For Chad Summers, the reasons for a church to live stream its services are compelling.
For one, it’s cheap, he said. “Television is such an expensive medium and very few can afford it.”
But even more importantly streaming through the Internet is often the quickest, easiest way to connect the viewer with the church, he said.
“The live stream is often just a shorter path to us for the viewer from where they are,” said Summers, director of media and communication for First Baptist Church, Trussville. It offers the “convenience of the audience to connect and engage through a myriad of mobile devices,” he said.
With that in mind, why wouldn’t a church try it? Joseph Hooper, media and graphics/lighting director for Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery, said investment is minimal and return can be big.
“Live streaming is a much more affordable solution than the televised services. Instead of spending thousands of dollars for broadcasting equipment, you can stream your service for as little as a few hundred for equipment and an Internet connection utilizing one of several free streaming services,” Hooper said.
Also, he said, most televised services, “unless you’re a huge megachurch,” only reach the local audiences, but a live stream can have a global reach.
“It has the potential to reach anyone with an active Internet connection,” Hooper said.
Daniel Beard, media director of Clements Baptist Church, Athens, said they’ve seen that happen at their church.
“Our pastor does a lot of ministry around the world, and because of that we’ve had viewers from Argentina, Haiti, South Africa, Canada and other places,” Beard said.
Clements Baptist sees its live stream as a way to engage viewers from anywhere in the service in the best way possible, he said.
“We are working to add more things to our live stream that would make it more interactive for our viewers, but right now it’s definitely a mindset thing for us,” Beard said. “As we’re filming and switching cameras, we like to give the view that best makes viewers feel like they are there participating in the service.”
Summers said his church is working to personalize the experience for the online audience too.
“This has become the new frontier in communication,” he said. “You have a service going on in the room that is designed for the audience there with you. But how do you separate the experience, catering it to the home viewer?”
Pastor Buddy Champion at First, Trussville, and others who speak will often engage and acknowledge the viewer directly, Summers said.
“But we hope to soon split our feed so that the viewer only sees portions of the service that make sense to them rather than elements that may not translate well at home,” he said.
First, Trussville, also provides downloadable versions of its worship guide and an interactive listening guide viewers can fill out online.
“We’ve also had some success with online chat forums during the message,” he said.
Hooper said currently most of Eastmont Baptist’s viewers are older homebound members, so generally they treat it more like the televised services they’re used to — more of a one-way conversation.
But they are looking for ways to implement more interactive tools to engage with viewers, he said.
Many churches are doing the same, even going to great lengths to find ways to use that “new frontier.”
According to Baptist News Global, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York City, is using a $5,000 grant through Union Theological Seminary and Lilly Endowment Inc. to find ways to enhance the experience of its online members.
Summers said for all churches, engaging with viewers through live streaming is a great opportunity for outreach and there’s no way to anticipate how far that reach may go.
“Live streaming enables us to speak to those beyond our walls, reaching those in our congregation who can’t be with us as well as those not a part of our fellowship who may never step inside the walls of our — or any — church,” he said.