How To Live Stream a Church Service with a Smartphone

Many faith-based groups, including churches, synagogues and mosques, have struggled since March with how to minister to the spiritual needs of their members during a pandemic that’s prompted government officials to restrict gatherings and mandate social distancing.
Live stream of priest performing a Holy Communion
Creating a professional live stream setup for church services is easier than many think

To comply with these strictures, many have begun or are considering live video streaming services as an alternative to in-person worship.

However, the same pandemic prompting this change as a way to protect members from COVID-19 exposure is also creating financial strains for many. Giving has declined as members dealing with loss of jobs and businesses struggle to keep their heads above water. At the same time, faith communities must reevaluate spending priorities for available funds as they provide emergency relief services to members.

The good news for houses of worship looking to live stream church services is that doing so can be done on a shoestring budget with existing smartphones equipped with high-quality video cameras, free or low-cost church live streaming software and social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.


Initial setup with smartphone and tripod

To be sure, a smartphone isn’t cheap, but fortunately, many clergy and worshippers already own one that they likely will feel honored to lend to their house of worship for use during the service. So, it is possible that dipping into the church funds for a video camera won’t be necessary.

Arguably one of the most important expenditures will be on a tripod for use with the smartphone. Again, photographers and videographers in the congregation probably already have a tripod that could be borrowed. Another place to check is with grandparents in the congregation. Many probably have a tripod from the days when they used camcorders to record their kids that they will gladly donate.

A smartphone that is set up with a tripod, live streaming a church service
A setup of a smartphone and a tripod for live streaming a church service

An adapter that holds a smartphone will be necessary to attach the phone to the tripod. Many are available for under $20.

For a setup using a single smartphone to livestream the church service, it’s a good idea to position the tripod in an aisle or pew where it won’t be disturbed. Train it on whoever will be leading the service, flip the smartphone on its side for landscape shooting, frame the shot and position the height of the smartphone at the same height as a congregant sitting in the pew.

Appoint someone to be responsible for starting and stopping live streaming church service from the phone and protecting it from other church members who might bump it or walk in front of it.

For this simple setup, rely on the smartphone for audio pickup.


Creating a simple multi-camera live stream

If all your congregation wishes to do is livestream the service from a single smartphone camera, all that’s left to do is ensure there’s a good wireless connection—from the wireless provider (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) or Wi-Fi network (the former is preferred)—and connect to your preferred social media site, such as Facebook (streaming instruction here), or via YouTube (streaming instructions here.)

However, if a congregation’s worship service involves different physical positions inside the building, such as a lectionary, a pulpit, a choir position and an altar, it’s a good idea to consider doing multi-camera live streaming of church services.

Having multiple cameras setup enables video switching between available camera sources as the focal point of the worship service moves from spot to spot. The alternative is to use the single-camera setup and pan the camera on the tripod from place to place or to take a wide shot that captures everything and lock down the camera on the tripod.

Both panning and a wide shot are acceptable, but both have downsides as well. Panning from place to place can cause a bumpy ride for viewers, especially if low-cost or borrowed tripods are used. Relying on a single wide shot enables the service to unfold before the camera, but removes tighter framing from the equation without zooming, which introduces its own set of problems.

While multi-camera production is a little more involved, once everything is setup it will be easy to repeat week after week.


Using an app for live streaming your church service

Using TVU Networks’ broadcasting app, TVU Anywhere, along with live streaming software, TVU Producer, together make a great solution. The combination makes it simple to use several smartphones and even iPads as camera sources and switch between them as the service unfolds and the relevant action moves from place to place.

TVU Anywhere allows to live stream a church service from your smartphone

For multi-camera production, the setup is similar to a single-camera production. Beg, borrow or buy the right number of smartphones, tripods and tripod adapters needed for the service. For example, four cameras could be used: one pointed at the pulpit, one at the lectern, one at the altar and one at the choir.

Load TVU Anywhere onto the smartphones from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Install TVU Producer onto a laptop or desktop computer from the TVU Networks website. The company offers free use of the software for 20 hours. Connect the smartphone TVU Anywhere sources to TVU Producer. (How to do so was covered in a previous blog.) This is a virtual connection, not a wired connection, so don’t worry about running cables all throughout the house of worship and trying to hide them or tape them down so congregants don’t trip over them.

Appoint someone to serve as the director of the worship production. This person will be responsible for using TVU Producer to switch from camera to camera as the service progresses.

Besides delivering tighter, more appropriate shots to those watching the live stream, this setup offers several other benefits. Common TV production elements like captions and graphics –perhaps with scriptures or hymn numbers—can be inserted to make the service more meaningful and easier to follow using TVU Producer.

TVU Producer can even roll in pre-recorded segments, such as a graphic or video taken of the exterior of the house of worship to be used before the service or an inspirational message or announcements following the service.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic passes and congregations begin to return, having setup a regularly scheduled live stream of a church service will continue serving the interests of the faith community. Not only will live streaming help members who are unable to attend due to illness or travel maintain their faith life, but it will also enable the house of worship to spread its message beyond its four walls to others who may never have been reached.


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