To Live Stream or Not to Live Stream?

One of the more-than-warm topics on some church leadership sites centers around whether or not it is best to live stream your worship service. Some say it encourages consumerism and me-ism; others argue it is good stewardship of technology and keeps people somewhat connected when they wouldImage be otherwise be unplugged completely. (Click here for a good article on the pros and cons).

Personally, I favor live streaming. Why? Well, I could give a number of reasons specific to our landscape, most of which aren’t rooted in technology or theology, but rather type-ology. (Yes, I know, I know…I’m using the word loosely here, but what I’m referring to is simply the “type” of sheep God has placed in this fold; if you prefer, think “demographics.”) ¬†For instance, we have a lot of young families with multiple children and they live in a climate with pretty harsh winters (usually). So, for a number of months every year, sick babies/kids are just part of what our parents deal with regularly. Since we’ve been live streaming, many moms and dads have commented that they aren’t as disconnected from their small group discussion (our small groups dig in to the same text that I teach from) now that they can at least catch the service live on the Web. Sure, I could moan about the weather, ramp up the pulpit pressure, and wish it was warmer. But no solution is ever achieved via whining. Instead, we’ve really helped our small groups and their members by simply utilizing available technology (which is pretty cheap by the way) to make our services available live on the Internet.

But here’s the main reason I favor live streaming. In a phrase, it encourages the long tail. if you’ve not heard that phrase before, it simply refers to what you leave behind; the “leftovers” that follow you. Too many pastors minister in the here-and-now without regard to how that “ministry moment” could continue to have impact somewhere else and at some other time. It’s my desire to think beyond today so that whatever I am doing today could potentially live on after today. That’s the long tail!

In journalism, we learned this same concept, but knew it as letting your work do “double duty,” or even “triple duty.” In other words, finding ways to take the one piece you wrote/published and helping it live on in other arenas or formats. Essentially, it’s getting more mileage out of your effort. It is, in a nutshell, having a vision for the long tail.

So when it comes to live streaming our services, are there risks? Yep! But the one reward of growing a long tail is worth it. For who knows how may times that message may be heard or watched later, not just in the next week or month, but over the course of the next decade! And I encourage you to embrace the risk and go for it as well. If you do, here’s some tips for the best return.

1. Be honest about why you are doing it. We told our people up front that it was mainly to help our many families in the winter when their kids were sick. No one at FFC thinks for a moment that we believe it takes the place of church. Nonsense! But does it do in a pinch when you have no choice but to stay home? You bet! That’s how we approached it, and I think our honesty was appreciated.

2. Start small, and be okay with the YouTube look. You’re not going to pull off a “Hour of Power,” nor do you need to; I don’t think many people today want that. Do what you can with what you have and you’ll find more traction than you realize.

3. Don”t let the camera dictate. Be you, and maintain the unique church culture God has and is creating among the body. You’re not trying to sell your worship service, so relax and let it simply broadcast what you do and who you are.

4. Mention it regularly from the front. Give a shout-out, or a verbal “wave.” How often is up to you, but simply acknowledging ti keeps people in the loop and helps spread the word.

5. Record, don’t just stream. Frankly, most companies who help with this do both. And pretty inexpensively. This enables what you do to not only go further at that time, but at a later time.

By the way, as you let your trail grow, you’ll find your impact reaching further and lasting longer.

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