Streaming Sermons Online

Like podcasting, the process of broadcasting sermons online is really just a matter of choosing a streaming service and plugging the code snippet into your website. We’ve talked before on this blog about embedding audio and video on your site. Doing so is very simple, and a good way to get your message out, especially those that can’t attend your services every week. However, it is also possible to stream your sermons live (both audio and video) for church members who may not be able to attend due to lack of mobility, health, or other concerns. A live sermon is a great way to replicate the Church experience for those unable to attend.

It is possible to attend church “virtually” by providing a stream on your website. This can even replace recording your services and distributing them on DVD as many churches still do. If you have a camera and audio recording software, you can convert any digital video feed into an internet streaming feed with any number of tools/utilities. Many streaming services offer plug-and-play options, such as, Livestream, or Google Hangouts On Air. Usually, these are paid services, but after creating an account, they make the process of embedding the stream into your website very simple.

Once a camera and microphone is in place, usually all it takes to stream your sermon to your church members is to use a video plugin. CMS packages such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all have many plugins that are designed to interface with the video input. Many users also use the LiveStream website to embed their video onto a webpage. Embedding usually just involves pasting in a piece of code. Many users also recommend saving these videos locally so they can be hosted and downloaded later (beneficial if someone were to miss the live stream). In addition, it’s also possible to save the audio from a live stream as an MP3 audio file and then provide a podcast feed at a later time.

With the new tools available to churches at lower price points than ever before, online streaming has become a much more accessible option to reach out to your community. In the past, churches would have to pay production companies to even have the option of streaming online, but in recent years, everything has become simpler and more accessible when it comes to do-it-yourself technology. With a little research, it’s possible for a church with a limited budget/manpower to broadcast their message online without having to hire a company or dedicated employee for the task.


Creating and Managing Church Budgets

Church budgets are one of the aspects of running an organization that does not come naturally, or may be one of those tasks that someone becomes quite daunting and overwhelming. But never fear! Despite diminishing budgets that have become all too common for churches of any size, making a budget is a great way to maximize the resources your community does have without having to sacrifice much-needed essentials. There are a few factors to keep in mind when crafting your budget that can really help to stretch the dollars you have.


First, figure out exactly what your mission is. Spend some time thinking about your vision and what is really important. You need to have priorities before you can make hard decisions as to what is not a priority. The way your church spends its money is driven by your overarching goals as much as it is driven by your day-to-day goals. By making choices about your vision and goals, you’re declaring your principles and showing your community members what you feel is most important.


Second, try to cut costs where you can! This advice may sound simple, but it really is not. Every church leader in history has wished that there was more money or resources to get everything they wanted for the church, but such a situation rarely seems to exist in the real world. The difference is that by setting priorities, you can cut costs on the things that are not priority amongst your goals, and spend more money on those that are. Saving money is especially important for churches that don’t have a plan in place for financial hardship. The threat of such hardship is always on the horizon, so be sure to budget in an emergency fund, no matter how tight things get! Also, be sure to look for deals when you can see them. If given the option, always pay yearly for services you know are going to be crucial. This is a great way to save hundreds per month.


Try to use volunteers when possible. Many church members would be glad to give back if they’re presented with a task for which they are capable. Even web design can be handled by an untrained volunteer these days, with many simple tools that are easily learned. Don’t bother with print or paid advertising. Word of mouth, both online and in person are the best way to attract members to your community.


Don’t forget that generosity should be part of any church’s budget. Make sure that your volunteers and staff members are accounted for. You don’t want to be too stingy when budgeting and leave out those members of your community whose roles are most crucial.


Finally, make sure you find ways to increase your income. Instead of just letting it stagnate, make sure that you are maximizing your opportunities for revenue. For example, online tithing is shown to be much more effective than simply passing a hat on Sundays. Many church members can’t make it every week, and more still don’t even carry cash in the age of credit and debit cards. Accepting online tithing and donations is a surefire way to increase your income without having to increase the burden on the community. If you take these factors into account, and carefully manage your finances, it truly is possible to do more with less. The tools to improve your community are often right at your fingertips.


Provide Podcasts to Parishioners On The Go

First of all, what exactly is a podcast? Simply put, it’s like a subscription to a magazine, only instead of issues delivered to your house each month, it’s an audio file of some sort delivered to your computer or mobile device on a set schedule. The most common use for churches is to podcast weekly Sunday sermons, but podcasting bible studies or other classes are just as possible.


Like any web design task, adding a podcasting or streaming solution to your site will vary depending on what tool you use to build the site in the first place. In many cases, third-party tools like SermonCast or SermonDrop provide “plug and play” solutions that require very little setup from an administrator. Oftentimes, these types of tasks can be assigned to a volunteer with minimal training required.Your users will have a program, such as Apple iTunes, that will automatically check for new content on a fixed schedule, and download it for the user. If they’re using an iPhone, iPad, etc., they will be automatically synced between their computer and device every time it’s connected.


If you already have recordings of your sermons, putting them online in podcast form is quite easy. Once you have recorded an audio file of your sermon, putting it on your site with a program such as SermonCast or SermonDrop is very simple. Often, it is just pasting in the “embed” code provided to you, just like embedding a Youtube video. WordPress, a very popular content management system, and one that is widely-used by churches across the world, has many built-in plugins that do all the work of managing the podcasts for you. These can usually be installed by simply going to the plugin menu and selecting them. Once installed, the process of uploading the sermon file is as easy as attaching a file to an outgoing email.


Sometimes your parishioners may be out of town, too ill to go to church or for whatever reason they can’t make it to Sunday Service, but that’s no reason why they should miss out on the enrichment. Podcasting allows you to get your sermons to your church members no matter where they are, and can be listened to whenever they have time. Podcasts are a great way of keeping in touch with one’s community.



Decrease Web Hosting Expenses

When it comes to having a church website, many pastors and church IT directors are wary of the potential costs of such an endeavor. It is true that online expenses can be sizable (though often the benefit of accessibility and convenience outweighs this cost). However, church web hosting should not be looked at as a monolithic expense where expenses are fixed. In fact, switching web hosting plans, minimizing the resources used, and other on-page tactics can decrease the cost of running a website substantially. In fact, you may be able to better leverage the resources you already have to build a more efficient website at the same (or lower) cost.

When it comes time to pick a church web hosting package, many times those in the church that have been tasked with the role assume that they need the biggest-and-best option. However, it is extremely valuable to look at the size of the congregation, the type of website you intend to build (or have built), and look at how your church members are using your site. For example, a congregation of a few hundred people may seem large, but on the scale of the internet it is very unlikely that you will use a considerable amount of bandwidth [for upload and download speed]. Many users think that having many separate domains or subdomains for their different groups and divisions is necessary. While in practice, it seems like a good idea to have separate sites for a youth group, an elders group, and any other division your church may have. However, it is more cost-effective in most cases to simply create pages on your existing site for these groups. Creating pages is not associated with an increased cost, whereas purchasing a second or third domain or using several subdomains may require increased fees.

In addition, a lot of novice webmasters may also be unfamiliar with the fact that often design expenses and hosting expenses are completely separate. For example, if you use WordPress to build your website, that is perfectly fine. WordPress is a great tool and is free. However, you may also want to use a professional looking template. In many cases, this is where the cost comes into effect. With templates, you often get what you pay for in terms of quality; free templates are often watermarked, ill-maintained, or simply not very good. We recommend combining both of these expenses into one bill. The best way to do so is to choose a host with included templates for their design tools. In many cases, you may even be able to find a host , like Truepath, that includes church templates specifically, taking care of both expenses and providing you with professional looking design tools.

Bandwidth is consumed by every visitor to your site and every file that you upload. However, bandwidth too is not a fixed number. It is easy to optimize a site to use the minimal amount of bandwidth, thus maximizing the amount of visitors your site can experience without going over your monthly limit (and accruing overages). Generally, a bandwidth allotment applies to all sites on a domain, so it is important to optimize each site under a particular account. Optimizing a site for bandwidth can mean many things, but generally speaking, optimizing in this case refers to ensuring that your site serves the minimum amount of data to for the information you are trying to convey. For example, high-resolution images are taken by default on many cameras. These look the best and are usually desirable, but when it comes time to publish these to the web, many novices will not compress them or use thumbnails. This means that every time someone goes to the page where these images are embedded, they have to be loaded. This process uses up bandwidth. Multiplied by hundreds of users or images, this scenario is what results in users going over their bandwidth allotment. However, using compressed images (formats such as JPG, PNG, BMP) or even just using thumbnails can drastically reduce the amount of bandwidth used by each visit. In addition, having many hi-res images uses an inordinate amount of disk space (another resource that can lead to overages).

Aside from images, other web content can be hosted elsewhere to minimize the amount of your hosting resources that are expended. For example, if a video is hosted on Youtube, and then the content is embedded into your site, this would not expend any bandwidth to stream the video. The only resource that would be used is the bandwidth to display the rest of the page. The same is true of hosting audio files on the Internet. In most cases, it is not necessary to actually use the disk storage and bandwidth to host video and audio for your church members.

Many of the expenses that church administrators take for granted can be mitigated or accounted for. Optimizing on-page aspects of a site are a great way to minimize the amount of bandwidth that is expended, and in turn, reduce the amount of bandwidth necessary. With a properly optimized site, it may be possible to downgrade to a smaller hosting package or one with fewer resources.