IT Services Recommendations for Websites and Online Worship Streaming
August 25, 2020
By: Chris Hampton, Director of Web and Database Administration
In an ever changing world, having an online presence is critical. With the outbreak of COVID-19, many churches have been thrust into the world of website building and streaming as a necessity for success. This new world has left many feeling lost or confused as to where to start. Some may feel overwhelmed by the prospect that these things are outside of their reach. Below are some recommendations as well as some helpful tips and tricks to enable you and your church increase your online presence. We hope that this guide points you in the right direction and provides some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. We are here to help.
To develop an engaging and effective website, a simple website building service is all that is needed for the vast majority of churches. There are great website builders that allow you to focus on content and not on coding or compliance standards. Website builders such as Wix and SquareSpace offer affordable packages with many ready-made and responsive templates that looks great on smart phone or desktop. The best part of these builders is that no coding experience or maintenance is needed, leaving more time for you to focus on the content of your website. For most of these site builders, you pick the template, add in "sections", and type the content you want to add. These products allow you to integrate many of the systems you already use such as a Facebook, Google, or Spotify so that you can dynamically show off your calendars, feeds, and podcasts on your website. UMCChurches.org, a Wordpress provider that focuses on United Methodist churches and organizations. Wordpress is simple for most users but complex enough to allow you to make customizations to cater to your specific needs. UMCChurches also offers a number of ready-made responsive templates to help get you started and has an almost endless supply of plugins so you can add just about anything you can imagine. Wordpress sites do require a bit more maintenance and work on your part.
Helpful Tips for Websites
- It is important to update your site's content continually. A website should be an evolving system, something that is updated frequently so that users can see "up to date" content when they visit the page.
- Less is more. Keeping a page light and simple allows the user to gain the information they want quickly without leaving frustrated. Studies show that most people won't sit and read large amounts of text, so try to keep it as simple as possible.
- When adding pictures, less is always more. A small collection of edited (using the free software on your phone or computer) photos is better than dumping every single picture taken of an event or resource.
- Remember the importance of social media. Try to link your social media presence onto your website so people can follow you, and keep up with the latest information from your church.
- All three of our recommended providers offer domain services (a domain is the text you type into your web browser to go to a certian page. For example, wnccumc.org or www.yourchurch.com). We highly recommend using their domain manager when it comes to connecting your domain to your website. Not only will it allow you to keep your billing in one central area, but all three will help add the necessary pieces to connect the site to your domain, with no work on your part.
Streaming can be tricky to get right and even harder if your internet connection is spotty. We highly encourage recording and editing the worship service first, and then have it “go live” on a certain date. If you do decide to stream live or are opting for a hybrid approach, know that a lot can be done with the tools and equipment you already have. While you can buy nicer equipment, it is not required, and a good quality recording/stream can occur with the equipment you may already have on hand.
- Using software to edit your videos does not have to be expensive. iMovie and Camtasia offer affordable options for editing videos from your camcorder or smart device. It doesn't have to be movie studio quality work, but a little bit of editing will make your video stand out.
- Companies like Restream.IO (what we used for Annual Conference 2020) https://restream.io allow you to schedule a live stream that plays your pre-recorded video right to your provider(s) (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, etc). This has the appearance of a live video without any spotty internet interruption problems.
- YouTube and Facebook allow you stream directly from your device without any additional software and hardware. If you want to add special effects, switch between multiple cameras, etc., you will need software and hardware to encode the video like the SlingStudio hardware and software.
- For more information on how to stream live on Facebook, click here. Youtube Live, click here. Both are free services that allow you to stream your message to a larger audience.
- Companies like Restream.IO (what we used for Annual Conference 2020) https://restream.io allow you to stream your video to multiple providers at the same time.
- A solid internet connection is important. Internet providers may claim to offer 1000 mbps internet speed, but that is probably only download speed and your upload speed will generally be much lower. To test, you can go to Speedtest.net to see what your upload speed is. We recommend at least 40 mbps for upload.
- If you are streaming, make sure to connect to the internet via ethernet cable. Connecting wirelessly will generally be consistent enough connection to allow for streaming without interruptions.
Tips for both streaming and recording
- For the vast majority of small to medium sized churches, a newer (1 to 2 years old) smart device will provide good quality video for your video or stream. Any newer HD video camera will work, too.
- Remember that sitting in a church service and watching services online are two different experiences. Try to refrain from "just" recording your worship service as if everyone was participating in-person. Making your worship experience unique and engaging may take some creative thinking on the part of your worship team. One suggestion is to watch other services to see what works and what doesn't. Then, take the good stuff and make it your own.
- Whether streaming live or recording, try to have an order and a written plan, just like you would for your in-person worship. It might be helpful to have one person who helps direct the service so that if flows effectively.
- Make sure to provide adequate lighting. Amazon offers great kits to help with providing good quality video streams.
- Sound is also extremely important. Do not rely on your smartphone microphone to capture quality audio. Amazon, again, offers great cost-effective microphones that connect to your smart device.
We hope that this information is helpful as you navigate the world of online media. While websites and streaming may seem overwhelming at first, we’ve create this guide to help get you started and show you that this work is within your reach. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Chris Hampton, Director of Web and Database Administration. We can't wait to see what you create!