Many churches now film their services and prayer reflections.
While church buildings were closed to public worship, this was often done by the clergy live-streaming prayer from their homes, using online platforms like YouTube or Facebook, or by meeting in church groups using tools like Zoom or Google Meet.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased the use of online services and it is probable for many there will be a permanent ongoing use of digital tools to share services online more so than has been done previously.
Whether or not you already share your services online, the following guide provides an overview of what you might need to consider to start, or where you might wish to develop things further if you are already doing so.
This guide will support you in exploring the key items you will need to stream or record your church service or hold online church gatherings using some of the major tools available.
It includes the following sections which you can jump to using the links below.:
- Stage 1: The basic equipment
- Stage 2: Digital Connectivity
- Stage 3: Copyright, Safeguarding and GDPR
- Stage 4: The digital platforms to use
- Stage 5: Video editing software
- Stage 6: Developing your skills and other useful sites
Before you even start, a reminder of why it's worth investing in video and streaming options
For most, the Covid-19 lockdown has somewhat forced many down a path of "having" to use tools like online streaming and film to reach one another. But in doing so, many churches have learnt a lot from this process.
Our friends from the parishes of Brampton, Grafham and Ellington reflect on what they are learning.
"We have realised that we’ve been unintentionally excluding lots of people from church life because they are infirm or are otherwise unable to attend our typical services. Moving our services online has been a step towards combatting this.
Lots of people just can't come to church every week any more. We don't want to actively encourage people to stay at home, but if we can live-stream (and record) services each week, those who struggle to physically attend church every week, for whatever reason, are able to "catch up" with what they missed at a time that works better for them.
It's also a great outreach opportunity. We know that for the churches who have been doing this for a while they have found that a lot of new members have actually been participating online for weeks or months before actually stepping into a church building on a Sunday.
Online church is a great stepping-stone, it enables people who don't know what to expect to get a flavour of church life".
Additional considerations before you begin
"Be prepared to adapt! It's important to be willing to change and develop the way things are done. Parishes should not be afraid to start with something small and manageable - don’t try to do too much too soon if you’re not comfortable to do so".
The parishes of Brampton, Grafham and Ellington explain that they; "started with a simple webcam, with the clergy doing all the filming. Slowly the team developed our videos to include ones of others doing some readings. We then moved on to pre-recording everything and using the “Church Online Platform” to do a "simulated live" service - which has worked really well".
Stage 1: The basic equipment
Equipment costs could range significantly from doing something very simple, using little more than a smartphone or computer webcam, to purchasing ‘film’ quality video and sound equipment. This section makes suggestions based upon creating a basic functional set-up that will work for the majority of church environments.
Whether you are live-streaming or pre-recording a video, the equipment you use may vary.
For Zoom or Google Meet uses, your phone camera, tablet or laptop’s built-in webcam will almost certainly suit your needs. If you have a desktop machine that doesn’t have a camera, but through which you would join these online meetings, you will need to buy something.
The choice is broad but it’s worth finding one that includes a microphone and has had some positive user reviews, something like this (click here) would suit most desk-based purposes.
If you’re filming more broadly in your church building, for instance a Sunday service, your choices become broader. Most modern personal smartphones or tablets are in all likelihood going to be able to film to an acceptable standard for your needs. They also have the advantage of being able to connect to the internet when live-steaming.
If you wish to invest in some new video equipment, about £300+ is the starting price you should be considering (multiply this many times for ultra-high quality equipment). Chosen well this will resource your church with both a camera and video recorder for several years.
To help future-proof your investment, look for models that can connect to WIFI and have interchangeable lenses. Two options from Canon to consider would be the Canon EOS 4000D DSLR and the Canon EOS 2000d. When purchasing a camera, it’s worth adding a case and if the budget allows a spare battery and additional memory cards can come in useful.
What are others using?
There a numerous combinations of equipment churches are using based on their financial resources and local needs, here are just some examples to give you an idea.
- St Mary’s, Brampton, have recently had live-streaming equipment fitted by Old Barn Audio. You can read more details on what was installed and see what the results looked like on their website here.
- Like many churches, upon lockdown the Benefice of All Saints Sawtry, St. Nicholas Glatton, St. Giles Holme with Conington realised they had a number of issues to address to enable them to live-stream and record services, not least raising funds to buy the equipment, choosing what was needed and finding a solution for getting connected in a rural context - you can read about what they did here.
With even the most basic smartphones having the filming capacity to meet most needs, it’s important to then ensure the sound quality good.
The Church of England Digital Team have produced two blogs that will help you gain a better understanding of what to consider. They also make suggestions for what you might choose to purchase. Follow the links below to learn more.
- How to improve audio quality in video recordings
- Audio recording at home (designed more for creating podcasts but still valuable to learn more around the subject)
It is certainly worth investing in a tripod to hold your chosen film device securely. Here are some examples taken from the Church of England Blog “How to set up to film a video on your phone”
- An affordable tripod and frame - https://amzn.to/2LwhLX1
- A better quality tripod - https://amzn.to/2J5uyy6
- A better mobile phone frame - https://amzn.to/2JwuTcn
As with the sound, lighting is often an issue when shooting video. Without spending many hundreds of pounds on lighting equipment and spending many hours learning how to use it to best effect, try to experiment with what you have at your disposal already.
If your church benefits from lots of natural light or is already well-lit with artificial light, it’s likely that for the purposes of online streaming a service or pre-recording something, you will already be okay.
If you experiment with the recording, you might find that there are corners where people won’t be well lit, and so for these areas learn to avoid them when filming.
As a general rule, you should ensure that the strongest light source is behind the camera, not in front. This blog (click here) from the Church of England digital labs team gives some general advice around this.
Stage 2: Digital Connectivity
For many churches, the Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted how important it has been to stay connected to congregations through digital platforms, be it Facebook, websites, YouTube, Zoom or Google meets (and many more…).
Most of us are quite used to being able to connect to these platforms through our phones or internet when at home. However, for many it has begun to highlight issues around connectivity while in a church building.
If your church does not already have WIFI, or the signal strength of mobile devices is poor or unreliable, now might be the time to focus on solutions to this, not least because as well as making live streaming from the church possible, it also opens the door to fuller use of things such as card readers.
Where to start
- A good place to start is the 'Connectivity' pages on the Church of England website. Click here to visit those pages. This will take you through various stages including 'why get connected', 'what solutions are available', 'legal considerations' and 'Grants and funding'.
- Audio visual and electrical wiring advice can be found on the Church of England website here.
- In addition to the legal advice on the Church of England website, the Diocese of Ely also has a simplified Diocesan Registrar process for Internet Access / Telephone Lines – a simplified Diocesan Registrar process (click here).
- Parishes can benefit from the Parish Buying platform to connect their church buildings. Click here for more details.
- Learning more about benefiting from good connectivity with regards to Contactless giving and card readers (click here) can also be found on this link.
Explore mobile WIFI
Sometimes physically connecting your church to a cabled telephone line may just not be feasible. In which case, purchasing a portable WIFI hub may work for you as it has done for some in our Diocese. These mobile WIFI hubs work by using a normal phone signal to offer WIFI to your church. From this you can connect the devices that you need to (usually only a limited number at a time) so you can stream your services or use contactless card readers. Here are a few steps to take:
- Check the signal strength in your area first, you can do this by clicking here.
- If you can, test the areas in your church building where the signal is best on different networks. Your congregation might be able to help if members are on different mobile networks to see which one seems to be the strongest inside your church.
- Once you've settled on a network using your own tests and the Ofcom checker contact the network operator to purchase the device. You might at this stage find this best to do 'in-store' should you have any questions.
- In varies, but much like a mobile phone contract you might expect to pay £20-£30 per month (or more with more data).
Stage 3: Copyright, Safeguarding and GDPR
In this changing environment matters of copyright and ensuring you're sharing material digitally within the law, becomes increasingly important.
The Learning Labs Blog entitled "A beginner’s guide to going live with your service or event for free" (click here to read more) has some really clear guidance not only on how to live-stream, but also what considerations you should make with regard sharing hymns and music ensuring you're doing so within the law.
To learn more about copyright and what you may need in place in your specific context, please consult the Christian Copyright Licensing International website which has a wealth of resources for how to help keep you within the law.
Churches will already be aware of their responsibilities around safeguarding. To access various resource materials please visit the Diocese of Ely’s Safeguarding pages (click here). The Safer Environments for Churches guidance from the National Safeguarding Team also covers more safeguarding (and GDPR).
In the context of filming church services, you are reminded of the importance of seeking consent for all those that you wish to ‘use’ in a video recording. There will also be the need to make sure that those present are told the service will be filmed/streamed and to make it clear who congregation members should contact if they have a concern or wish not to be filmed, and that necessary steps are taken to ensure these requests are accommodated.
For this reason you might find it simpler, not least because your camera can be set-up and left at the start of the service, that it’s field of view picks-up as few people as possible while ensuring home ‘viewers’ still feel part of the service. This may mean ensuring the congregation are not in shot, thus minimising the need for concern, but the choir (consents permitting) and the preachers are.
A further option if you regularly film services is you have clear signage of your intention to do so, congregations are told at the start of the service and if anyone wants to avoid being in shot, there is a dedicated section where they can sit. The camera operator in this instance would need to make sure the congregation isn’t filmed while entering or leaving the church or when taking holy communion. should that mean they walk in view of the camera.
There are very similar considerations to make when ensuring you are GDPR compliant when filming as there are when ensuring you meet your requirements for Safeguarding. This Church of England Ditital Guide provides some further guidance on considerations around safeguarding and GDPR when filming a church service.Some general advice is included below.
GDPR permissions for adults
Those appearing in a video or in photographs will need to have given you their permission. A photo release form can be signed by adults. The form must include all the places that the photo or video may be used by the church. A template photo release form can be found on the Safeguarding pages of this website here.
GDPR permissions for children
Videos containing children may be used by the church if consent has been given by their parent or guardian. This needs to be a signed consent and should include the places that the photo or video will or could be used by the church. A template photo release form can be found on the Safeguarding pages of this website here
If permission has not been given, it might be helpful to identify those children by using a simple paper wristband, or by asking them to sit in a photo and video free zone.
You can read the Safer Environments for Churches guidance from the National Safeguarding Team which covers more on GDPR and safeguarding.
Stage 4: The digital platforms to use
In terms of online video “meeting” platforms there are many available, both free and paid. Below are some of the bigger platforms, with links to help you learn more about each.
Video Meeting Options
(where a high degree of participant-presenter-participant interaction is desired)
Messenger (Facebook) Rooms
- Messenger (Facebook) Rooms is Facebook’s video meeting platform. It currently allows up to 50 people to video chat together using the Facebook platform, with those without Facebook able to join from a simple link.
- Messenger Rooms is free and has no time limit, and so with a lot of churches already having a Facebook community it provides an attractive option worth exploring.
- Find out more here (click here)
- Probably one of the better known video platforms. Zoom Meetings has a number of free features and if you need more functionally, monthly paid plans are available.
- The free version of Zoom would work well for closed groups of people who wish to video chat together and would be suitable where more interaction from all participants is desired.
- Find out more here (click here)
- Google Meet is Google’s video meeting product. Users with a free google account can use this service for video meetings and depending on your churches existing systems you can also use it to benefit from the array of other Google products.
- Monthly costs will come into play if you require more from the service than the free services provides.
- Find out more here (click here)
Video Presentation Platforms
(where participants are typically more likely to watch a video presentation than necessarily interact with the presenters or other participants)
- Sitting on the same core platform as Zoom Meetings, and functionally very similar, this platform is better where a small group of ‘panellists’ wish to present to a larger audience.
- Audience participants can typically ask questions of the panellists, although this platform it typically more suited to a ‘webinar’ style meeting as opposed to the more interactive ‘meeting’ environment offered by those platforms.
- Find out more here (click here)
- YouTube is not a video meeting platform in quite the same way as a Google Meets or Zoom Meetings, but it has a vast user base and is market leading for sharing video content, both as a live feed or by uploading videos to your own YouTube channel.
- Sitting with the wider Google platform, it is also well geared to working within the ‘G-Suite of applications than include Google Meet and Google drive (storage).
- Find out more here (click here)
Facebook and Instagram
Both Facebook and Instagram allow users to share both live video and upload pre-recorded video.
It could be argued they are both more suited to sharing video content where live interaction with the viewers is less important than the benefits of being on the same video call, as with the Facebook Rooms feature or products like Google Meets and Zoom Meetings.
The advantage of user Facebook to upload your videos or set-up a live feed is it is likely to compliment your parishes pre-existing Facebook social media activities and many users will be quite familiar with it as a product.
Stage 5: Video editing software
The choice here is vast and endorsing any one product over another would offer little benefit. However, the sharing platforms you're likely to use when getting started tend to have all the basic functionality you will probably need, these and some other basic products are listed below.
- YouTube - the YouTube Video editor will let you do the basic things you're likely to need, this video (click here) gives you the basis.
- Facebook - slightly limited in terms of cutting and editing video but plenty of options when adding one from the start and applying extra elements to have a play with in Facebook 360.
- iMovie - if you have an Apple machine, this software will do all the basic things you will need.
- Photos - if you have a standard Microsoft windows computer, you will probably already have 'Photos' software which does all the basic video editing you might need.
- Other free software - the 'Digital trends' website lists its best free video editing software recommendations here. One free open-source software package you might wish to try is called OpenShot Video editor and can be downloaded here.
If you start to really develop your video editing, most of the free video editing platforms you've had a look at will offer paid additional features to help you do more and more.
Stage 6: Developing your skills and other useful sites
Ultimately, reading around the subject and practice will be needed to really find what works well for your church with the resources you have.
An excellent place to start will be to see what others are doing, have a look around online, see what other neighbouring churches are sharing and if you like what you see, drop them a line, most will be more than happy to help. For example, the Revd Philip from St Andrew's, Kimbolton and his team produce videos of their services which are uploaded to YouTube and then embedded on their website here.
Practice! One piece of advice has been; "be prepared to watch yourself back, review what you’ve done, and work with your team to change things accordingly. And whatever you plan to do, there’s always something on YouTube telling you how. We’ve managed noticeable improvements in presenter styles, filmography, editing, sound quality etc by doing just that".
There are also a number of companies offering to help equip you put your church online. One such example that a number of parishes in the country have explored is called Faith.Online and their website can be viewed here.
The Church of England Digital Team are posting some really excellent resources around how you can ‘do digital’. The website can be searched by clicking here. Here are a few specific blogs you should consider starting with.
- How to set up to film a video on your phone
- How to create subtitles for a video
- How we use Zoom for our family services
- Your most frequently asked questions and answers from our Livestream webinar
- A beginner’s guide to going live with your service or event for free
- 10 ways to use video content on your church’s social media and websites
- Using live video
More so than ever before there is an abundance of resources, guides and training materials online.
- Perhaps the most obvious of these for many is YouTube. Almost without exception, if you were to type in the YouTube search "How to use...." or "How do i..." you will have a plethora of video tutorial options available to help guide you.
- Remember too, most digital platforms you use will also have extensive online self-help centres, as it's in these company's interest to help you use their product so you will keep coming back.
- While trying to support our parishes consider too what might be available elsewhere on this site, be it guidance collated in specific response to Covid-19 here, or detailed step-by-step guides to help you explore digital giving here.
- The Church of England website also has a wealth of guides and resources to help you improve your use of digital tools here, and a number of support webinars which can be accessed here.