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Streaming In 2022 & Beyond: The Near Future Of Streaming Worship Services

A look at what we can expect in terms of platforms, technology, expectations, emerging opportunities and more. (An audio version of this article is also available for listening/download.)


It’s probably fair to say that most houses of worship, at least in the U.S., have returned to some form of traditional worship – with a caveat. There may be people in the pews but our new friend, “online services,” hasn’t gone anywhere either. I don’t expect it to. Let’s take a look at what we can expect in the near future for streaming our weekly worship services.

Platforms

Platforms gonna platform. They’ll always chase the bottom dollar. If you’ve been reading my articles over the past couple of years or have heard one of my “rants” in person, you’ll know I preach the value of our personal data and that social media sites do not care about you as much as they care about your possible spending dollars. (This is one of those “don’t get me started” topics.)

More social media platforms popped up, taking the spotlight and the spending dollars, particularly of youths. With these new platforms (and all of us being stuck at home) going “Live” became a common occurrence. The good side is that certain platforms were no longer clogged up by massive amounts of simultaneous streams. Video feeds could be spread out across different platforms that use different servers in different areas.

Another unintended consequence is that we shifted from a multitool to a more specialized approach on platforms. For many years Facebook was the “one stop shop” for the vast majority of internet socializing, but now, folks go to certain social media platforms for specific reasons. For many in my personal and professional circles, it’s a place for groups but nothing else, Instagram is for memes, photos, and watching celebrities and personalities, YouTube is for instructions, longer-format videos, and podcasts, TikTok is really hard to condense, and Twitter is a space where people “word vomit” into the chasm of the internet.

Do churches fall into any of these? It’s hard to say, at least for me. Facebook seems like an easy answer since it used to be a catch-all, but I’m reluctant to default to them. I think we all need to ask ourselves, once again, what our goals are. Is it to serve our current congregants or grow? If you simply want to know where the youth are, it’s TikTok. But I’d think twice about chasing them there. Not everything is for everybody, eh?

My recommendation is for churches to stream to their own websites and to YouTube. There’s no control like having your own website, while YouTube can offer some of that “genuine social aspect” to streaming without as much of the soul sucking of other platforms. I’m not saying YouTube is perfect, mind you, but it’s perhaps the best of a poor selection.

Expectations

Speaking of the younger demographic, did you know most of them don’t make regular phone calls anymore? Everything is a video call! I say this to not only paint myself as a curmudgeon but to illustrate that the expectations of our current congregations and our future congregations are drastically changing, again… like always.

There’s no replacement for in-person experiences and no amount of technology can fully replicate that. Luckily, we’re not trying to replace that experience anymore. People who want to attend worship in person can do so, but those that don’t want to don’t have to.

Our expectations have shifted again. People know a good stream when they see it: continuous audio and well-lit video. There are two parts to this: on one hand we don’t have to try and please quite as many people, and on the other hand the people that have stayed online would like it to be a good experience without any excuses.

We’re beyond triage and “making it work” at this point. If your house of worship decides to pursue this online ministry “thing,” expectations of a quality product are high – capturing the service on a cell phone on a tripod just doesn’t cut it.

At a minimum I recommend at least one person dedicated to video, one to graphics, and one to audio. Further, at least two cameras, (three is better) should be the baseline spec. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. We need to take pride in our work in helping spread the Gospel.

That said, I don’t think every church needs to stream and shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t. There’s a certain threshold that’s required to be attained in order for all the work going into a stream to be worth it.

Is a five-member streaming team worth it if only four people watch every week and at least one of those is one of the team members? I humbly suggest that churches first focus on making services meaningful and impactful regardless of technology, and then use it augment it once that foundation is down. (I used to teach this to my seminary students before the pandemic, and now I can go back to it!)

As an alternative, I’m really fond of filming a service and posting it for people to watch later and negating the “live” part of it altogether – unless the engaging audience is substantial. Filming usually also means you have added time that can help in delivering higher quality.

Technology

We’re really just beginning to see all the technology that started development because of the pandemic. It’s actually quite exciting and I’m pretty geeked at all the future opportunities that spring from this well.
Companies such as StreamYard have really stepped up and added great features that make it easier to produce virtual or hybrid services. I’m always impressed by what can be achieved with them.

Other companies like Twitch, which traditionally was aimed at gaming communities, has ushered in a generation of home-streamers and the technology has followed them. The building blocks of the technology hasn’t changed, it’s really just a matter of taking previously developed professional ideas and making them affordable and more readily accessible.

Captions are also becoming standard! They give access to individuals who are hearing impaired and are even valued by some who aren’t. I’ve had captions on all my TVs and mobile screens since I was a teenager and it’s very hard to go back once you start using them.

“But this is a sound publication, Samantha,” you may be thinking. Yes, well, everyone deserves access to worship if they seek it out. Having captions available can help forgive some of those atrocious mixes that none of us are doing (right?). On many platforms they’re free, automated, or cost a minute amount.

There’s been quite a bit of change over the last few years, and I think it will continue for quite some time. In contrast to the recent past, however, it will seem mild. Let’s stay nimble and be prepared to shift our perspectives and approaches to online worship. Church is just a bit different now, and that doesn’t have to mean it’s bad.

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