Case Study: Dalziel St. Andrew's Parish Church, Motherwell
In Motherwell: Dalziel St. Andrew's Parish Church we have been live streaming our worship services since the summer of 2012. In addition to this, each week we record our services and upload them to our YouTube Channel. Over the past six years, we would estimate that we have now had a total of almost 100,000 views on this channel, and have connected with people from more than 100 distinct nations around the world.
It is fair to say that the interest generated in what we produce has gone way beyond our initial expectations, and been such a blessing to so many folk in a range of different circumstances. For example, a number of young families, who have come into membership with us in recent years, tell us that they have often already viewed what we do via the Internet even before they walk through the doors of our sanctuary to worship with us in person.
We have also been pleased to facilitate a live link during worship with family members in places such as Australia and Canada, thus enabling those living at a distance to share in worship at events such as baptisms and funeral services.
We will always be indebted to Neil MacLennan from Sanctus Media, based within Bo'ness: St. Andrew's Parish Church, who gave us invaluable advice on set-up, and has continued to be wonderfully supportive throughout. It would be useful for other congregations who are considering live streaming to be in touch with Neil. At the same time, we would be more than happy for you to contact us, to come and see what we do (details below), and to chat with us in person. Neil also assisted us as we sought a good A.V. supplier when he acted in an advisory capacity as three competing firms were invited for interview. It must be stressed how important it is to secure a reliable system which will be maintained and, as required, expanded with the passage of time.
Of great importance is the preparatory phase when the A.V. system is being considered. We secured benefit from visiting other churches which utilize A.V. and drew on their experiences as we developed the design options for ours. Our system uses 13 screens which suits the configuration and size of our sanctuary. We believe the live streaming allows us to display the interior to good advantage.
For what it may be worth to others, here are a few of the things we have learned along the way, in no particular order of importance:
Rather obvious, but crucial nonetheless, a reliable broadband connection is essential within the areas where streaming will be taking place. We have had to review this, as our service needs have developed. It is important, however, to note that people viewing remotely may not enjoy a particularly fast broadband connection and thus to be careful not just to broadcast your stream at the highest rate you can.
It is also important to respect the privacy of individuals. From the start, we made it clear that there are certain areas in our sanctuary where people would be out of view from our cameras. Through mounting large signs at front and rear entry to our church buildings, we indicated that all worship services would be filmed and uploaded to the Internet, and spelled out where the "non visible" areas are in our sanctuary.
On the subject of cameras: buy the best you can afford at the time. We did. But, we have recently upgraded these to HD quality, and the difference is remarkable. Remember that tech is constantly changing, and there is a necessity, once you start down this road, to keep on improving, which comes at a price.
Also, more than one camera is useful (we now have four - with one dedicated for use by BSL interpreter), as it gives a varied range of shots, and makes the final product far more interesting to watch than just a single view. In addition, we have found that a close shot of the preacher's head and shoulders, rather than at a distance, is helpful to viewers. This is especially true for those who may be lip-reading. But, it is also something that others tell us they find makes the whole experience more personal and involved.
We provide a CHAT box, just to the side of our live stream. This means that those who are watching live can interact with our tech team. We enjoy the functionality to show the camera shots through the screens within our sanctuary. We use this feature during infant baptisms as it allows the whole congregation, regardless of where they are seated, to share in the sacrament more closely. On the first occasion this was shown one member (aged 95) commented that her failing eyesight meant this was the first occasion in many years she had been able to fully appreciate the baptismal ceremony.
Overall, we have a team of 16 folk who are trained in the use of sound desk, cameras, streaming and visuals, with three or four on duty each Sunday at the tech desk to make it all happen. It has been interesting to see how a number of folk have shown an interest in this area of service. Whilst a range of ages are involved, it is especially pleasing to see some of the young folk from our church family getting on board. Coupled with live streaming, we find that promotion through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, helps to build a wider "audience."
So, who watches our services, either live or on catch-up at YouTube? A number of people who are no longer able to attend worship including those who are ill, either long- or short-term, from our own congregation and from a wider denominational context, who find it helpful to worship alongside a real community of faith. Sometimes, we have found that the folk are confined to their own home, and on other occasions, we have had messages from people in hospital, both near and far.
There is also a community of around 30 residents in a local nursing home who worship with us via the Internet every week. One of our members is employed as their activities coordinator, and she arranges for everything to be set up in the lounge of the nursing home, where the old folk can sing along with the hymns and listen to the prayers, Bible reading and sermon.
Furthermore, a small village church in rural Perthshire, where they find it difficult to get a regular preacher, contacted us. With our permission, they use our filmed sermons during their services of worship each Sunday. Last year, a teenager in Pakistan got in touch. He had been converted to Christianity, but could not easily access Christian worship and teaching at a local level. Via email, we have tried to support him through his growth in faith. Many of our own members keep in touch with us, even when they are on holiday, ensuring they have continuity through the teaching series that we follow. As we regard those who join us online as part of our congregation, we hope soon to appoint an Elder whose responsibility it would be to keep in touch regularly with many who have contacted us.
Since the start of May 2016, we have been offering two separate live streams, one of which is focused on serving the community of deaf and hearing-impaired people. This shows an interpreter for British Sign Language (BSL), along with subtitles, which come from an Electronic Notetaker, who produces a near-verbatim commentary on everything said and done during our worship every Sunday. Initial feedback we have received indicates how much this particular service is appreciated. At present, we have funding to run the pilot project for twelve months, but we are already trying to put in place a team of local folk who may be able to carry it forward following that initial period.
The capacity to view recordings of the worship service has also assisted in the training and formation of those training for the ministry. It provides a facility whereby a student or supervisor can watch the service again, potentially picking up on things missed during the live event. It also helps in honing presentation skills. The service leader can watch the recording of their "performance" and consider how they might improve or do things differently the next time he or she has the opportunity to lead worship.
May I reiterate what a privilege it is to be involved in this ministry via digital technology, and say that we would welcome any approaches from those looking for advice and help to set up their own system of live streaming. Links, which may be useful:
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