HomeFeaturedStreaming Church Services Live from a Phone Made Simple
Streaming Church Services Live from a Phone Made Simple
Churches that want to extend their reach should consider streaming church services to platforms like Facebook Live or YouTube. Church leaders might not know how to get started and what they need to stream church services live online. We’ll help church leaders choose tools for streaming church services online live.
This first article in a series about streaming church services will focus on making the decision on how to stream and what tools you’ll need to stream from a smartphone. Next, we look at the tools needed for streaming with higher quality cameras and equipment in article two. Then, we’ll look at the software and streaming services in the third article. Finally, we’ll put it all together in the final installment of this series on streaming church services live online.
Should You Use a Phone for Streaming Church Services?
First, let’s talk about how you plan to stream your worship services and more. Most people will stream their Sunday morning worship services. For a lot of us that takes place at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Churches stream their worship service in a lot of different ways.
Streaming Church Services on a Smartphone
Stream from a dedicated camera through a computer or other device
A professional setup with multiple cameras, a switcher and visual animations like a TV news broadcast
Of the three styles of streaming church services, the first costs the least. It’s also more accessible for people with little to no tech skills. However, it also doesn’t look as professional and will often sound subpar.
Sound is important and that’s the biggest reason why I’d shy away from streaming from your iPhone or Android phone. You can still use it and if you connect an external microphone or find a way to connect the phone to your sound system, then it will sound better and seem more professional.
Some churches can’t afford to pay for a camera, any accessories needed to connect to your sound system or make it sound better, or an installer to set things up. Just load up the Facebook app and stream using Facebook. You’ll need someone to hold the camera from the front row. Tell them to hold it very still and don’t make a sound.
For those who decide they still want to use their phone but want better sound and a stable video feed, consider buying the following tools:
An external microphone
A holder for your phone
Before you go all-in using your smartphone remember the following:
Phone cameras can’t get close enough to the speaker and singers on stage for a professional looking stream without distracting the service attendees.
Pointing a phone up at a raised platform from the front row looks bad especially if you can’t see the speaker or singer behind the podium.
Holding a phone results in a wobbly video unless you put it on a tripod, which might not look very good to the worship service attendees.
A phone mic sounds bad compared to your church sound system that you paid hundreds or more likely thousands of dollars to sound good.
Unless you have someone operating the camera at all times, you’re forced to frame the video so that the speaker or singer is always in view of the camera, which looks too far apart.
But how do you stream using your iPhone or Android phone and still make it look and sound decent enough for viewers to continue watching? Will they watch and consider joining you in person in the future?
Tripod for Streaming Church Services with a Phone
You’ve decided to stick with a smartphone like your Apple iPhone or a good Android phone with a decent camera. What do you need to make the stream look good enough to keep people watching?
First, use a tripod to keep the video stable. Any tripod will do if you get the right accessory to hold the phone. I like products from smartphone accessory maker Joby. They offer phone tripod mounts that work great and don’t cost too much. Take a look at their guide on buying mounts for your phone. These will hold the phone in either portrait or landscape mode and attach the phone to any standard tripod. They even sell tripods.
The Joby GripTight Pro Phone mount costs $30 and secures the phone tightly. Screw it into a tripod mount with a typical 1/4″-20 tripod mount. That’s the little screw that you screw into the bottom of a traditional camera on top of the tripod.
This mount will rotate from portrait to landscape mode. That means holding the phone so it looks tall (portrait) or wide (landscape). The best option for professional looking streams is landscape or wide mode. The person watching on a phone can rotate their phone but the person watching on a computer or a TV with the phone or computer connected to it can’t rotate the computer or TV screen easily.
Always use widescreen mode unless you know that 100% of your viewers want to watch it on portrait or tall mode.
You can use almost any tripod to hold the phone. A full-size tripod will offer the most stable option, but it might look bad to people attending the service since it has to sit close to the front of the auditorium.
You could choose something like a mount that holds the camera from on the front pew or seat. Joby also offers great options like their GorillaPod Line of tripods. You can get the above GripTight mount and the GorillaPod Tripod for $59.95 together.
This has legs that bend so you can fasten it to the front pew or seat back. You can also fasten it to anything else to bring the camera on your phone closer to the stage.
Any mount and tripod combination will work so long as the mount holds your phone in widescreen/landscape mode. Make sure the mount will fit your phone. Most modern mounts will, but measure it before you buy.
Sound for Streaming Church Services from a Phone
While camera phones often come with excellent cameras, they seldom come with decent microphones. That’s compounded by the fact that you’re usually not holding the phone close enough to yourself while speaking or singing. If a singer uses a canned accompaniment track or other instruments, they are not close to the camera.
The single biggest consideration for streaming live video isn’t the video quality. It’s the sound quality. Viewers care more about sound and will forgive lower quality video if it sounds good. Services like Facebook and YouTube actually put more of their focus on streaming good audio if the Internet connection gets week.
You can fix the audio problem by connecting a good mic system or by hooking your phone up to the church sound system. Let me offer three options.
Best Option: Wired Connection to the Sound System
Run a wire from your sound system to the phone. Find an output on your sound system and connect a wire to that output connection. Then connect the other end to the phone. If only it was that simple!
Your phone camera might sit too far away from the sound system to make this convenient. Try to run a longer cable if possible. It’s the best option.
What kind of cable should you use? That depends on the sound system and the phone input. Let’s start with the phone.
All recent iPhones use a Lightning connection and don’t include a sound port anymore. You’ll need to connect a Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter. It’s only $9 at Apple.com. Don’t bother with anything else. This works and they’re cheap.
To connect the cable to the board you’ll need what’s called a TRRS to TRS adapter. What’s that? If you don’t care and just want buy one, check out Amazon. That link takes you to a search result on Amazon. Find one that’s highly rated and read the reviews. Ask the buyer if it will work on a church sound system and see what they say. Now skip to the next heading below. If you do care what TRRS and TRS stand for keep reading.
Here’s the explanation if you want it. A TRRS to TRS adapter lets you plug a cable with three lines to one with two. The letters stand for Tip, Ring and Sleeve (see above image). The ring separates the two black lines, which connect the wires in the cable to the device you’re plugging into. So the above image shows a stereo cable with left and right audio.
A typical sound cable used just for sound will have a quarter-inch or 3.5mm jack with TRS like the image above. That means it has two wires for left and right sound connections.
If the cable has three (Tip, Ring, Ring, Sleeve or TRRS), it’s designed for a phone with left, right and mic. These are used for earbuds or headphones with a mic so you can listen and talk on your phone. A sound system can’t handle the TRRS or three connectors. So you need an adapter to take it from three to two.
Some sound systems have two outputs, one for left channel and one for right. Typically they will look like a red and white connector. If that’s the case you’ll need one of those too. Some use a larger quarter-inch jack to connect to the sound system. So, you’ll need an adapter to connect the quarter inch to the smaller 3.5mm jack.
Second Best Option: External Microphone
If you don’t connect the phone to your sound system, then you should get an external microphone. The best option comes from a company called Rode.
The Rode Wireless Go comes in two pieces, a transmitter and receiver, which wirelessly connect to each other. The receiver connects to the phone with a 3.5mm cable. You can use the adapter from the above part about connecting to your sound system.
The transmitter of the Rode Wireless God works like a lapel mic. It has a built-in mic. Turn both parts on and they will connect to each other wirelessly. The transmitter with mic works like a regular mic.
The transmitter also has an input for a 3.5mm connection from an external mic. I have a mic with a 3.5mm jack and plug it into the Rode Wireless transmitter.
Hooking Up an Android Phone
The above discussion focused mainly on an iPhone. Android phones have one of two connections. Does your Android phone have a headphone jack or not? If it does, then just use the cables mentioned above without the Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter from Apple. You don’t need it.
How do you tell if your Android phone has a headphone jack? Look for a little round hole like the one below.
If your phone doesn’t come with a headphone jack, did the manufacturer supply an adapter for you to plug into the power port? You can use that adapter or buy a new one like it. Most of these use USB-C connectors or they might have a micro-USB adapter.
Now use the above instructions in the previous section for what you need to hook up your phone to your sound system.
Should You Use the Zoom Feature on Your Phone to Get Closer?
If you’re happy with the way your phone looks and where you placed it in your auditorium, then you can skip this section and the next one. However, some people may still want to put their phone back further while getting a close-up shot of the speaker or singer. Should you use the phone’s zoom feature, where you pinch out to make things look closer? Some cameras like the iPhone 11 have multiple optical lenses so you’ll see a .5 (for wide angle), 1x or 2X button in the camera app. Those are fine. But should you go beyond the 2X setting and zoom closer?
Do not use the digital zoom, where you go closer than the 2X if you have 2 lenses. Use only the optical zoom. Digital zoom looks terrible. It blows up the photo beyond what the camera lens sees naturally and degrades the image quality.
If you don’t believe me, take out your phone. Take a photo of the pulpit in your church. Us the regular zoom level, the 2x Zoom and then go in closer with digital zoom. Now compare the photos. The regular image and the 2X will look fine. The digital will look grainy and even blurry. DON’T USE IT even if you think it looks fine. Almost no one else, including potential visitors will agree!!
But what if you want to get closer than the 2X zoom lets you?
Adding a Physical Lens to Your Phone
You can add zoom lenses that add closer zoom capability to your camera phone without degrading the image quality. These do not come cheap if you want one that looks good. Search on Amazon or Google and you’ll find a bunch of garbage options that cost $10 or $20. You get what you pay for.
I’ve found two companies that make decent zoom lenses for the iPhone or popular Android phones. The best option comes from a company called Moment Lens. I own a set of their lenses and they’re fantastic. They make a number of lenses, but for our purpose take a look at their zoom lens. The 58mm lens doubles the zoom of the built-in lens using high-quality optical lenses. Connect the lens to a case on your phone to make it a 2X on the main lens or a 4X on the built-in 2X zoom on an iPhone 11. Other phones offer other zoom levels and the Moment 58mm lens will double those zooms.
The Moment lens costs $119.99. It ain’t cheap. but it’s still cheaper than a dedicated camera and makes an phones like the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy s10 and Google Pixel 4 usable.
To use the Moment Lens you’ll need a case for your phone. They offer cases for iPhones, Galaxy phones and Pixel phones. Buyers can also get a mount that will fit on other phones. They’re not as good as a case, but still work well with other phones besides the ones they make cases for. These cases and mounts start at $20 and cost as much as $50.
Olloclip makes cheaper lenses, but they’re not as good. They use lower quality lenses and work with fewer phones. I don’t recommend them.
Putting it All Together
Now that you have the gear and the understanding that using your phone works for people who need a low-budget option, let’s put it all together.
Connect everything you bought…
Put your case or mount on your phone.
Hook the lens to the case or mount.
Attach the cables and adapters to the sound system.
Put your phone in the mount that you’ve attached to the tripod.
Turn on your camera app and test the recording.
Remember that playing back your recorded video won’t play on the phone until you unplug the cable connected to the sound board. Test it out and then plug it back in.
If it doesn’t work, make sure everything is connected properly. Reverse the audio cables or adapters if need be. If it still doesn’t work, it could mean a faulty cable or adapter. It also could mean you plugged the cable into the soundboard in the wrong place.
We don’t have to the time to talk out how to use Facebook for streaming church services live. The step-by-step will show up in a later post in this series. For now, use the steps from the video above.
Dr. Kevin Purcell is pastor of High Peak Baptist Church, an author and writer at Church Tech Today (www.churchtechtoday.com). He used to write for a number of other Christian and secular technology and mobile tech sites. Now he's one of the hosts of the Theotek Podcast, which you can find by checking the menu above or over at www.facebook.com/theotekpodcast.