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Facebook Live for Churches and Religious Organizations

May 21, 2018 by Tim Dougherty

Facebook Live for Churches

 

Many years ago, I asked a friend if he had heard of the then-popular social media website MySpace. His snarky response to my sincere question was: “I don’t know Tim, have you heard of the internet?” We shared a good laugh. I felt like an idiot.

Obviously, today, I wouldn’t dare ask people if they’ve heard of Facebook. And the question “have you heard of Facebook Live streaming?” could easily be answered with the same brand of sarcasm.

Facebook has become the dominant live-streaming portal on the internet today, and is an extremely effective tool for churches and religious organizations to stay connected with their people. What’s more, since many organizations already have professional studio setups, getting started with Facebook Live streaming is a relatively easy process.

 

More Churches Are Turning to Facebook Live for Ministry

Over the past year, I spent a lot of time learning about Facebook Live and how churches are using it. At the Church IT Network National Conference and Worship Facilities Expo (both in Dallas), I had many interesting conversations with church broadcasting and technology specialists about the platform. I also consulted with many churches that are taking advantage of the many benefits of Facebook Live streaming.

On several occasions, I even had the exciting opportunity of visiting the Facebook campus and working directly with teams inside the live video platform. I’m absolutely amazed with the progressive, rock-solid content delivery network (CDN) Facebook has built and continues to expand. With this new and rapidly growing medium, there are many compelling reasons churches should be leveraging Facebook Live for ministry and to connect with people.

Based on hands-on experience and industry trends, these are my conclusions:

  • Facebook Live streaming has arrived and is here to stay. Some may resent this; some may embrace it. But there isn’t anything we can do about it, so let’s get it right!
  • Most churches are already using the platform—and if not, they will be soon.
  • A growing number of people are virtually going to church every Sunday via Facebook Live.
  • Equipment, setup and integration is not easy when connecting to Facebook Live.
  • Not every church using Facebook Live is “doing it right”.

Now, let’s dive into these in more detail.

 

Church Streaming on Facebook Requires a Streaming Strategy

Whenever I consult organizations that need live streaming, my primary contribution is the technical configuration—but I also advise them to come up with a streaming strategy. Without one, the impact of their primary message tends to get lost.

While technology has made it possible to duplicate a single stream to nearly all CDNs and social streaming platforms simultaneously, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the best approach. Churches must consider both technical and social factors when planning their streaming strategy: On one hand, they must distribute their stream in a reliable manner; on the other, they must provide the personal interaction and accessibility needed to properly serve their online congregations.

Facebook makes this easy because:

  • The majority of viewers are already there.
  • The Live Reaction and commenting interface is very familiar.

Other platforms, such as YouTube, Twitch and Periscope, may lack the relevant audience to justify using them as a church streaming platform. You don’t want to add layers of unnecessary noise for your Sunday service viewers to sort through. I strongly suggest targeting one social platform that aligns with your mission and purpose, and where your message will be most relevant.

In some cases, an extended broadcast is needed. An example of this would be a streaming a conference or multi-event stream consisting of different tracks, in sequence. It leaves broadcasters asking, how long can you do a live broadcast on Facebook? The live platform allows you to broadcast for up to four hours continuously, making it a great fit for even extended services.

A simple, accessible strategy will win the day. If leadership is asking you to publish everywhere, push back a little. A “less is more” approach—such as a stream hosted simultaneously on your website and on Facebook Live—will make more sense to your viewers, and will be much easier to manage with excellence. You’ll only need to monitor two platforms, and your stream will be accessible to anyone with internet access or who is a Facebook member.

 

How to Use Facebook Live for Ministry: Top Content Ideas

While the most obvious use case for Facebook Live is church service streaming, the platform is flexible enough to broadcast just about anything imaginable. Some examples of quality content for churches include:

Facebook Live church service streaming. Streaming through Facebook Live enables religious organizations to reach well beyond their local region. Facebook is a powerful streaming network that not only delivers a quality video experience, but also provides meaningful, interactive engagement with viewers. The return on this is a virtual platform where real-time interactions such as questions, feedback and prayer requests are presented through comments, and help measure viewer engagement with Live Reactions.

Beyond the novelty of Facebook Live, many people appreciate the ability to rewatch services that spoke to them personally. Between live broadcasts, content also becomes very mobile, giving viewers an easy way to share a meaningful message with friends and family. And since Facebook automatically saves live streams as recorded assets, you’ll always have a catalogue for current and potential members to explore.

Personal messaging. Facebook Live can be used, very creatively, to enhance the depth of an organization through personal messaging. For example, a live broadcast where a person provides a “testimony” of how they were touched through an impactful message highlights how your church’s ministry is making a difference in people’s lives.

Another example would be using the platform to allow support staff and leadership to host a live stream for Q&A and/or talking about the primary purposes and vision of the church. These types of broadcasts cause viewers to feel more connected, and can inspire them to engage more personally as a volunteer or contributor.

Facebook Live for ministry. Use Facebook Live to showcase an event or activity that highlights your ministry, such as a kids event, youth group service, holiday celebration, charity fundraiser, mission trip or retreat. You could even offer a “message of the week” that teases your next service or sermon. Not only does this provide engaging content, it also encourages viewers to get involved and helps promote upcoming events.

New-member FAQs. Facebook users who are exploring their faith for the first time will have questions. The same applies to people who are simply new to your organization. Host live Q&As with leadership where they help viewers understand your core values, learn what to expect when they attend, figure out how to become a member and more. This will help ease any concerns and create a personal connection before people even step in the door.

Virtual discipleship. Many organizations host study groups where people gather to support one another and grow in their faith journey. Using the Facebook Live platform, a virtual small group gathering becomes easy and familiar—which, in turn, increases participation, encouraging more people to take deeper steps as they learn and grow in your community.

 

How Do I Live Stream My Church Service?

When Facebook Live first became available, it was aimed at fun, personal and mobile-broadcasting use cases. Reliability was inconsistent, and publishing access to the platform was very limited and difficult to configure.

As the platform evolved, we began to see broadcasters (and a few large churches) start to publish professionally produced streams. Facebook Live has recently upgraded their live-streaming API, which has greatly matured the platform. Today, Facebook has emerged as a major outlet for live broadcasting across a burgeoning segment of the video-streaming market.

My preferred method for publishing a stream into Facebook is to take advantage of the new live-streaming portal at www.facebook.com/live/create.

Facebook Live/Create Portal

Using this portal, anyone can create a stream using the familiar Facebook interface. Even better, Facebook provides the necessary RTMP publishing information in the process of creating the stream—enabling you to easily connect your hardware or software encoder.

Facebook Live/Create Portal connect your live stream

This provides everything you need to direct your encoder or cloud transcoding service to publish a live stream. However, you’ll also need to set your encoder or transcoder to meet Facebook’s streaming requirements (read more about this in our Facebook Live Equipment and Production Guide). This brings us to our next point...

 

Facebook Live Encoder Configuration Is Tricky

Each encoder is set up differently and will need to be configured properly, or the stream simply will not work. As we’ve discovered, this is the most challenging aspect of Facebook Live streaming—and is where many people fail to get a stream to work in the first place. People tend to blame Facebook for a poor experience when, in reality, they are not providing the proper stream settings, dramatically degrading performance. It’s critical to test your encoder at length, so you can become an expert and get this right every time.

While streaming to Facebook is better than it has ever been, it’s not the “set it and forget it” workflow you may be used to on conventional streaming platforms. However, there is an “easy” way to stream professionally to Facebook Live…

 

Connect Your Congregation With a Dedicated Facebook Live Encoder

The new Facebook Live API is capable of “talking” to a live-streaming encoder. To take advantage of this new capability, you need a Facebook Live encoder that integrates with the updated API, such as the Wowza ClearCaster™ appliance. Recognizing that encoder configuration is the primary reason Facebook Live broadcasts fail, Wowza Media Systems built this device working directly with Facebook, with the aim of simplifying live encoder configuration—by removing it altogether.

ClearCaster is the only device in the drop-down menu in the Facebook Live streaming portal, and it can easily be paired with a Facebook account, where it automatically receives the optimal stream settings via the live-streaming API. Every detail of the streaming configuration process, including the streaming URL, stream key, resolution, bitrate, frame rate, key frame and sample settings are loaded, without you ever having to think about it.

In addition, ClearCaster provides an exclusive “Talent View” option (which is a live HDMI output from the device), which the people on camera can reference and interact with. For churches, this means the pastor can be facing an on-stage monitor, where they can see and respond, in real time, to feedback from the online community. This is a supreme interactive use case.

What’s more, if you project the Talent View during your live service, you can connect congregants all over the world—allowing online and in-person members to see and respond to one another’s comments, and building a stronger community.

 

Be Mindful of the Facebook Live Church Service Copyright

Churches enjoy a simple licensing agreement, typically administered through CCLI (Church Copyright Licensing International), which permits them to legally use copyrighted music for performance as a major part of their church services. A CCLI streaming license is also available as part of their product offering, which opens the door for streaming via the internet.

That said, while a church may retain a CCLI video license to perform and stream copyrighted material, networks such as YouTube and Facebook are legally obligated to furnish a royalty to the copyright holder as part of their monetization system. As a result, auditing systems exist to identify copyrighted material, which can lead to a stream being limited or blocked.

For example, a church may play a variety of “top 40” tracks as mood music during their pre-service time. When this audio track is mixed into the Facebook Live stream, Facebook will quickly identify the content, and is likely to flag or block the stream. The results can be confusing. As a best practice, avoid using copyrighted audio tracks with your live stream.

For more information, you can visit the Facebook Help Center.

 

Master Your Facebook Live Church Service Streaming

Regardless of how you decide to stream video to Facebook Live, take the time to learn the process and its nuances. Work with your organization to develop meaningful interactions. Get better with every broadcast. Mastering the configuration and establishing a good strategy will position your religious organization to reach more people with the message they need to hear. Facebook Live is here to stay—so let’s do it right!

If you have questions or want to learn more, please feel free to contact me directly (tim@wowza.com). I am passionate about helping churches succeed with their streaming media initiatives, and would be honored to hear from you. You can also subscribe to our blog or visit the ClearCaster page to learn more about Facebook Live streaming.

 

Additional Resources

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Tim Dougherty

Tim Dougherty is a Senior Solutions Engineer with Wowza Media Systems. With a background in systems integration, program management, and IT, he currently specializes in audio and video production, cloud technologies, streaming workflow integration, and providing practical media delivery solutions for enterprise, education, and houses of worship.