Livestreaming in a Time of Coronavirus with Facebook Live

Mar 16, 2020 11:10:23 AM / by Rev. Clint Schnekloth

Churches across the world are working to discover how to express and preserve our community in Christ in a time when various government agencies have asked us to limit contact in order to protect the vulnerable among us. 

Rev. Clint Schnekloth is sharing some of the ways that he has made this possible in his congregation. , You can view his other posts in this series: podcasting sermons, remote Sunday school and Bible study, and pastoral visitation during social distancing.

Visit the ELCA's Public Health website for updated resources on this rapidly unfolding situation.

You have followed CDC guidelines and canceled large gatherings at church for a number of weeks. You are relatively new to recording and streaming worship and are looking for simple advice on getting started.

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s start with Facebook Live, as it is the simplest of the simplest.

In 2018 Facebook launched a Live option on phones and mobile devices. More recently, they expanded Live to computers as well.

You can broadcast Live video from your personal profile, and you can also broadcast Live video from your Page. The method for doing each is different, as is the reach.

If you only have a personal profile on Facebook, you need to use a mobile device. Use either your own phone or someone else’s. Just under “What’s on your mind?” in the status update box is a button with the image of a camera that says, “Live.” Tap this. The phone will immediately access your camera. Give the broadcast a brief description, click the camera at the top with the circular arrows to aim the camera the direction you need, hold the camera close enough to what you’re recording, and “go live.”

If you have a congregational Page, navigate to the page. Just under your banner, there’s a series of buttons next to the word “Create.” Click “Live.” You will need to be using the Google Chrome browser. Once the browser accesses your camera, you will see a column on the right next to the screen/video. Give your post a title. Select where you want the broadcast to stream. You can choose your own personal profile, your page, a group connected to the page, or even inside an event. You can also say something about your broadcast before it goes live, which is a chance to invite comments, questions, etc. during the Livestream.

Once you are Live, your work has really just begun. Those who interact with the broadcast will have a comments section available to them. They can “like” or “love” your broadcast. They can also post comments, and often they will. They might post prayer requests. They might post responses to your sermon. Be prepared to either respond yourself (if you are broadcasting solo) or consider recruiting someone else to be active on the live broadcast using another device in order to respond to comments.

Now, what about the content of your Livestream?

Well, first of all, remember to maintain best practices for health during the pandemic. Stay healthy.

There are so many ways to do this next part; a lot of it will be up to the individual creativity of pastors and congregations. This past Sunday, for example, our congregation did our first Facebook Live from worship. Until this weekend, we had focused on podcasts of the sermon (which I actually prefer when the broadcast isn’t live), but we decided to try Facebook Live because of the prohibition of large group gatherings by the CDC.

So here’s how I did it. I just set my laptop on the lectern. Once live, I waved at viewers and smiled big; then we started with the Apostolic greeting and prayer of the day. We had some special music from our bells choir, so I simply carried the laptop over near the bells and focused the camera on them. Once back at the lectern, we had a lector read the lessons, and then I stepped back in front of the camera to read the gospel and preach the sermon.

Because the laptop is directly on the lectern, the audio quality is good and the camera work is stable. It’s definitely “lo-fi,” but then, that’s a whole sub-culture of broadcasting and music, so people are familiar with it, and they may find it even more accessible than broadcasts with higher production values.

After the sermon, we read the prayers of the church and tried to incorporate prayers that were posted in the comments. We concluded with special music from our organist, then a Trinitarian blessing.

After the broadcast (and actually even during it), we did a couple of other things. I experimented with hosting a “Watch Party” from my own personal profile. This meant people were viewing the Live broadcast on our church page also from my Watch Party. If you do this, I recommend someone monitor both chat threads, the one under the broadcast and the one under the Watch Party, because comments aren’t consolidated, and there were some prayer requests on the watch party I overlooked during the Live broadcast.

We maxed out at about 55 live viewers (Facebook Live broadcasts keep a running tally of how many people are watching), and so far, 24 hours later, we’ve had about 1200 viewers of the worship service online. You can increase the reach of your broadcast by sharing it in various venues: on your own personal profile, in your church Facebook group, to other pages you manage, or even copying the link to the recording of your livestream in an e-mail to the congregation.

We’ve been surprised by how creatively our people have engaged the livestream. Families gave their children Play-Doh in order to have a hands-on activity while worship was happening. The Play-Doh creations included “Social Distancing at the Well,” “Toilet Paper. Water. Christ. Love,” and “Baby Easter Egg Jesus.”

Although Facebook is a proprietary platform, as long as you have your personal post set to “public” or you post on your page, your Livestream will be available even to non-Facebook users.

Topics: technology, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Social distancing

Rev. Clint Schnekloth

Written by Rev. Clint Schnekloth

Clint Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas; chairman of the board for Canopy NWA, Arkansas’s refugee resettlement organization; blogs at Patheos; and is the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Transmedia Era.

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