
  • A software encoder runs on your laptop or desktop computer.

Plenty of people spend time debating the merits of hardware vs. software encoders. Why? Because both options are good, but they also both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation.

Since hardware encoders are built solely for encoding, some people claim they’re more reliable. They also remove added strain from a computer that’s already running a number of other processes, which could help avoid problems related to speed and function. Software encoders, on the other hand, are easy to reconfigure, making them more flexible than hardware encoders. They’re also very simple to use and make for fewer things to lug around when you’re bringing live streaming equipment on the road.

Software Encoders

For people just getting started with live streaming, we usually recommend Flash Media Live Encoder (FMLE) from Adobe, a free software encoder. You can download it to any computer (Mac or PC) in less than 10 minutes. It’s perfect for a basic, single-camera production (it doesn’t support multiple cameras, unless you have a video mixer that you are feeding into your computer). Wirecast software is another good bet; you can use it to add production-quality effects to your broadcast, like lower-third graphics, scoreboards for sporting events, and multiple camera shots. Wirecast runs anywhere from $495 for the studio version to $995 for the professional version.

Important note: If you plan on using a software encoder, you’ll also need an additional piece of equipment for your live stream setup: acapture device. Computers aren’t necessarily made for receiving video and audio from other sources, so you need a way to convert those signals into something the computer can recognize. A capture device does just that—converts the video output into a digital format that your computer can understand. (With most hardware encoders, you will not need a capture device unless you have a mismatch of signal output/input on the camera/encoder respectively.)

Your capture device should be compatible with the type of computer you’re using, either a PC or a Mac. It plugs into the Thunderbolt port on a Mac or the USB 3.0 port on a PC. The Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder is a good choice for the Mac; for PCs, we recommend one from Magewell’s USB Capture Family. Both devices are economical and perform well.

Even if you’re just starting out, it pays to think long term when it comes to software encoders. If your goal is to build your live streaming program into a sophisticated multi-camera production over time, we strongly suggest selecting a software option that can grow with you. It will not only save you money in the long run, it’ll also save you from having to relearn another system later on down the line.

With that in mind, take a look through this list of critical features that a software encoder needs, along with a few things that are simply nice to have.

Critical features your software live stream encoder should have:

  • The ability to stream and record simultaneously (just in case!).
  • The ability to switch between video sources (for enhancing your broadcast later).
  • The ability to send to multiple destinations (for maximum reach).
  • A built-in graphics editing system (even the most basic graphics system will save time and improve your broadcast).

Ideal (but not necessary) features for your software live stream encoder:

  • A built-in audio mixer (for better sound and making volume adjustments).
  • Social media integration (so fans can interact with you and each other during the live stream).
  • The ability to replay in real time (especially handy for sports).
  • The ability to color-correct your video source (if you don’t have time for white-balancing).

Hardware Encoders

When it comes to hardware encoders, the Teradek VidiU is a good choice for a simple camera production without graphics. It’s an affordable solution that Teradek promotes as being “perfect for novices.” Plus, its compact size makes the VidiU perfect if you tend to live stream from a variety of venues.

Another hardware encoder we like to recommend is the Matrox Monarch HDX—a good fit for studio live streaming. The Monarch also works well if you already have a fully produced feed “ready to go” from another production environment, like a television truck on location. The Monarch takes that feed, encodes it, and sends it to your streaming provider.

All-In-One Production Platforms

Beyond hardware or software encoders, there’s one more option to consider: an all-in-one production unit like the Tricaster or Wirecast Gear. These production platforms are dedicated hardware solutions that both produce and encode the live stream, allowing you to change cameras, add graphics, pull in video or images, and more. This option works for both studio installations and portable setups (although you do need computer monitors, a keyboard, a mouse, etc). They’re also easy to use—just plug in your cameras and start streaming.

A High-Speed Internet Connection

Because it’s live web streaming, download and upload speeds are vital. Download speed is more important to your viewers that are trying to “pull” down your live feed, but a robust upload speed is critical for your ability to “push” a live stream out successfully.

If your upload speeds aren’t up to snuff, your viewers will almost certainly experience heavy buffering (the spinning wheel of doom!). To test it, make sure you’re connected to the network you plan to stream from and go to speedtest.net; once you run the test, you’ll get your upload speed in seconds. A high-definition (HD) live stream requires a speed of 3-4 MBPS; standard definition (SD) requires 1-2 MBPS. A slow upload speed is a non-starter for your ambitions of live streaming glory.

Whatever location you’re filming from, you’ll need internet access in one of three ways:

  • Ethernet (hardwired internet)—recommended for reliability.
  • Wi-Fi.
  • Mi-Fi (provided through cellular carriers like Verizon and AT&T).

Locations vary widely when it comes to internet access, which can make this element one of the most challenging aspects of your live stream setup.

Advanced Live Streaming Equipment

If you’re an experienced live streamer you already have the basic live streaming equipment. Here, we’ll mention a few add-ons that will improve and enhance your production.

Multiple Cameras

Single-camera productions are fine, but if you want to truly boost the quality level of your production, it’s time to introduce multiple cameras. Having more than one camera allows you to shoot from a variety of angles, giving viewers the feeling of actually being there.

For more detailed information on this topic, check out this article. To sum it up quickly, you have two good options for a small-scale multi-camera production setup:

Want more information about live streaming equipment? This extensive live streaming checklist includes lists of necessary and optional equipment, as well as preparation checklists.

  • The least expensive option is to use Telestream’s Wirecast and a Mac. BlackMagic’s UltraStudio Mini Recorder (or something similar) can bring the HDMI signals from two cameras into your computer via its two Thunderbolt ports. If you have three cameras, you’ll need a USB-based capture device like the Magewell USB Capture HDMI Plus or a Magewell SDI Plus for the third one.
  • A PC setup requires one or more PCI Express cards (however many you need) to bring in the video. You’ll also need one of the following: the DeckLink Mini Recorder (similar to the UltraStudio Mini Recorder) that accommodates one HDMI or SDI input at a time, the DeckLink Quad 2, which has eight channels that can be assigned as you like, or the Pro Capture Quad SDI, which lets you bring four inputs into your desktop tower computer.

Besides the setup, one of the challenges of working with multiple cameras is covering the distance between their placement and the control room (or the main camera). Unless you’re using wireless cameras, you’ll need plenty of cables to bridge the gap. Speaking of cables…

SDI Cables

The basic live streaming setup uses relatively cheap HDMI cables. The longer they get, the weaker the signal gets, which is why we recommend keeping them under 10 feet. If your camera placement requires spanning more than 10 feet, you’ll need an HDMI-to-SDI converter.

Rather than extending your HDMI cabling, a better alternative is SDI. With SDI you can go very long distances—up to 300 feet—without amplification. You can even run SDI cabling farther if you like—up to 2,700 feet—using signal boosters every 300 feet. You’ll find this a lot easier to use when trying to add additional cameras to your live stream setup.

The Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder includes both HDMI and SDI connections. And if your camera doesn’t have SDI natively, you can pick up an HDMI-to-SDI converter for less than $100; the benefits you’ll get will be well worth the price.

Wireless Tech For Live Web Streaming

If you’re managing multiple cameras, the next step is to shed the cables. Depending on where your cameras are situated, you might end up laying hundreds of feet of cable all told, which is time-consuming and, for some locations, a downright difficult proposition.

What if, instead of running that 300-foot cable, you could have 300 feet of wireless capability? Being able to take your cameras wherever you want to go—even right up to the edge of the action—makes for an exciting broadcast that will be appreciated by your viewers. It also lets you be a bit more creative with your camera angles, because cabling can be restrictive.

If you’re thinking of giving it a go, we usually recommend Teradek’s Bolt wireless system. Not dependent on Wi-Fi or 4G internet, it creates its own wireless local area network to talk to a receiver and a transmitter. But you will need batteries to power both the camera and the transmitter.

Audio Equipment

Good-quality sound is part of a professional-quality live stream. Incorporating an audio mixer allows you to include one or more broadcasters and play prerecorded commercials or interviews. It also gives you more precise control over your audio levels. Some encoders come with a built-in audio mixer that allows you to adjust the volume on each source individually as they’re brought into the live video. Wireless transmitters and receivers can also be valuable if your audio setup is not geographically close to the production location.

Graphical Tools

If you’re looking for a fairly simple yet noticeable way to improve your broadcast, consider investing in some graphical tools. Not just for sports, graphics can enhance any kind of live event streaming—you can to attach titles to speakers, provide information about materials being discussed or used (like hymns or scripture references), or conduct live polls. For sports in particular, graphics tools allow you to share information directly from a scoreboard controller, or statistical information and headshots. There are lots of ways in which graphics can enhance a broadcast; just think about what your viewers might want to see, and you can most likely make it happen.

For those of you using Wirecast, NewBlue Titler (made by NewBlue) runs alongside it, letting you render graphics and integrate them quickly into the Wirecast workflow. It can run on the same computer as your encoding software.

Part 3: Live Streaming Technology Advancements

There won’t likely ever be one definitive list of live streaming equipment—live streaming technology continues to evolve due to the growing popularity of live video streaming and the fast pace of technological innovation. At the moment, these three trends will be shaping the immediate future of live streaming:

  • Wireless camera technology is seeing a dramatic price reduction thanks to recent advancements. Soon it may be an attainable option for many more broadcasters, a development that could have a significant impact on the production process.
  • NewTek’s Network Device Interface (NDI) continues to grow as an industry standard. NDI uses a venue’s existing network to enable communication among several video sources, eliminating the need for cables or wireless equipment. NDI is already transforming production workflows and will continue to do so, especially with the arrival of new, related products—including one that converts a camera signal directly into NDI.
  • Thunderbolt 3 video devices, including capture devices, are beginning to hit the market for the latest version of Apple’s MacBook Pro. That’s great news—it streamlines the connection between capture device and computer (no more Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapters!).

Like many others in the industry, we are anxious to see how the continued evolution of virtual reality (VR), and even augmented reality (AR), impact the live streaming product as a whole. As new developments and opportunities present themselves, we’ll keep looking for exciting ways to integrate with our existing platform.

Part 4: How To Live Stream

You’ve gotten your equipment—great! But what’s next? You’re almost ready to go…

Choose A Live Streaming Platform

Before you can start live streaming, you need to decide how you plan to broadcast—in other words, what platform will you use to share your live stream with the world? There are two kinds of live streaming platforms:

  • Social media networks like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • Live streaming platform providers (Stretch is a platform provider; there are many other providers to choose from as well).

We feel it’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily an “either/or” choice. Many organizations utilize both options, as they both have different strengths. Having a good live streaming strategy that encompasses both methods can be a good way to reach your live streaming goals. Some organizations also utilize more than one social media network, as they have different audiences and different features. (This article has a good breakdown of your choices and the features associated with each.)

To state it simply, social media networks are great for “Johnny on the spot” streaming—for filming impromptu, short clips that you want to share with the world. These types of video streaming services allow you to reach your entire subscriber base as soon as you go live.

Platform providers have their strengths, too. You can give your live stream a more professional look with a portal custom-designed for your organization, which helps to build your brand. And a good platform provider will also act as your live streaming partner, which means they’ll be there to provide technical support, offer guidance on live production techniques, and help you build out a long-term live streaming strategy.

A platform provider can dramatically improve the quality of your live stream—if you choose the right one. Find out what live streaming services you should expect from a streaming provider.

Do your research before choosing any of the above options. (And, if you’re thinking about setting up your live stream so it can be viewed on your organization’s website, read this first.) Then it’s time to dive in!

Prepare Your Streaming Setup

If you hope to pull off a live stream successfully, you can’t show up an hour before the event, set up your cameras and computer, and roll. It’s a good idea to put some thought into preparing for your broadcast, even up to a week in advance of the event. Testing your equipment and checking out the venue beforehand will go a long way toward minimizing problems—and stress!—on the actual day.

Here are a few things to take care of well in advance:

  • Check your connection to the venue’s network.
  • Check the speed of the network you plan to use.
  • Do a streaming test to check video, audio, and transmission speeds.
  • Make sure you have a way to record your stream locally.
  • Make sure your streaming software is up to date.
  • Secure backup cables and equipment if possible. (The more backups you have, the better!)

Download this extensive live streaming checklist for more detailed guidance on live stream setup and preparation.  

On the day of the event, set up your equipment as early as possible. The length of your cables will help determine placement. In general, the longer the cable, the more chance there is for something to go wrong or a signal to get lost. (Also, remember that HDMI cables more than 10 feet long may require an amplifier.) And if you’re setting up outside, keep the computer out of direct sunlight; none of the equipment should ever be hot to the touch.

Once you have everything in place, connect all the necessary cables—with camera or cameras turned off—and ensure that all the connections are tight. Then turn the camera(s) on and open your streaming program.

Tip: If you’re setting up the day before an event, shut down the computer overnight rather than putting it in sleep mode. Even in low-power mode, your computer still consumes energy and its CPU percentage will be higher as a result. Keep the computer off the night before to start fresh on the day of the event.

Starting Your Live Stream

We recommend starting your live stream 15 minutes ahead of the event’s scheduled start time. Starting a few minutes early gives you time to catch any last-minute problems and adjust basic things like audio, graphics, or camera focus. It also gives viewers something to see as they settle in before the program and a bit of time to sort things out if the stream appears not to be working.

It’s smart to check your feed by watching it the same way your viewers do. If you’re working with a live streaming platform provider, they should handle this check for you (and you can always contact them for confirmation); otherwise, you can pull up the feed on a device on your own. Sometimes everything looks like it’s working properly in the streaming program, but it isn’t coming through on the viewers’ end. That could be caused by any number of things, but testing can solve these problems before the event starts.

Once the stream is started, check on it occasionally (make sure you use a different network than the one you’re streaming from). Streaming is unpredictable at times—even a small dip in the network can knock you off the air. Ideally you’d head off any problems at the streaming computer before they made it through to your viewers, but if that isn’t realistic, simply check the feed in the viewers’ interface on another device several times throughout. You should also be able to depend on your live streaming platform provider to monitor the feed and communicate with you about problems.

You’re live streaming! Now what?

Keep it going! The more you do it, the better you’ll get—and the easier it’ll get. To develop a consistent and reliable production process right from the start, download our extensive live streaming checklist. It outlines the necessary tasks at every stage of production, starting a week before the event, so you can pull off a smooth live stream every time.

If you’re looking for some helpful advice about your live stream setup, process, equipment, or anything else, schedule a free 30-minute consultation call with Stretch. We’ll evaluate what you already have in place and make recommendations on how you can improve.

Good luck with your future live streaming!

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Enhance Your Broadcast With Video Streaming Technology

Enhance Your Broadcast With Live Streaming Technology

You know that old saying attributed to Mark Twain—“If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute; it’ll change”? Well, it might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s the first thing that came to mind as we considered the advancement of video technology used for live streaming. Tech in general is progressing quickly, and live streamers are benefitting with a growing number of ways to turn out more professional-looking broadcasts more easily than ever before. So with a tip of the hat to Twain, here’s a modern-day mashup for you:

“If you can’t find the live streaming technology you want, wait a minute; it’ll change.”

If it’s been awhile since you’ve incorporated some new tech into your live stream, there’s no better time than the present to give it a try. Below are a few slightly more advanced tech options we think you’ll be excited about—especially if you’re looking for ways to get more bang for your live streaming buck. Check out the following, and consider how they might work for your next live broadcast.

Video Streaming Technology For Next-Level Broadcasts

SDI For Maximum Flexibility

With a basic live stream setup, you’re essentially tethered to the action by a relatively short HDMI cable. In general, HDMI is a technology that won’t withstand a lot of wear and tear, and the longer the cable gets, the more its signal strength diminishes. That’s why we typically recommend keeping HDMI cables 10 feet or less.

SDI is an alternative to HDMI that allows you to go very long distances without amplification—up to 300 feet. Having this extra “room to move” will expand your production options and let you get a second camera involved in your stream. And it’s not difficult to start using SDI: The Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder includes HDMI and SDI connections, and, if your camera doesn’t have SDI natively, an HDMI-to-SDI converter costs less than $100. It will pay for itself in the amount of flexibility you’ll get over the long haul.

Wireless Tech For Better, Easier Production

What if, instead of running that 300-foot cable, you could have 300 feet of wireless capability? Then you could—almost literally—take your camera wherever you wanted to go.

For our clients, we always recommend Teradek’s Bolt wireless system. The Bolt creates its own wireless local area network (not using Wi-Fi or 4G) to talk to a receiver and a transmitter. The receiver goes into the camera, and the transmitter remains back at home base with the computer or hardware encoder.

An impressive live stream is about more than just technology. Improve your production process with this free Extensive Live Streaming Checklist, and pull off a smooth, well-organized broadcast every time.

The flexibility wireless provides leads to more creative broadcasting. You can spontaneously take the camera on the basketball court during a timeout, follow the action at a wedding, or easily navigate an audience to access multiple speakers—all without the need for a second person to spool cable. The one downside is batteries; you’ll need them to power the camera and the transmitter. Also keep in mind that the Bolt family of wireless systems goes up in price depending on how far you need to transmit video.

Network Device Interface (NDI) For Cost Savings & Production Versatility

One of the most interesting video streaming technology developments of the past year is NewTek’s Network Device Interface (NDI). NDI eliminates the need for costly cables or wireless equipment and instead utilizes the existing network in a production environment to allow cameras and other video sources to communicate. Essentially, you’re taking the network, the cabling, and everything that exists in a venue already and utilizing it for your broadcast.

Say, for instance, you’re filming inside a building on a college campus. You want to incorporate video from a camera at another campus location, but that camera is too far away to realistically run cables back to your main streaming center. However, there is a nearby jack that accesses a network shared with your main computer. NDI allows you to utilize that shared network to draw in the video source and use it for your live stream, even though it isn’t hardwired to your production environment.

NDI is award-winning video streaming technology that’s changing the way people stream. Eliminating the wiring in a network-connected environment allows for an extraordinary amount of flexibility, making it easy to use additional computers to run commercials, generate graphics, and accommodate telestration (drawing on the screen as the stream is happening). There are even NDI applications for mobile devices. NDI combined with a little creative genius (let us help you brainstorm!) can have a big impact on your live stream.

Graphical Tools For Added Sophistication

Good graphics bring a level of professionalism to any broadcast, and the graphical tools available for live streamers continue to improve. Now, high-end graphical software and even hardware allow you to create TV-production-quality graphics on the fly.

Rather than producing graphics ahead of time, you can have full-motion graphics available in 10 seconds or less. NewBlue Titler (made by NewBlue) runs alongside Wirecast, a software encoder, and lets you render new graphics quickly and integrate them into the Wirecast workflow. The NewBlue software can run on the same computer as your encoding software.

Advanced graphical tools can enhance any kind of broadcast, sporting events in particular. Imagine being able to provide information directly from a scoreboard controller or statistical information and headshots for players. Consider what information your viewers might like to see along with the action, and you can probably make it happen with the tech available today.

Wait a minute—here’s a heads-up…

In tech time, Twain’s “minute” could mean approximately eight weeks—that’s when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention happens in Las Vegas. Plenty of new video tech has been unveiled at recent NAB conventions, including NDI, which won a Best of Show award for TV technology in 2016. So stay tuned, because you never know if the next new thing might be just what you’ve been looking for!

Need help implementing this new live streaming technology?

Technology is awesome, but it can also be complex. Don’t let that stop you from seeing your big ideas come to fruition! If you can think of a great way to use one of the above tools (or something else!) in your live stream but are hesitant about implementing it, drop us a line. We can talk you through the logistics on the phone or provide advice on the best tech for your needs.

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Live Streaming Setup For The Computer Illiterate

Live Streaming Setup For The Computer Illiterate

Live videos are everywhere. It’s hard to resist getting in on the action, especially when so many organizations are seeing great results from sharing their events with a larger audience. But if you’re reading this article, there’s probably one thing that’s been holding you back: You don’t know anything at all about technology and assume that live streaming is beyond your reach.

Getting the hardware and software you need for your live stream setup may seem a bit daunting—especially if you aren’t technologically savvy. (If you don’t know what a Twitter handle is or have ever referenced “The Google,” you may fit into this category!) In reality, you don’t need any special qualifications to get started. Live streaming is technology-dependent, but if you can follow directions and have a resource to turn to for help (that’s us!), you can start streaming anytime you’re ready.

The Nontechnical Guide To Live Stream Setup

It’s important to keep your first live streaming setup as basic as possible. It doesn’t need to look like it could be on cable television, with four camera angles, graphics, and highlight clips. You do, however, want it to be well-executed and enjoyable to watch. Below, we’ve outlined the basic live stream setup you’ll need to begin sharing your event online—this setup will also produce a good-quality broadcast for your viewers. (If you’d like more detailed information about live streaming equipment specifically, check out this blog post.)

Camera

To get your event online, you’ll need a camera. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use, because any consumer camera that has been created in the last five years should give you what you need to live stream. You can even use a GoPro or an iPhone or iPad if you want!

Even the most basic live stream setup can impress viewers as being both well-planned and well-executed. Download this free Extensive Live Streaming Checklist to prepare for your first event, and you won’t miss a beat!

Remember, you’ll get the same type of feed and signal out of both a $200 camera and a $5,000 camera. Of course, the $5,000 camera will have more options, including a nicer lens and better image resolution. So before you purchase your camera, assess your specific needs. For instance, if you’ll be shooting from far away and need to zoom in quite a bit, look for a camera with high-quality zoom capabilities. If you’ll be able to get pretty close to your subject, you may be fine using a less expensive option.

Tripod

If you’re nervous for your first streaming event, shaky hands come with the territory. Even a slightly shaky picture dramatically lessens the quality of your broadcast and is unpleasant to watch.

Even a basic live stream setup needs a tripod. (There are even tripods for GoPros, iPhones, and iPads, so there’s no excuse!) We recommend getting a nice tripod that will grow with you and be able to handle bigger and better things down the line. Look for a fluid head tripod that smoothly pans (left and right) and tilts (up and down), which is particularly important for  sporting events and theatrical productions that require a fair amount of camera movement.

Don’t get caught up in overspending here—you can get a good prosumer tripod in the $150 range. The fancier ones have options you may not need to start; your main concern now is getting a clean, smooth image from the camera.

Computer

To successfully live stream, there are a few things you need to be sure your computer can handle:

1. Your computer needs to have either a Thunderbolt port or a USB 3.0 port. This is where you’ll plug in your capture device (which we’ll discuss below). If you’re already panicking, don’t—there are some easy ways to tell if your computer has one of these two ports:

  • USB 3.0: Depending on the manufacturer of the computer, one of two different symbols will designate the USB port—either the inside of the port itself will be blue, or the port will be labeled “SS” (which stands for “Super Speed”).

SS Super Speed USB 3.0 port

  • Thunderbolt: Thunderbolt technology is most often found on Apple computers—if you have this port, it will be labeled with a lightning bolt symbol, as shown below:

thunderbolt port

Photo courtesy of solverbase.com

Note: You may see that your computer has an HDMI port—so why can’t you plug the camera directly into that? Because the HDMI port on your computer or laptop is an output, and you need an input. Since there are dedicated inputs and outputs for HDMI, a single HDMI port cannot do both.

2. You need a software encoder on your computer to be able to send the live stream anywhere. Encoders range in price from free to about $1,000. The more you pay, the more features you’ll have. But if you’re just getting started, we suggest using Flash Media Live Encoder (FMLE) from Adobe. It’s free, it’s simple to get up and running, and it will give you what you need—which is to simply convert the content on your camera into digital form ready for playback. (If you’re really interested, read this article for more on encoders!)

Capture Device

A capture device is a piece of hardware that converts video into a signal that the computer can understand. You’ll need to buy a capture device that corresponds with either your Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 port.

A good, commonly used Thunderbolt capture device is the Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder. For USB 3.0 ports we recommend one from Magewell’s USB Capture Family. As with everything else, the more you pay, the more features you’ll have, but keep your costs down to start. Both of these capture devices are economical and perform well.

capture devices

High-Speed Internet

You’ll need access to high-speed internet from whatever location you’re filming from. You can get high-speed internet a few different ways:

  • Wi-Fi.
  • Ethernet (hardwired internet).
  • Mi-Fi (provided through cellular carriers like Verizon and AT&T).

One element that will almost certainly affect your live streaming setup is your internet upload speed. It’s simple to test this—go to speedtest.net, click start, and see what your upload speed is. A high definition (HD) live stream requires a speed of 3-4 MBPS; standard definition (SD) requires 1-2 MBPS.

Intel Processor

The processor is essentially the energy center of your computer—it determines how much you can do and how quickly you can do it.

There are two major processor manufacturers—AMD and Intel. Intel has about 90% of the market, and it’s what you’ll need for video processing. AMD products don’t generally work with video encoding software (and they can be a pain to deal with in that regard). If you aren’t sure if your computer has an Intel processor, simply look up your computer model and Google it to find out. If it’s an older model, or if you can’t find the answer online, a local computer store should be able to tell you quickly and easily.

All Set To Stream

If you’ve gathered all the equipment listed above, you’re ready to start live streaming! The streaming setup outlined here is very basic, but it’s exactly what you need as a first-timer. As you get more comfortable with your live streaming setup, you can add on. Remember: It’s better to have an extremely simple live stream than not to have one at all. Give it a try, see how it works and how your live stream is received, then go forward from there.

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 65,000 live events of all sizes every year, with an emphasis on providing outstanding support and memorable experiences. We’re here to help!


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Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

We don’t have a crystal ball here at Stretch (or maybe we do… in storage somewhere?), but what we do have is a keen understanding of the live streaming industry. All of us are passionate about our trade and make it our business to keep a finger on the pulse, so to speak. Knowing what might be coming around the bend helps us serve our clients better, and drives our business forward. (Plus, we admit it—we just can’t get enough.)

Based on our observations of live streaming trends already in the making, here are our musings about what we think is coming down the pike.

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

First, we think the live streaming process will become more standardized.

The soaring popularity for live streaming as of late is a testament to the fact that there are certain things that are just better to watch live: that wedding you couldn’t afford to fly to, that sporting event that sold out before you could get a ticket, and that business conference you wished you could go to but couldn’t find the time. As a result, live streaming can’t be ignored. People are starting to expect it, and they want it to look flawless—like video on demand (VOD).

Not live streaming yet? Prepare your organization for the future with this extensive guide to live streaming—it includes everything you need to know to get started!

But compared to VOD, live streaming is harder to pull off correctly. It will never be as easy as VOD, and while it might never reach the same level of simplicity, there’s plenty of room for improvement. With both demand and expectations skyrocketing, this is where we’ll be seeing huge progress in the near future. As more companies enter the live streaming space, their research and work will help set the standard for best practices that make live streaming easier. This leads us to our second prediction….

Live streaming providers will turn to middleware solutions to make live streaming production easier.

End users want excellent live streaming video quality—period. To make that happen, companies will have to look to outside vendors and solutions for help.

We expect that big companies experimenting with live streaming will realize they need to be just as agile as small companies, which means that sometimes they will have to step outside the box and partner with a small company, or take advantage of alternative solutions (like open source software) that help them solve a specific problem.

Similarly, small companies hoping to compete in the same space as larger companies may need to partner with larger players who can help reduce their workflow. Why create something new on your own when someone else’s solution will do the trick? Streaming provider Wowza, for instance, offers organizations the ability to deploy its streaming engine using servers built by Amazon. We’ll see more of this sharing economy as companies of all sizes realize they don’t need to build everything themselves if someone has already done it well. Partnerships like these will propel live streaming forward.

As live streaming progresses technically, other issues will become more important. This leads us to our third prediction…

Live streaming providers will increasingly put more emphasis on differentiating features.  

History repeats itself. VOD has advanced to the point where a video on its own is no longer enough—there has to be some additional value-add. The same will happen eventually with live streaming as it becomes more commonplace. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all entering the live streaming space, and people will inevitably demand more. Simply providing a live streaming solution won’t be sufficient in the future, so providers will have to be creative to stand out from the pack.

For instance, it’s great if you can see this event or that game, but it won’t be long before you start wanting relevant information alongside the live stream. Examples of this and other differentiating features that are already on the live streaming horizon:

We’re curious to know about the live streaming trends you’re seeing, and where you think live streaming is headed! Leave us a message in the comments below.

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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. 

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Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website, Read This

Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website, Read This

It’s five minutes to go time and you’re all set up to start live streaming on your website—your cameras are strategically placed, your encoder is ready to go, and your internet connection is clocking in at warp speed. You’ve directed all your viewers to your organization’s site, where any minute now the live feed will begin streaming into hundreds of computers (you hope). You’re feeling pretty confident that your level of preparedness is about to pay off nicely and that your viewers will be impressed.

This scenario sounds great, but is the resulting live stream getting the attention it deserves? The user experience is just as important as the production, and unless you’re paying it equal attention, you may be shortchanging your audience. Even a well-produced live stream is only as good as its viewing platform.

Before You Set Up A Live Stream On Your Website…

It’s tempting to want to embed your live streaming video on your own website—we know! Directing viewers to a familiar place and keeping everything under one roof, so to speak, definitely has some advantages. There’s no confusion about where to watch, and you have complete control over the stream and where it appears.

Want to streamline your production process? This live streaming checklist includes every step needed to produce a top-notch broadcast.

There are also some caveats, however. If you plan on using your website as the viewing “portal,” here’s what you should know before you commit:

  • A live stream on your website can get “lost” among the site’s other content, living alongside the rest of the information on the site like a sidebar. In other words, the live stream is clearly not the star of the show.
  • It’s challenging to make sure every viewer can watch given the multitude of devices your audience will undoubtedly be using. If your site isn’t equipped to deliver the video in a variety of device-appropriate formats, you may leave some viewers out in the cold.
  • Unless you have analytics tracking already configured on your website, you’ll have no way of knowing how many users came to watch your stream. Some video players may provide some level of viewer data, but many will not.  
  • If you want to have people pay to watch an event, it’s difficult to put the content behind a paywall.

Advantages Of A Custom Live Stream Portal

Rather than streaming that live video on your own website, distribute your feed through a special domain-branded web address. A live streaming provider can create a portal specifically for your organization’s live feed, with an appearance that matches your existing website. There are several advantages to a portal, including:

1. Built-in analytics. Your live streaming provider can build in analytics so you’ll know how many people are watching and what devices they’re watching from.

2. Cross-platform compatibility. No matter what device a viewer is using, the portal delivers the proper stream, every time.

3. Paywall options. If you want the option of people paying to watch an event, a portal makes it easy to construct a paywall.

4. An all-in-one experience. You won’t lose out on your organization’s branding surrounding the live stream because the portal is designed especially for you. You can also supply the viewers with ancillary data such as live statistics (for sporting events) and slides or notes for sermons and other types of presentations.

Live-Stream-Portal

5. Social media integration. Viewers can easily interact via Twitter, which may not be possible if you stream on your own website.

At Stretch, we take pride in building every client a custom branded, all-in-oneportal, because we feel that the user experience is paramount. We create a custom landing page with a unique URL that houses all your content. That URL becomes your organization’s digital content destination going forward. Users can easily find links to each event and you can link to your portal from your website and other distribution channels. In fact, it becomes the familiar place you want it to be without some of the things that take away from the overall experience, like ads and surrounding “noise.”

What A Live Streaming Provider Can Do For You

Not all portals are created equal—every live streaming provider handles the viewing experience differently. Make sure you ask prospective providers about the user experience they offer; you’ll be able to tell how much they value it based on their answers.

Beyond that, a live streaming provider should be working hard on your behalf throughout the streaming process. All you have to do is capture the video live. The best providers offer support and assistance with setup, help connecting to the internet, constant monitoring of the feed, and troubleshooting during the entire event. Most importantly—fans should be able to contact the provider directly if they’re having trouble viewing.

We specialize in providing memorable experiences for your fans—and for you. If you have a custom portal in mind and would like to talk more about how to live stream your video over the internet, drop us a line.

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Essential Equipment: The Checklist for Church Live Streaming

Essential Equipment: The Checklist for Church Live Streaming

Our conversations with church leaders usually reveal the following thoughts:   

“I don’t have the staff to live stream.”

“I don’t know enough about tech to set up a live broadcast.”

“Isn’t live streaming expensive?”

These are all valid concerns. But they don’t have to stand in the way of your goal to connect with more people. Whether you’re an established church in a fixed location or a young church on the move each week, live streaming is a realistic and attainable strategy for growth. We won’t deny that it will require some initial effort, dedication, and investment (it’s worth it, trust us), but a growing number of churches are finding that what was once considered an endeavor suited only for the technology-inclined  is now well within reach.

To get the ball rolling, we’ve put together a checklist of live streaming equipment for your church. Actually, it’s two lists—so choose the one that better fits your church’s current setup and needs. Whichever one you choose, you’ll have the makings of a video system that gets the job done.

Portable Churches—A Live Streaming Equipment Checklist

Portable churches, or “pop-up” churches, move around from week to week and need a mobile live-streaming strategy. School cafeterias, local theaters, and even coffee shops may all serve as meeting places depending on the day. With the right video production equipment, live streaming can be an effective, low-cost outreach tool that can help broaden your impact and support your community.

Download this free guide for detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to start live streaming your church services today!

If you’re interested in live streaming your services, the technology is readily available and simple to use. Below is a list of the equipment you’ll need to get started building a video system for your church. This collection can be easily packed up and moved around, so it’s perfect for churches on the move.

1. A single camera.

A consumer-level video camera like this one is fine for church services. You don’t need to spend $3,000 here; instead, spend $400 or $500 to get a fully functional camcorder that gets the job done and is easy to use. You may be attracted to a model with lots of bells and whistles (if so, go for it!), but all you really need is the camera’s basic functionality to get the broadcast out on the web.

2. A tripod.

It might seem like a pair of fairly steady hands would be sufficient, but that telltale, oh-so-slight shake is what distinguishes an amateur broadcast from a serious one. Buy a tripod and don’t think about it again. This one is lightweight and comes with a carrying case.

3. An encoding device.

To convert your video input into a digital format for playback on various devices, you’ll need an encoding device. For this you have two options: either a hardware encoder or a computer with a software encoder. Opinions vary greatly as to which option is better—and it depends on your needs, as well—but either one will do the trick. With the software option, you’ll also need a capture device—an adapter that goes between the camera and the computer so they can talk to each other.

4. High-speed internet.

Internet access can sometimes be a challenge for mobile churches, but it’s a necessity for live streaming. Options include an ethernet connection, Wi-Fi, a 4G network, or a MiFi device, depending on the venue.

For mobile churches—or even for permanent churches without the time, manpower, or finances to be super technical—this list covers the basic video production equipment needed for a simple, straightforward broadcast.

Brick-&-Mortar Churches—A Live Streaming Equipment Checklist

If your church has a permanent meeting location, you may be in a different situation. Many “brick-and-mortar” churches already have extensive audio equipment and possibly even some in-house video recording equipment as well. If this sounds like your situation, use the following equipment checklist to build a church video system that lends itself to permanent installation and delivers a top-quality live stream.

1. A single professional-level camera or multiple professional-level cameras.

Consider investing in a professional-level camera (or cameras) for a more polished-looking stream. And although a single camera would be sufficient, why not up your game with multiple cameras? Mounted IP cameras (internet protocol cameras) could serve double duty as not only live streaming devices but also security cameras set to record 24/7. Also, one person can control multiple IP cameras simultaneously, making it easy to zoom in and out and pan any camera from a central location. Our recommendations include this traditional professional-level video camera and this one that allows for local or remote operation.

2. Hardware-based video switching and encoding units.

We recommend a hardware encoder for brick-and-mortars. A TriCaster is the most common hardware option for churches that use multiple cameras. Another choice is Sony’s Anycast, which is a simple touch-screen unit that’s easy for a novice to learn fairly quickly but requires a lot of infrastructure to run properly. Both the TriCaster and the Anycast can be installed permanently in a control room.

3. A way to integrate in-house audio.

Good-quality sound is critical for a professional-quality live stream. If you already have a mixer or speaker system, you’ll need a way to bring that into the feed. A mixer like this gives you control over volume and tone.

4. A way to integrate in-house graphics into your broadcast.

You’ll also need software to incorporate passages, hymns, or anything else typically shown on a projector. There are various ways to do that depending on your platform, whether it’s hardware or software. For clients using Wirecast, we usually recommend using Desktop Presenter.

5. An internet connection.

Before You Get Started…

That’s all the live streaming equipment you’ll need to get your church up and running. If you’re still feeling less-than-confident about the buying process, we encourage you to work with someone who can guide you through it. Whether it’s with us here at Stretch or someone else, a knowledgeable, objective third party may be all you need to start off on the right foot.

If you’d like to get some honest advice about the video production equipment your specific church needs for live streaming, we’d love to talk. We’ll consider your budget and your goals and figure out a way to make your plan a reality.

It’s our feeling that investing in your equipment is synonymous with investing in your church. You’ll be glad you did.


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The Complete List Of Ways To Increase Church Attendance

The Complete List Of Ways To Increase Church Attendance

“Full attenders”—people who attend church every week religiously (pardon the pun; it’s an old joke, but we can’t resist)—are becoming a rare breed. According to a Pew Research Center study, attending church once or twice a month is becoming more typical, and a good portion of people report that they seldom or rarely attend services throughout the course of a year.

But these numbers are nothing new. Over the past few years, there’s been no shortage of ideas about how to reverse this trend and an equally large number of ideas about why it’s happening. (The good news is that there seem to be a variety of reasons for the drop, at least some of which can be addressed.)

To cut through the clutter, we’ve rounded up what we think are some of the best thoughts about ways to increase church attendance and put them together in one nice, neat blog post.

5 Actionable Ways To Increase Church Attendance

1. Focus on the big picture, not the numbers.  

This pastor from Open Network brings up a good point: The focus on numbers—for example, increasing attendance by 24% year over year or growing the organization by 10%—may be getting in the way of achieving the real goal, which is to invite more people to benefit from your message. To get into this mindset, he encourages church leaders like you to switch places with your congregants occasionally (literally sitting in the seats of your church) and reflecting on why people attend in the first place—and on what brought you there as well. What actions can you take that will help others feel the same? As Pastor Charlie LaTurno says, “We don’t have seats, we have opportunities.”

2. When you’re happy and you know it, tweet.

Okay, we admit it—this one appeals to us because we’re techies. But so are many of the folks you’re trying to reach, which is why it has the potential to be so effective. As Southeastern Seminary’s Chuck Lawless notes, genuine excitement can be infectious. Strategically use social media (that includes Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others) by finding out what platforms your target audience are already using and focus your efforts there. Ideas for building anticipation about upcoming services include posting pictures of sermon notes, screenshots of videos in progress, or snippets of the band rehearsing. Look to Josh Blankenship for tips on how to avoid social media blunders.

3. Mobilize your volunteers.

Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church says that engagement is the key to growth. In his view, having a church filled with members who sit in the back row and come to “get fed” once weekly is what leads to disengagement. He advises leaders to “stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people,” which is a natural way to increase church attendance. Passionate volunteers are also likely to inspire and motivate others, effectively inviting them to join the cause. To make the mission more tangible, consider connecting your sermons directly with volunteer opportunities, giving people a chance to put into practice what they’ve just learned rather than simply walk away. The experience could be so impactful that people will look forward to coming back.

4. Add value to the community.

Echurch rightly points out that the more your church is viewed as an integral part of the community, the more inclined people will be to associate themselves with it. Know what makes your community unique and find ways to reflect that in your mission. Get involved in community events, even if it’s just opening the church doors to give people a place to take a break or use the restroom or offering the parking lot for public use. Here’s another way to make it less about you and more about the community: Mark Alves of Churchmojo.com suggests transforming your ministries fair into a community expo and inviting outside groups to participate. Highlight a wide variety of community organizations (like tutors, food assistance centers, and homeless shelters) in addition to those your church is associated with, and you may be surprised how many community-minded people will be interested in the church as a result.

5. Expand your reach with live streaming.

As we mentioned in this post, it may be time to reconsider your definition of “attendance.” Live streaming makes it possible for people to attend your services without showing up physically, increasing the chances that more people will participate. In turn, live streaming offers a whole host of benefits that are likely to lead to greater physical attendance in the long run—including an increase in engagement levels, an enhanced sense of community, and a sense of gratitude for the flexibility that your church provides.

It’s natural for participation to have ups and downs based on what’s happening in people’s lives at any given time. So think bigger than that. When it comes to increasing your church’s attendance numbers, be focused on your mission. Be relevant. Be reflective of your community. Attendance will follow. 


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Live Streaming Software: The 8 Features You Should Consider

Live Streaming Software: The 8 Features You Should Consider

Live streaming video generally requires either a dedicated hardware encoder or a computer that runs a software encoding program. But my guess is that you’re considering live streaming software for one primary reason: You need mobility!

Consider, for example, that you’re live streaming a tournament. In this case, you’d be inhibited by a hardware solution. Such a setup might require multiple monitors, a lot of wiring, and a big hardware encoding unit to lug around. But if you’re streaming via encoding software—which generally assumes that you’ll be using a laptop—your setup and tear-down are going to be as simple as opening and shutting your MacBook Pro (and packing and unpacking a minimal amount of cabling and a camera). 

Now, before you run out and select the first live streaming software option you find, keep in mind where you hope to get to in the next 6-12 months with your live streaming capability. If your goal is to get to a multi-source, sophisticated live stream once you get the hang of things, we strongly suggest selecting a live streaming software option that isn’t limited. You may be wary of buying the Mercedes right when you turn 16 (so to speak), but there are some big advantages to planning ahead! Not the least of which are having the option to grow in your live streaming capabilities as you are comfortable with them and not having to purchase and learn a new system at that time. Case in point, we highly suggest you make an investment where your software encoder is concerned.

“OK, I understand! But… how do I pick the right one?”

Good question! We’re glad you asked. While many live streaming software solutions have hundreds of features, there are a few features that you’re definitely going to want—and a few more features that would be ideal to have but aren’t completely necessary (depending on your situation). We’ve listed these eight features out below.

Check out these lists of must-have equipment for live streaming and steps you need to take before, during, and after your event.

8 Live Streaming Software Features You Should Consider

The Critical Features

1. The ability to stream and record simultaneously.

You’ll want to be sure to have a system that allows you to make a local copy of the recording while you’re live streaming. Your service provider may also be recording, but as you’ve probably learned, things can go wrong. (Not all the time, of course—but enough that you should always be prepared!) We recommend playing it safe and ensuring your live video streaming software has this feature.

2. The ability to switch between video sources.

A built-in switcher allows you to shift between, say, a live-recorded program and a pre-recorded commercial or between multiple camera feeds. This is an important feature to have if you want to eventually add more bells and whistles to your broadcast.

3. The ability to send to multiple destinations.

If you want to send your live stream to multiple platforms at one time, this is a critical feature. For example, some of our clients use us as a live streaming platform and simultaneously send their stream to SnappyTV. This platform is used for social sharing and allows their highlights to be playable on a Twitter timeline.

4. A built-in graphics editing system.

Many competitive live streaming software options offer the ability to add lower-third graphics or scrolling messages at the bottom of the live stream. Even if the graphic options are as basic as can be, this is still a nice feature and a time-saver if you don’t have the time (or ability) to create the graphics in Photoshop.

The Ideal-But-Not-Necessary Features

  5. A built-in audio mixer.

A built-in audio mixer allows you to adjust the volume on each source individually as they’re brought into your live stream. This is great if the feed that should be at 25% volume is at 80% and vice versa with its counterpart.

6. Social media integration.

Imagine you’re live streaming a baseball game and you have an athletics account on Twitter you’d like to tap into. If your encoder offers social media integration, you could display certain tweets on the air with the click of a button—or instruct fans to submit questions to the halftime show using a particular hashtag. You can see how this feature could make the live stream a lot of fun for viewers! vMix (a software encoding option we’ll discuss below) also offers the ability to integrate with Instagram—so if you wanted to display 15 fan pictures in real time, you could.

7. The ability to replay in real time.

Of course, not everyone needs the ability to do instant replay. For example, you probably don’t need to replay a portion of your live-streamed church service. (If you do, please send us a link. That sounds like fun!) But in the sports realm, this is a handy feature.

Keep in mind that any replay function in live streaming software is going to be very simplistic and not incredibly “instant.” This is not a dedicated replay system. But it’s nice to have regardless, in case something major happens and you want to quickly relive the moment in real time.

8. The ability to color correct your video sources.

If you don’t have time to white balance your video sources together perfectly before you go live, a color correction functionality would allow you to adjust the feeds so they look similar in the color space.

A Quick Word Of Advice

While searching for good video streaming software, you may come across some new cutting-edge features—like the ability to stream in 4K. But keep in mind that right now, only about 5% of your audience is going to be able to see (and thus appreciate) a 4,096-by-2,160-pixel display. So just remember that until certain features become standardized, you probably shouldn’t plan on purchasing them.

Video Streaming Software Options You Might Consider

  • Wirecast: This software allows you to add production-quality effects to your broadcast, like lower-third graphics, multiple camera shots, and more. The price for Wirecast starts at $495 for the studio version and goes up to $995 for the professional version (which we recommend). Depending on the version you select, you’ll gain all of the necessary features or all of the features we’ve discussed in total.
  • vMix: This is an alternative to Wirecast with similar features. vMix offers a free version of its encoder and five paid options ranging from $60 to $1,200. The higher the tier, the more features you can expect.
  • Production Truck: Created by Blue Frame Technology, Production Truck is a sports-specific live streaming software option. The standard version is $239 per year and the pro version is $479 per year. Again, if you want the features we’ve discussed above, you’ll want the pro version.

FMLE (Flash Media Live Encoder) (a free encoder from Adobe) and Wowza Gocoder (a free encoder created specifically for tablet or smartphone video sources) don’t deliver the features we’ve discussed here,  even lacking some of the critical features. These are both for very simple live streams that use one source. If you’re doing something simple, they’re great options—but just be aware that you won’t be able to do much with them in the future.

Research, research, research.

As with any new piece of equipment or software, research is going to be key. Most video streaming software options have free demos available, and we highly recommend using those demos to see if a software encoder really fits the bill for you.

If you have any questions about which software option is best for you, drop us a line! We’d love to see how we can help.

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