Bringing Church to the people (or People to the church)

I believe it is fair to say that the original motivation for a lot of church sound systems was the capability to record services to cassette, which could then be distributed to the housebound, the ill and others who might be interested.  As a social mechanism for inclusion of community members who may otherwise be marginalised, it is a practice of considerable merit (although I suspect that you had to physically deliver a cassette tape in person might be a contributing contributor to this).  Cassette tapes have died the death of technological obsolescence, but there are still churches who effectively continue these principles with equivalent modern technologies.

So, it was of interest to me to come across a Facebook post from a person asking to for advice on how to use technology to flip this idea on its head.  Rather than asking how can we share what we do in worship with those who can’t be present; but instead, how can we assist those who can’t be present to contribute to and participate in what we do in worship.  So, this being a technology column, let’s look at some ways to do this.

Technologically, we can categorise suitable methods as audio-only vs audio-video, or as pre-recorded vs “live”.  There are many options available, but the solutions I indicate below are based on real situations and products I know work – this is not to suggest there are no other ways this can be done.  I’ve assumed that your playback location has a sound system built-in, and a projector or video display for video, but there is no requirement for this – there are portable solutions available at low or moderate cost if required, provided care is taken to consider the requirements inherent in the size of the venue.

Pre-recorded audio-only and audio-video

This is potentially the simplest way to start including others.  There are many devices now to record digital audio – a smartphone usually being the easiest to get hold of.  Place the device on a solid surface or tripod if you can in front of the person speaking – resist the urge to hold it in your hand – and use a recording app.  The built-in one will usually be fine, but there are lots of options, both paid and free.  For video recordings, make sure the subject is well lit, particularly the face.  Place the camera lens at the same level as the subject’s face and remember that for speech, close-ups are more effective than long shots (especially when relying on built-in microphones).  Sometimes, the easiest way to capture audio for audio-only play back is to make a video recording.

Having made your recording, the recording file needs to be transferred to the playback device, usually a computer.  If you must remove that unfortunate moment when the fire engine went past, use editing software to trim to suit.  Audacity is a good free program for this for audio, and I tend to use VLC for video.  I also use Camtasia but it comes at a cost.  Also, NCH have a range of good audio and video programs on a free-to-try basis, with very reasonable pricing if you decide you like it.  Depending on your final playback platform you may need to convert the file from the recorded format to a format compatible for your playback system – most editing programs allow at least some degree of format conversion, but there are also dedicated conversion programs available.  Often, embedding the audio or video in a power-point slide is the easiest way

Live audio-only and audio-video

The principles of capturing a recording is fundamentally the same as for Pre-recorded – you just won’t have the opportunity to do any editing or format conversion – get it right first time!  You will need to have some form of reasonable network connection to your venue though.  Packages include Skype or Zoom. (as used for recent conferences) is also a moderately priced option.  Essentially, you use the solution to “make a phone call” from the reader to the venue.  This can be answered directly, but a slightly more elegant solution would be to provide a video-switcher at the venue so that the call can be placed and/or answered and everything made ready before the call is displayed to the audience.

I’d love to hear about what you are doing.


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