Making virtual Sunday services possible for a small church

Read more about the church and the video system Novatoo installed in Technologies for Worship Magazine

Novatoo helps a small, but growing congregation afford professional video 

An online Sunday service is becoming a necessity for any church that hopes to grow or better serve its congregation, says Tina Shelton, Pastor of the Community United Methodist Church of South Elgin, Illinois (CUMC).

“If someone gets get sick, or goes out of town, or travels south for the winter, they don’t have to miss the service,” she explains.

“We’re finding, too, that many people will visit us online before they visit in person.”

It turns out that many, in shopping for a new church, are uncomfortable visiting multiple congregations, and prefer to narrow their choices, where they can, by viewing services online. For that reason, Pastor Shelton is convinced that a good, professional video service is a necessity if a church wants to grow.

The problem, though, is that professional video systems are very expensive, beyond the means of smaller congregations like CUMC.

Yet Novatoo was able to help Pastor Shelton with an affordable, yet powerful system notable for its remarkable simplicity. 

 

Rental, staging, and church production 

To understand how that was possible, it may help to understand the relationship between Tim Novak, founder and owner of Novatoo Audio Visual, and Dave Jedlicka of Source One Media Group.

The pair first met in 2019 and realized they had complementary skills and work forces. Novatoo is strongest in the rental, staging and installation of presentation systems used for live events, while Source One does more with broadcast and streaming setups.

When they work together, as they frequently do, they may set up a traveling show with a keynote session for 5,000 or more, plus 10 or 12 breakout rooms and an online audience of thousands more.

In staging shows like these, Jedlicka created a simple, digital solution for live video production and streaming. It consists of a Microsoft Windows IIS server running vMix video production software, plus two IP network cards.

One card is connected to the cameras, microphones, projectors and sound systems his crew would set up at each venue, and the other to the Internet. To avoid common problems with online platforms like Facebook or YouTube, Jedlicka connects his servers directly to the Microsoft Content Delivery Network, or CDN, and the CDN pushes his content out to anyone who wants to connect online.

Because vMix can handle up to 1,000 video and audio inputs and an unlimited number of camera presets, and the Microsoft CDN literally millions of viewers, the setup it was ideal for any size show and venue.

To help Pastor Shelton, Jedlicka and Novak simply built a smaller version of this server, installing it with two robotic PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) cameras and connecting it to the church’s existing network, sound board, and the computer they use to generate announcements and hymn lyrics.

In doing so, they were able to save 30% or more of the cost of a traditional video system of comparable quality.

 

Run by novices

But cost is only part of the problem for a small congregation. They system had to be operated by volunteers, and there was no guarantee that there would be people available who had any experience with video production.

To make that possible, Jedlicka wrote a script for the Windows server that opens vMix, connects to the CDN, automatically begins streaming a welcome message, and automatically records the service. He also built a script for novice users that automates the cameras, switching from shot to shot smoothly with only a single button to push.

The system is so easy to use that Pastor Shelton was able to put two teenage volunteers in charge. As they have gained experience, they’ve been able to take on some of the more sophisticated capabilities of the software, but the novice script remains available should she break in someone new.

Once the service is over, the volunteers upload the recording to the church’s YouTube channel, which is linked to the website, southelginumc.org.

“It’s been great to have this system,” Pastor Shelton says. “It’s helping us to bring in new people, and it’s made us more consistently able to serve our long-term members.

“Novatoo made it possible for us to do this.”