I want to introduce a new feature here on FaithEngineer. From time to time I am planning on doing some church technology tutorials. I have stumbled and fumbled my way through learning how to do some things that could help churches on a shoestring budget. My heart really goes out to small churches in rural areas like the one I attend. Typically one person has to be proficient in the sound system, the video projection system (if you have one), and the church website. Our church wanted to provide our sermons online for members who were traveling or were unable to attend. Since we currently have no full-time staff, we wanted a solution that was easy to setup and easy to maintain. I have pulled together the programs, services, and websites we use and my hope is that this will assist other churches who want to reach beyond their four walls into all the world through technology. I will concentrate here on just doing the sermon because of the tricky copyright issues you get into when recording music. I will also just concentrate on sermon audio, even though these same programs and services can be used for video at an additional cost.
Let’s break it down into 3 main steps. Recording the message, uploading the sermon file to the internet, and creating the podcast from a RSS feed.
Step 1: Record the message
Churches typically have several options here. The best way to get the sound is straight from the source, the soundboard. You can …
- Record with a computer: You can run a cable from your soundboard directly to a microphone or line-in jack on a desktop or laptop computer to record. Then using recording software such as the free program Audacity, you can record the message directly to a .wav file. After you finish recording, you can export the song as a mp3 file. In order to keep file sizes down to a minimum, I have found that using a bit rate of 32 kbps in mono works well for sermons. It gives you very intelligible speech and keeps the file size small.
- Record with a CD-burner: Our church has a rack-mounted CD burner, the
Tascam CD-RW750. We run one of our auxillary sends from the soundboard to the CD-burner so we can mix it differently from the main speaker mix. When the sermon is over, we start duplicating the CD in a CD Duplicator Tower so that by the end of the service we have CD’s available for all of our Children’s Ministry workers and we also make extra for people to take and give away. Once you have the sermon on a CD, you need to transfer the message to a mp3 file using iTunes, Windows Media Player, or another CD ripping program. Again I have found that ripping the CD using a bit rate of 32 kbps in mono works well for sermons.
- Record with a mp3 player/recorder: On occasion, I have used a mp3 player that has recording capabilities. I have an iRiver iFP 780T MP3 Player, which is only $71 currently on Amazon. Although it doesn’t have much memory, it is perfect for recording sermons. The cool aspect of this particular player is that it can record in two different ways. You can just start recording before the service and set it on the preacher’s podium and it will pick up great. The sound quality is amazing on this thing, and did I mention that it is very small and inconspicuous. The other way to record is directly from the sound board. It features a line-in jack so that you can run a cable straight from the sound board and record directly to the mp3 player. After the service you can just transfer the mp3 file to your computer. Easy, fast, and cheap.
Step 2: Upload the message to the internet
This is the part where people usually get nervous. Fortunately there are several new free services popping up to help you get started. I will talk about two here that I have played with, SermonCloud and SermonPlayer. If your church has a website, but you don’t want to worry about storage space and monthly bandwidth and hosting requirements, then these services are just for you. Both sites offer streaming and download of mp3 files.
SermonPlayer is another new service that looks promising. It is very similar to SermonCloud in how you upload your files to their web servers. The main difference is that SermonPlayer provides a player to integrate into your website so that people do not have to leave your site to listen to the sermons. They also do not provide a searchable index to all of the sermons from different churches, although you can search through sermons from your church. Since each church is pretty much limited to their own sermons, this may or may not be what you are looking for. The player is really clean and modern looking. Each time you upload a sermon, it is automatically shown in the player window, which is shown here. The player allows you to download sermon notes, stream the mp3 file for immediate listening, or download the mp3 file to transfer to your mp3 player. The player also has a Bible window so that you can look through the Scripture while listening. Their Pricing Information shows that your first year is free. After that if you want to continue using their service, the fee is $25 per month. They will not remove your messages even after 1 year, so you can try before you buy. They also have a good flash demo of their service on their webpage.
Step 3: Create the feed and submit the podcast information
We live in an iPod world. One of the easiest ways to get your sermon out to your congregation is using a podcast. Users can subscribe to your podcast and have each week’s sermon automatically downloaded to their iPod. People can search in the iTunes store to find your church and/or sermon topic. In order to create your podcast in iTunes, you must start with a RSS feed. Luckily, both SermonCloud and SermonPlayer create RSS feeds for you automatically. The RSS feed contains the information about each one of your sermons. The feed is updated each time you upload a sermon, so you don’t have to worry about keeping it updated. The feed contains the description, the preacher, the link back to the mp3 file, and any other information you want to provide. You could take the RSS feed and submit it directly to iTunes(more on how to do that later), but I recommend running it through a feed service first.
I use FeedBurner and have been impressed by it. It cleans up the feed and formats it specifically for iTunes. It also adds many options including the ability to track your subscribers. You can choose the iTunes Category that your podcast will be listed in. The other big advantage to using FeedBurner is that if you ever change sermon hosting providers you won’t have to change anything for iTunes. You can simply go to FeedBurner and set your feed to pull from another source. And did I mention it’s free, and easy. So hopefully you see that it is not all that complicated to record, upload, and distribute your sermons online. There is only one last thing to discuss, and that is how you submit your new feed from FeedBurner into iTunes.
To add your feed to iTunes, go to the iTunes music store in the iTunes program, select podcasts to go to the main podcast page. At the lower left corner, hit submit podcast. It will take several days for your podcast to show up in iTunes. One more thing to remember is that it is very hard to remove a podcast from iTunes, so make sure you have everything right before you hit submit.
If you have found this through a search, then hopefully I have answered some questions for you. Please leave comments and ideas as well. I would like to do some tutorials for other church tech related topics as well. Please feel free to leave suggestions on what to do next. Let’s redeem the technology of the internet and use it to promote God’s Word throughout the world. I’m excited about the opportunities that churches now have. I hope you are too!