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Should a Church Live Stream or Pre-Tape? Which Is Better?

One big question I’m getting from pastors and church communication leaders is the question of live-streaming versus pre-taping. Although we call it “live streaming” does that mean it has to actually be live? Especially if you have multiple cameras, and a video editing capability, is it better to pre-tape the message in advance?

Here’s what to think about:

1. Viewer numbers and participation: Which is better for the audience – live or pre-taped? I’ve not seen any data that proves either way is better. Innovation leader and pastor Bobby Gruenewald at Life.Church told me that the only time they prefer “live” is when something like a Q&A is involved and Pastor Craig Groeschel wants to take questions from the viewers, or perhaps when they have a “worship night” event. Otherwise, their live stream is so complex, with so many moving parts, their team prefers to pre-tape it during the week and play it back on Sunday.

Others like the feeling of capturing a live event and feel there is a certain energy from putting everything on the line. Plus, if the pastor has a last minute change in the message, or an important announcement happens at the last minute, then live is the way to go.

Bottom Line: It really doesn’t matter. Most viewers have no idea if you’re live or not.

2. What about mistakes? Technology is technology and often screws up. Plus, camera operators sometimes make mistakes and lighting can have issues. My suggestion is that if you have multiple aspects to your live stream that doesn’t come from the sanctuary – a video to be rolled in, or a special report from another part of the campus, then doing it live can be tricky.

Bottom Line: That’s up to you. The more complex the service or program, then I’d slant toward pre-taping and editing. However, if you don’t have an editing capability, then going live is obviously better. Plus, Bobby Gruenewald mentioned that while their largest single viewing audience is the one that watches during the normal Sunday worship time, since they play the service back up to 80 times the following week, far more cumulatively watch the service during those taped playbacks.

Conclusion: Do what’s most comfortable for you. The audience doesn’t really know, and you don’t want a major mistake with technology or execution causing people to tune out. I personally like live events because of the energy and putting everything on the line. Plus, if you have a small media team, live is much easier to execute.

Another consideration is special services like Easter. Chances are, you’re planning a more ambitious service for Easter, so that’s a really good time to consider pre-taping and playing it back on Sunday morning.

But don’t ever let anyone criticize because you’re not “live.” I’ve seen far too many people accept Christ or even receive healing from a pre-taped broadcast to know that God can work anytime He wants.

The most important thing is to get the message out there!

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3 Comments

  1. As I sit in my church’s control room playing back our pre-recorded service, I think that either one could work as well. We were Live/Live last weekend and we are pre-recorded this weekend. There’s been no difference in viewers or the live reactions on our website and on Facebook.

    I prefer recording in advance, mainly because of the flexibility of getting musicians, speakers and production volunteers at different times. It takes 15 to record the music portion but only 3 to do the message. Our staff can record the message during the day and use volunteers for the music time.

    It gives us a bit of time to cleanup mistakes, if need be, and it relieves the stress of actually going live to a camera instead of a service. To be honest, many of our most experienced worship leaders were pretty stressed about doing a service live to an empty room and speaking to nothing but a camera. When we recorded last week for this weekend, the stress level was down about 75% from the previous week. I can also playback a redundant recorded service In case of playback problems with the prime.

    So your answer was absolutely correct! Do whatever works best for you.

    1. That’s great to hear Mark! Thanks for the update! Keep us posted on how you’re doing over the next few weeks.

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