Columns, House Of Worship, Video

Livestreaming Is ‘Live’ Again, Part 1

Livestreaming, Church

Yet more changes in the time of COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has altered the way that we live and work. Many of us were forced to stay home for weeks or months. Even now, if we go outside our home, many of us wear a mask and practice social distancing. Sadly, nearly every house of worship (HoW) worldwide was forced, at some point, to close its doors to congregants. This caused serious concern among pastors and congregants alike.

First, pastors understand that many people want to gather in a physical space to worship and share an encouraging communal experience during our troubled times. Second, churches survive based on financial offerings that congregants give—primarily when they gather physically for worship. Thus, you can imagine that leaders were very concerned not only that congregants’ mental and spiritual heath would suffer, but also that offerings might diminish or dry up entirely. Worship leaders chose to adopt livestreaming the worship experience as a solution to address those two concerns.

Many HoWs had already been livestreaming even before the virus; however, they typically treated it as an “add on.” Usually, it was considered good enough as long as people could reasonably see or hear worship services. Only rarely did leaders actually watch their own livestream! Then, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down worship in physical spaces. Quickly, HoWs that had not been livestreaming resorted to using new technologies to create a livestreamed worship experience, following in the footsteps of pioneering HOWs.

In the beginning, they took this approach: Create a live worship experience using a smaller team of musicians, along with a sermon from the pastor. When they looked at viewership numbers, they saw that, after about 40 minutes, most viewers quit watching. They also realized that their livestreaming presentation was not very good. This led worship leaders to seek a solution to create shorter, but better, worship experiences.

Leaders began to realize that they could produce a worship experience using packaged video. Because there was not a physical audience in the worship space, the church could record multiple versions of a song until the right take had been captured. This could occur on, say, a Wednesday night. This also led to the rise of virtual choirs and virtual songs, which were presented with the so-called “Brady Bunch effect.” (By that, I’m referring to an effect whereby, although people are singing and performing independently in their homes, viewers see the group performing together, in sync, within small boxes that fill up the screen.) Furthermore, pastors realized that they could record their sermons at various times.

What a difference all this makes! After all the clips have been recorded, staff members can edit the pieces together, creating a reasonably well-produced product. Then, they can upload the final video to various streaming and social-media services. The packaged video can be programmed to launch “live” at the designated worship time— typically, on Sunday morning. Most congregants don’t even realize the “livestream” isn’t really live. What many congregants do notice, however, is the improved worship experience; accordingly, they frequently contact worship leaders and tell them how much they appreciate the new livestream content.

Going back to COVID-19, as I write these words in mid-June, the world is slowly reopening from pandemic-caused lockdowns; concomitantly, HoWs are also reopening. Many people have begun once again to attend worship, together, inside a physical worship space. Many people, however, are not yet ready to worship in a shared physical space. Thus, livestreaming remains an important communication medium for worship. Here’s the new challenge that HoWs face: Their livestreams are now “live” again.

Unfortunately, worship leaders looking closely at their “live” livestreams are finding that the content isn’t very good, at least as compared to the produced programming they had been streaming over the past three months. Specifically, the audio mix isn’t good and the services seem long. Leaders are rightly concerned that those factors will cause people to lose interest in the “live” livestream. Thus, leaders are seeking help from AV professionals so they can create livestreaming content that is more effective.

Both in the time of COVID-19 and after the virus has receded, I believe that livestreaming is a vital medium that leaders of all faiths can use to reassure people that there is hope in spite of the conditions of the world. I also believe that we can help leaders create content that is dynamic and creative. In Part 2, we will further discuss the livestreaming experience. I will provide ideas that leaders can use to create exciting content for their livestreamed worship.

For more HoW content from Sound & Communications, click here.

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