How to livestream Masses or other liturgies on YouTube

I've been working on video streaming on a tight budget for years, and have scrambled to get live-streaming going for some liturgies on short notice, so I figured I'd put together a video showing a few options from 'cheap using what you already have' to 'a little more expensive but within a reasonable budget'. Note that if you plan on having regular video streams for the long term, it's better to invest in a proper streaming system with remote-controlled PTZ cameras and hard-wired connections.

All of the options in this post will require at least a smartphone or computer (laptop preferred) with a good WiFi connection. Ideally, you can also plug your phone or laptop into power so the battery doesn't run out in the middle of the stream

Streaming to YouTube or Periscope (or elsewhere) with a phone

The simplest setup I can think of is to grab your smartphone, grab a tripod, and mount the phone on the top using a smartphone tripod mount:

iPhone on Tripod for live streaming
A smartphone on a tripod lets you easily stream with Periscope, YouTube, or Twitch.

You can use YouTube's mobile app to stream live (if you already have a YouTube channel and meet the minimum requirements), or you can use Periscope, which doesn't have any restrictions for mobile streaming. Mount the phone on the tripod (use horizontal / landscape orientation for the best image), start the stream, and share the link with everyone via social media (and any other communication tools you have like Flocknote.

Streaming to YouTube with a Laptop

If streaming with YouTube on a laptop, log into your YouTube account and enable Live Streaming on your channel. You should do this ASAP (right now if you need to!) because you need to have a verified YouTube account (which can take time), and then you also need to create a test live stream (this first stream can take up to 24 hours to be ready; after that it's instant).

Once streaming is set up, you can do a simple 'webcam' stream using the webcam built into the laptop—or an external one mounted on a tripod or clipped to the laptop display:

Streaming setup with external USB webcam
A laptop with a webcam, sitting on a chair. Easiest option with decent quality.

I recommend either the Logitech StreamCam (which requires USB-C on your computer) or the Logitech Brio (which works with a variety of USB ports, so is better for older computers).

Note: Most of this equipment can be sourced from a local electronics store like Best Buy, if you can't get it shipped in time.

For the best picture and sound, especially if you don't have a congregation (sine populo), you can set the laptop on a pew or chair somewhere in the middle aisle, close to the sanctuary (check the framing using the webcam's software, making sure you cover the altar, lectern, and anywhere else the priest/celebrant will go), and use a tripod (any generic tripod will do in a pinch, like this one from Amazon) to give a more stable mounting point for the camera (many webcams have a 'tripod socket' in the base for this—both of the above-mentioned cameras do):

Streaming setup with external USB webcam on tripod
Mounting the webcam on a tripod makes for a better viewing angle.

External audio and OBS for better quality

The main thing that separates 'pro' level video from most other video is having good, clean audio. The video could look crisp and beautiful, but if you can barely hear the person speaking, or if the sound is distant and full of reverb, it's going to be hard to watch.

Most church sound systems have an audio output or headphone jack. If this is the case, you can run the audio from that output to the input of a laptop. Macs have a single audio jack that can be an input or output, but many PC laptops have a separate audio input, assuming you have a long enough audio cable to go from the sound system to the computer.

You might need to get some help from a sound person to get the right adapter(s) and cabling to get this set up (especially if the sound system is far from the laptop—interference could make the audio signal pretty bad too), but the sound alone makes a huge difference. A wireless A/V transmitter and receiver could work, unless your church is built with foot-thick masonry walls inside (if you do, most wireless options are kaput, so stick wired audio).

But to use a sound source separate from your webcam, you might also need to change the software you use to stream to YouTube (or Twitch, or Facebook, etc.). The most commonly-used free software for streaming is Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). You can download it for macOS, Windows, or Linux, and it's 100% free (developed as open source software by a community of developers).

Streaming setup with OBS
OBS gives you lots of control over streaming and lets you use a separate audio source.

I'm not going to cover the ins-and-outs of OBS here (Digital Trends put out a good guide here), but the main thing to know is you can configure OBS to stream with a camera for the video signal, and any audio input as the audio signal.

If you don't want to or can't get sound out of the church's built-in sound system, and have a wireless lavaliere microphone (I use and recommend this Audio-Technia PRO 88W system), and only one person (a priest or celebrant) is talking, then you could put the mic transmitter on the priest and plug the receiver directly into the laptop's input for sound.

Using a camera with zoom and clean HDMI output

If you have a camera like the Sony a6000 already, or another camera with "clean" HDMI output, you can plug it into your computer using an HDMI capture device like the Cam Link 4K. You can use better lenses (with zoom capabilities), and get sharp, professional-quality video using this setup (check out one of my videos using this kind of setup).

Streaming setup with external Sony a6000 with zoom lens on tripod
Using a better camera with a zoom lens gives pro-level video.

Camlink external HDMI streaming input
You can plug in any camera with HDMI output into a device like the Cam Link to use it in OBS or other streaming software.

You can also have more than one video input (either a webcam and the Cam Link, or even multiple Cam Links) and use OBS to transition between the two (or even have both split screen, though that's probably not a common use case for liturgies—there aren't instant replays or penalty boxes in a church!).

The downside with this approach is it starts getting expensive. Instead of a laptop and webcam (which you probably already have), you now need a camera, an HDMI adapter, and a Cam Link. And the camera battery probably won't last too long (20-30 minutes tops), so you'd have to figure out a way to power it externally (with my Sony a6000 I use this power supply).

If you go with multiple cameras, you can have one with a zoom lens (even the simple zoom lens like a Sony 55-210mm lens is adequate indoors with okay lighting) on a tripod (ideally with a fluid pan-and-tilt video head—I use this one, which is built like a tank), and another with a wide-angle lens that is zoomed out on the entire sanctuary area. An operator can then use the zoom/pan/tilt camera to focus in on the current action (e.g. at the altar, the lectern, or the presider's chair, as needed), and use OBS 'scenes' to transition between that camera and the wide angle when the presider moves around.

If you have any questions about this setup, or want to share what you're doing to stream liturgies, please leave a comment below!


Someone mentioned in an email:

We have no video equipment. Our audio system is a Peavey FX2-24 board with separate amplifiers for our sanctuary speakers.

Would we able to run a 1/4" Cord from the headphone jack of our board into the iXZ and use that in the proper jack of her I-Phone? The headphone output port does have a separate level control. It would be helpful to split that signal so our sound person could monitor what is going out.

I responded with: Yes! The Tascam iXZ (which I reviewed here) should be able to take the headphone output from the board and get it into the iPhone or another smartphone (assuming it has a built-in headset jack, or you have the Lightning-to-headset jack adapter cable).

The iXZ should be set to 'guitar' mode, with phantom power 'off', and then play around with the levels coming from the headphone jack and on the iXZ itself to ensure the best sound quality. You will definitely need to do a couple tests (even just using the built in Camera app) to check the sound levels and make sure there's no hum or buzz (lower quality cables or cables that are very long or near power equipment can cause this).

If you also need to provide power to the phone while recording and its a newer iPhone with Lightning port only, you can still charge while passing in audio with something like the Belkin btWHT 3.5mm Audio + Charge Rockstar adapter.