Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches were livestreaming their services to audiences at home and away. The COVID shutdown forced many more churches to offer online worship—but without the benefit of live audiences, many churches opted to offer pre-recorded services.

Now that in-person worship is back, churches are faced with the option of continuing pre-recorded services of livestreaming their in-person services. Which is best for your church?

Pre-Recording Worship: Pros and Cons

Many churches moved to pre-recorded services during COVID. A pre-recorded service is one where you record individual pieces of a service ahead of time and assemble them together into a single production that you stream online for viewers. Some churches pre-record their services using smartphone cameras in their pastors’ living rooms. Others use sophisticated recording and production equipment and effects, including green screens, music video collages, multiple camera angles, transition effects, and more.

Pros of Pre-Recorded Services

There are many advantages to pre-recording your worship services each week. These include:

  • You can tailor the presentation to the medium. Instead of recording one person standing in the middle of the stage, you can shake things up by recording in front of a green screen background, shooting outdoors, adding special effects, and more. Think of it as producing an online variety show, where you use a variety of shots and techniques to get across your message.
  • You can fine-tune your services for home viewers. Online viewers have short attention spans, which means cutting back the amount of music and extraneous material you offer online. You may even want to shorten the sermons so that home viewers get a concise 30-40 minute experience.
  • You can provide better-quality audio and video. Since you’re not relying on a single live performance, you have the time to record higher-quality video with better lighting, as well as shoot multiple takes and go back and fix your mistakes. You can also take the time to professionally mix your audio (especially your music) so that it sounds better.
  • Viewers can watch when they want. Instead of being forced to watch a livestream service at a given time when you’re doing it live, online worshippers can access pre-recorded services at any time via Facebook or YouTube.

Cons of Pre-Recorded Services

There are also some disadvantages to pre-recording your online worship, including:

  • It takes a lot of time and effort. To do it right, you may have to invest in new hardware and supporting equipment, such as teleprompters and microphones. You also need a staff with enough time during the week to do the recording as well as all the post-production audio and video mixing. It’s a lot of work and can be costly.
  • It’s not interactive. Watching a pre-recorded service in your living room just isn’t the same as being there in church with the rest of the congregation. It may be more convenient but it’s not as engaging.
  • It doesn’t create a sense of community. Sitting in the sanctuary with hundreds of other worshippers creates a sense of community that isn’t possible when people view your services alone in their living rooms. It’s difficult to get people to commit to your church, your message, and your programs when they’re not there in your building.

Livestreaming Worship: Pros and Cons

Livestreaming involves setting up one or more cameras and streaming your in-person services live over the Internet. You don’t have to record anything in advance and your home viewers experience the exact same service as the people in your worship space.

Pros of Livestreaming Worship

There are many advantages to livestreaming your worship services, including:

  • It takes less effort than pre-recording. The number-one reason many churches are moving from pre-recorded services to livestreaming is because once you get it set up, livestreaming takes less effort each week than it does to pre-record a program. You may need to put an extra body in the booth to mange the livestream—and, depending on how many and what kinds of cameras you use, you may need a camera operator or two—but overall, livestreaming is just an adjunct to your regular church services. Nobody has to spend any time during the week recording and mixing. It’s all done during your live services.
  • It creates a shared experience. Unlike pre-recorded services, which some people find sterile, livestreaming provides viewers with the exact same experience they would get if they were there in person. The in-home experience isn’t a different one; all your members, wherever they’re at, share the same experience.
  • It makes absent members fell like they’re there. Many people watch online services because they can’t make it in person—maybe they’re sick or infirm or traveling. Watching a livestream is different from watching a pre-recorded service, in that it gives viewers a good sense of what’s actually happening in your building. Absent members will feel less like they’re missing out.

Cons of Livestreaming Worship

There are some drawbacks to choosing livestreaming. These include:

  • It’s not cheap. While livestreaming might require fewer resources each week, it’s not free. You may need to invest in new cameras and production equipment to offer the best possible audio and video experience to your home viewers.
  • Live services aren’t ideally suitable to watching at home. Participating in church in person vs. watching at home is a bit like the difference between watching your favorite artist live in concert vs. watching a concert film. You construct your church service with in-person attendees in mind, and that experience isn’t quite the same when livestreamed. This is especially true if you shoot with a limited number of cameras and camera angles, which can quickly get boring for your home viewers.
  • It could put a strain on your website. If you livestream your services on your own website, you’ll see a peak in traffic during worship time that far exceeds your normal daily load. Unlike pre-recorded services that people can watch throughout the week, most livestreamed services go live at a set time each week. That’s when people watch, and it could overload your servers.
  • Technical difficulties could shut you down. Unlike pre-recorded services that give you time to edit out your mistakes, everything that happens live goes out live in a livestreamed service—even your flubs. And if you experience any technical difficulties, there’s no stopping to fix them. A glitch in the livestream can knock you offline until next week.

Online Giving for Both Livestreamed and Pre-Recorded Services

As you can see, there’s no easy one-size-fits-all solution for churches trying to choose between livestreamed and pre-recorded online services. Pre-recorded services offer a slicker presentation better suited for home viewing, but livestreamed services offer home viewers an experience much closer to what they’d get in-person. And while livestreamed services don’t require the same amount of time spent during the week, they might need an extra body or two to produce things on Sunday morning.

Whichever type of online service you opt for, you need to include a strong call for giving—and means for viewers to give from the comfort of their own homes. In pre-recorded services, that means producing a short segment about giving online, accompanied by an onscreen graphic with links to the giving page on your website and your mobile giving number. With livestreamed services, you need to make sure your pastors or staff specifically mention online giving when they’re talking to the in-person congregation.

In both instances, you need to support online giving with a full-featured digital giving solution, such as the Give Back Gateway platform from Higher Standards. Give Back Gateway includes both web-based and text-based giving that you can incorporate in your online worship services. It’s easy to set up and easy for both you and your churchgoers to use. Contact us today to learn more about how Give Back Gateway can help increase your church’s online giving.