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Live Streaming on a Budget:
Options under $1,000

February 15, 2021

As churches look forward to a future where in-person gatherings will be possible, many are also noticing the benefits that live streaming has offered their congregations.  Despite its inability to act as a direct replacement to in-person services, live streaming offers the potential for further connections, and as we imagine a future that includes in-person gathering, we also need to include live streaming in that picture.  It’s the ever growing solution, “both, and.”

But live streaming in-person offers two major hurdles for many: a daunting technological learning curve and few options that are accessible for less than $3000.  This is a guide for churches for whom those hurdles make the option of live streaming a challenge.  No matter where you fall on that scale of preparedness, the pandemic has made it clear: saving for technological advancements needs to start today. 

Here are a few recommendations for where to start!

  1. Start with the tools you have-- streaming with a smartphone. Thankfully, if shelling out $3000 isn’t an option for you today, there are still options in the palm of your hand.  With smartphones being accessible to almost every congregation, it remains a viable option for in-person live streaming.  For the cost of a camera tripod you can position a phone pointing towards your pastor and choir, and stream on!  The major downside is that the audio of a smartphone will also need to be considered, as it is fairly low quality.  Using online programs like OBS, you can use the audio from your regular sound system into your computer as an alternative to the audio captured on the smartphone.  You can also use tools like an aux cord lapel microphone to supplement your audio.  If you do choose to use a smartphone and OBS software, some users have found Camera for OBS for their phones a helpful supplement.
  2.  Stream with cameras your church already has access to. If your church has a DSLR or mirrorless camera that has an mini-HDMi port, it’s possible it has the capability to stream as well!  For any camera, you will need a capture card and an HDMi cord no longer than 50 feet, for latency reasons. Likely, just like with the smartphone solution, it would be beneficial to use separate audio.  Check this list to see a camera you already have access to is compatible with the Elgato Cam Link.  Unless your church already has access to an experienced videographer or techie congregant, the downside to working with a camera is that there does seem to be a steeper learning curve, due to compatibility and latency issues.
  3.  Live stream using an iPad. Padcaster makes it easy to set up a high quality stream using an iPad (or iPhone, although the iPad set up seems more advanced), with a package that includes a lens enhancer, external microphone, and a tripod.  The all-in-one element of this package helps to curb some of the learning curve and offers a great wide angle shot of the room.  This also may even be one of the better options even if your church doesn’t yet own an iPad.  Check sites like BackMarket for refurbished tech and Techsoup, although they don’t currently carry a model of an iPad that would be compatible with the Padcaster.
  4.  Upgrade with a Mevo Start. The Mevo Start is an exciting option to upgrade from a smartphone or iPad option, and it looks to be more intuitive than a regular camera, as it’s designed specifically for streaming.  As an on stage option, they are unobtrusive and less distracting even than a phone.  Within 10 feet of their source, their internal audio is a great source, and beyond that it has external audio capabilities, or refer back to using your church sound board as the audio source, using software encoders like OBS.  The Mevo Start also has great table or floor stand options.  For right at $1000, your church could even get 2 Mevo Starts for different angles and views of the sanctuary.  This review on Youtube was really helpful, although Mevo Start’s website offers several videos of their product that are useful as well.  It works both as a streaming and recording camera.  Additionally, Mevo Start offers a software encoder like OBS, but reviews for it aren’t as consistent as the reviews for the camera itself, and since it’s still compatible with OBS, that gives you options.

If you haven’t already tried OBS, which has been referenced throughout this article, check out this Youtuber explaining its benefits to churches, including multi-angle view switch and adding captions (think lyrics for hymns!) to your live stream.  It’s a very helpful step-by-step guide to using OBS to stream to Facebook.  Other software encoders like vMix may work for your congregation as well.

Hopefully if you’re new to the live streaming world or need a place to start, this has helped.  From this list, the most intuitive options seem to be either the Padcaster for iPads or the Mevo Start.   Later on, we’ll offer recommendations for larger budgets, as well as helpful resources to work with those options.  If you use any of these options and find them helpful, please let us know so we can spread the word!


Hope Montgomery

Hope Montgomery is the Cascadia District Online Consultant for local churches.

To email her, click here.


Related Videos:

Live Streaming on a Budget: Options under $1,000

Opening scene of video


Other Resources:

Local church learning sessions: Technology for worship, small groups and giving is a page on the UM Communications website with links to multiple articles about a variety of online church life functions.


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