220px-PearlJam-Ten2The internet has been good for the local church, many of which who have used the technology to share who they are with any and all who might find them on the web.

“Live streaming” has created a unique opportunity for churches to allow folks to view archived services in real time on the screen of their choosing. But I’m not sure it’s always a good thing.

I’ve got friends who live stream their worship services – good, talented, Godly people who are abundantly gifted. My thoughts below aren’t a slam on these folks, but rather some things I’ve realized about live streaming that make it a non-option for the place I lead.

Long-time readers will know I have a love/hate relationship with CCLI, but the law is pretty clear. You can’t broadcast other people’s music without getting (read: paying for) permission to do that. I think there are much better uses for the worship budget than buying licensing for live streaming. Wondering how many streaming churches actually have acquired licensing.

I don’t mean it doesn’t actually work (although, more often than not, the stream is inconsistent.) Here’s what I mean…I don’t think it draws people. The common reasoning for streaming is that people will see the stream and then come check out the church. But I don’t think that happens very often. (Primarily because of reason #1 in the list below.) Big churches who can afford to build their own streaming system probably have more success, but I don’t think small to mid-sized churches are packing the pews with stream viewers.

Even if you’re not editing the broadcast, it still takes a lot of work to maintain the feed, make sure info on the site is correct, update services, etc. For most of us, tech duties are handled by volunteers. And many of those volunteers are already swamped with their current responsibilities. We increase the workload for a yield that’s not really proven.

Live stream can be a budgeting black hole. Within 10 minutes of broadcasting on one of the free streaming services, you’ll see ads. Lots of ads. And some of them may be advertising stuff your church doesn’t really dig. What’s more, sooner or later, somebody’s gonna’ say, “Well, if we buy this $3,000 video switcher, our stream will get really good.” Maybe so. But a lot of churches don’t have an extra 3k to spend.

Church isn’t hearing music and watching a guy talk. I could get that anywhere. Church is about gathering with your family to honor God. I don’t think church should be something you just click on gaze at. It should be something you go to. It should be an act of sacrifice and “showing up.” Live stream subverts that idea in a culture that already doesn’t think going to church is all that important.

I don’t care how good your cameras are or if you use a broadcast truck to do the whole thing. The coolest, best things in church happen in the church. You don’t hear the little old lady on the back row singing four octaves higher than everyone else on a live stream. You don’t get to serve in children’s ministry sitting in your living room. Church is good. You hear me? It’s good. The internet version pales.

Worship leaders, musicians and technicians have a hard enough time showing up prepared, focused and with the right attitude. It seems kinda’ dumb to add this show biz element of a new pressure to make we look and sound great for those folks watching. (Again…see number 1.)

I’m guessing some folks pick up a Bible and follow the sermon, but I’m betting not many of them sing along with a live stream or participate in congregational readings. And I’m not sure it’s a good thing to have a bunch of people analyzing every pixel and decibel of our worship set as a spectator. I think God clearly instructs us to admonish one another with our singing…not to be a bunch of observers.

You know that thing about camera adding 10 lbs? That’s true. And again, unless you’ve dropped some serious coin on capturing the service video, live streams are poor quality. In an age of HD television in our homes and next-generation movie theaters, the live stream is a big step back.

There’s a reason why live records aren’t really live. “Direct” sound (without natural ambience) is a “flat” sound that can easily distort. Take a whole bunch of those direct signals and then compress them even further so they can be uploaded and downloaded quickly and you learn an terrible lesson – live recordings do not sound good. And if I put all my hopes on people coming to my church because of the music they heard, I’m gonna’ be really confused when nobody shows up.



  1. Kelly Perkins

    I am so glad to see that someone agrees with me on this subject! We record, directly off the board, our Worship and it sounds flat and dead, no matter how great it sounded live. I never saw a live stream that excited me in the very least.

  2. Pingback: To Stream Or Not To Stream? | Worship Links
  3. Jameson Reynolds

    Thanks for sharing, really loved this post. This is a lot of what I have been thinking for a while now. So often in the church something new and shiny comes along and every church feels like they need to do/replicate something because everyone else is doing it. It’s good to always just ask “why”.

    • toddwright

      Thanks for checking out the site, Jameson. You’re right – there really is a weird subculture thing when it comes to church music. Are you a worship leader?

      • Jameson Reynolds

        Yes I am! I serve at South Community Church in Tulsa (www.scctulsa.com). It’s a tough trap to be mindful of. Sometimes everybody is doing something because it works, but sometimes everybody is doing something because it’s new or trendy.

      • toddwright

        Used to have friends in Broken Arrow, always loved being in Tulsa. Cool town…lots of churches there!

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