Step by step guide to Live Streaming for Churches and Organisations

Practical, easy-to-follow help to get you up and running with zero budget


With the recent COVID-19 pandemic the world is facing, many organisations and especially churches have been impacted by not being able to physically meet together. However we all still need connection with people and although the internet doesn't replace face-to-face, it does provide an incredible opportunity to help keep many people connected and supported. Many churches have had to quickly embrace using the internet for streaming of online events and services. Whilst several have people available to help with setting this up, many are left wondering where to start. 

I was recently asked 'how do church leaders who may not have used this technology get started?' While there are a lot of resources on the internet, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin so I have written this guide to hopefully help others. On a positive note, we have found that some churches are often reaching a wider audience than they usually do!

There is quite a lot of different live streaming software available and various streaming platforms, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, etc. However, in an attempt to balance simplicity and low cost with key useful features, this article concentrates on using the free OBS Project software and delivering a live stream using Facebook live (alternatively YouTube can be used if preferred). We have used Facebook live within our own church and it has worked very well.

My advice is to take each step one at a time and build on your live streams. Get comfortable with the basics and then if you want to venture further I will also show you how you can add images and videos to your live stream. If you prefer watching a video we have also made a video guide.

Do you need to live stream?

This is the first question you should ask. You don't necessarily need to use real-time live streaming, you can use a smartphone to record a video and use the options available on your phone to share this on Facebook or YouTube at the desired time. This may take the pressure off and allow you to be more comfortable with it before sharing. However, the advantage of using Facebook live is that you can have real-time interaction from others who can comment, like, etc. Also, live streaming does help people to feel more connected in sharing the moment together, even if it is from their homes. If people do miss it though they are still able to watch later.

Your first live stream: the SIMPLEST option

Firstly, the easiest method for live streaming to Facebook is to use your mobile phone, tablet or computer that has a built-in or connected camera.
You will need a Facebook account and have already installed the Facebook app

Open the Facebook app and once logged in, you will see a 'Live' camera icon that if you click will enable you to stream live video straight away. Please note the options available next to 'To:' will allow you to set who can see your live stream. If you want to practice then set the option to 'Only me' but remember to change this later if you want others to watch your later streams.

Camera Tips

Above all else 'be yourself' and don't worry about making it too 'professional', however, the following tips may help for using the camera:

  • Try not to hold the camera, use a stand or solid surface to position
  • Where possible, position so your eye-line is at the same level as the camera
  • Don't be too far away as this doesn't help with picking up the sound
  • Don't leave too much room at the top of the screen, aim for your head to be in the top third
  • Think about your background. Don't film with a bright window behind you as that can wash out the image. Sometimes some extra lighting positioned on you but behind the camera can help but experiment with what looks best

Using media streaming software

To provide more variety and involve different voices and faces, it works well if you are able to show some photos or other short videos.
For example, you could ask people to send you some photos of what they having been doing at home or a short video message, maybe ask someone to video a bible reading or a prayer on their phone and send it to you. If you would like to do this then you are going to need an easy way to show these during your live stream.
Note, you may want to manage this yourself or use someone else in your household to be your 'production editor' and do the switching for you.

The following section will guide you through setting up some software to do this.

Step 1 - Download and install OBS Project software to your computer

Go to https://obsproject.com and download the OBS software for your platform (e.g. Windows or Mac)
Save this to your computer and then double click to install. This will take you through a wizard to complete the installation.
Once installed start up the software.

Step 2 - Configure for your first test stream

  • On first run, it will prompt you to run an auto-configuration wizard. Click 'yes' to this and select 'optimise for streaming'.
    • Keep defaults for the 'video settings' and then you will be asked to select which streaming service you wish to use.
    • We will use Facebook Live for this tutorial.
  • Now you need to enter the 'Stream Key'.
    • Click the 'Get Stream Key' button. This will take you to Facebook in your web browser.
    • If you are not already logged into Facebook then you will need to do this. If you want to stream to a specific group or page (e.g. a church group or page then you must be a member of that group or a designated admin).
    • Once on the Facebook Live Streaming page, click the 'Create Live Stream' button.
    • On the left side of the screen you can select who you want to stream to. If you click 'Share to your Timeline' you will see that you can select to share to a group or a page that you manage. However, to test, you can select 'Share to your Timeline' and then click 'Friends' and select 'Only Me'.
      Note: Remember to change this later for your actual broadcast.
    • You will also see options to 'Go Live now' or 'Schedule a stream' for a specific time. I would recommend leaving this and coming back to this later when testing.
    • If you plan to do regular streams tick the 'Use a Persistent Stream Key'.
    • There are a few settings under 'Stream', I would recommend leaving most as default but the useful item is 'Allow Embedding'. This allows you to copy some 'code' that you can paste into a page within your website to embed the live stream. This is very useful for those who don't use Facebook as they can watch by going to your website at the correct time.
    • Also on this page you will see the 'Stream Key' box. Click the 'Copy' button and then switch back to your OBS software (leave the Facebook page open) and paste this key (ctrl v on Windows) into the box.
    • After completing this, click 'next' and 'yes'. Once the test completes, click 'Apply Settings' to finish connecting your software to Facebook.
      Note: if you need to change this in future, you will find this under 'Settings' > 'Stream' within the OBS software.
  • Within your OBS software you should see a dark blank screen with several 'boxes' below. Let us first look at 'Sources'.
    • You will need to add your camera as the first source. To do this click the '+' button and select 'Video Capture Device'. Enter a name, e.g. 'My Camera' and click 'OK'.
    • You should now see an image from your camera (if not you may need to select it from the device list). Leave all the settings as default and click 'OK'.
    • You should then be able to use your mouse to resize and position the image to best fill the canvas (black area) of your screen.
    • If you are using an external microphone (you will need an audio capture device for this) then you will need to add this as an audio input to your sources.
  • You can try testing the video and audio by clicking 'Start Recording'. 
    • Once you have finished your test, click again to stop recording.
    • From the top left 'File' menu, select 'Show Recordings'.  This should open another window where you should see your recording and you can double click the file to view and play it.
  • You can now test your stream by selecting 'Start Streaming'.
    • If you switch back to your 'Facebook live stream set up' page you should now see in the bottom right a stream from your camera.
      Note, only you can see this until you click the 'Go Live now' button.
    • To test, you can select to share to your timeline and 'Only me'. Then click 'Go Live now' and this will create a live stream to your timeline that only you can see. If you have a smartphone you can check on your Facebook app that you can see your stream. 
    • Click to stop on the Facebook page when you have finished your test. If you want others to see your stream you need to change the privacy settings before streaming.
  • When you are ready to do a live stream for real, then I recommend Scheduling it and starting 5 mins earlier. I will explain why later.

Tip: If you don't have a good internet connection or the feed is jumpy then you can go into Settings > Output > Video bitrate and lower the value. You may need to experiment with this to find the optimum settings. 

Congratulations you should have completed your first test stream using the OBS software.

Step 3 - Adding Scenes

The OBS software provides a way to cue up other scenes (e.g. images and videos) to use during your live stream. For example, it is helpful to have an initial welcome screen to let people know when you will be going live.

  • Back in your OBS software, find the 'Scenes' box.
  • Right-click on the first scene in the box and rename this to 'My camera'.  This will help you identify your camera easily.
  • To add an image, you will need to first create this in an image editor, adding the relevant words and save this as jpg or png file.
    (This is outside of the scope of this article but there are plenty of online guides on how to do this if you are unsure. If you are looking for an easy to use free online tool then I would recommend https://www.canva.com.)
  • Once you have your image, press the '+' key to add a new scene.
    • Let's call this 'Welcome'.
    • Press 'OK' and then in the source box add a new source.
    • Select 'image' from the list and then use the 'Browse' button to locate the image you have previously prepared and click 'OK'.
    • You may need to use your mouse to resize and position this image within the canvas area.
  • Now within the 'Scenes' box use the up arrow to move the 'Welcome' scene to the top of the list.
  • Now click the 'Studio Mode' button on the right. This will show you 2 areas, one for you to preview the next scene you wish to show and the other showing what is currently being output when you live stream. If you select 'My camera' you should see this previewed on the left. You have some controls between the 2 areas to control how the next scene is transitioned, e.g. 'Cut', 'Fade' or even 'Fade to black'. It's best to play with these and you can add other transitions but I would recommend you keep simple and just use these 3 options.
  • If you would like to add some music while your welcome scene is in place you can add another source to this 'Welcome' scene and select 'Media Source'. Select a suitable audio file from your computer (e.g. mp3 file) and tick the loop box. Please ensure you have the correct copyright permissions for any audio file you play.
  • You may remember I said earlier about scheduling your live event for 5 minutes before you actually start. This is so you can show the 'pre-start' welcome scene in case people arrive earlier to watch your broadcast.

If you would like something a little fancier then you can find plenty of countdown videos to download from the internet, although most of these have a small charge. For example, https://www.creationswap.com/gallery/countdowns. Again please only use videos that you have permission for.

You can also use the same approach of adding a new scene and image source to provide an ending scene with a message and leave running for a few minutes before stopping your stream.

IMPORTANT TIP: Your mic will still pick up any audio while other scenes are active so you may want to mute your mic until you are ready to speak. To do this you should notice one of the meters in the 'Audio Mixer' moving while you speak. You need to click the small speaker icon next to this and it will turn red to show it is muted. However, you must click again to unmute this before speaking or no-one will hear you. Again remember to do this at the end of your live stream.

You can use the same approach of adding scenes, images and videos that you may wish you use within your live stream. For example, if you are running a church service, you could try pre-recording a worship song or downloading available worship videos to use. Again please check copyright licences and ensure you have the correct permissions in place. Try practicing so you are happy with how this works. (CCLI provide a streaming licence of a wide range of songs for a small annual fee)

Getting more advanced

Wouldn't it be great if you could go live to someone else's house and hear from them, e.g. for feedback, a testimony, a reading or prayer?
Well, this is possible by combining with a video Zoom call. Zoom is a great video service that provides free multi-location video conferencing. We are not going to focus on how to use Zoom but there are several guides available online and you can create a free account at https://zoom.us/.

It is a little tricky to get working and we found you needed to install additional software to successfully capture the audio. If useful we will update this article soon with further details, however the above should provide enough to get started.

Good luck!

We have also created a video if you find this easier to watch:

1 year ago | Tips & Techniques

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