Church Streaming Debate: Recording in a Stage or Studio

The stage and the studio are two entirely different creatures with entirely different purposes. What is the right direction for your church, and should you consider a hybrid of the two?

With large gatherings being cancelled, paused, or restricted indefinitely, the traditional stage or altar space is under the microscope like never before. Some churches are opting to invest more in their stage by way of cameras, lighting, and streaming technologies. Yet others are redirecting resources away from the stage and toward a studio space where more targeted content can be produced and streamed.

Why record or stream from the stage?

The answer to that question is unique to every church based on culture, financial means, and where leadership feels called and directed. But it is undeniable that most churches are having to face this question in our “new normal.”

The stage and the studio are two entirely different creatures with entirely different purposes. We like to characterize the difference by saying, “If the Stage is where people come to church, the Studio is where the church goes to the people.”

The Stage allows for live corporate worship and teaching on a macro-level. It is for the live audience. By streaming services from the stage, we extend that live experience remotely to members and potentially a much larger audience. While there is absolute value and purpose in streaming a worship service from the stage or altar area, it also represents the “old normal” mindset of church existing only when people come to the church, or when church is “live.” It misses the opportunity for the church to go where the people are and connect with them directly.

Is the studio a better option?

The Studio is a production space where content is produced on a micro-level for specific and targeted audiences. Think small groups, Bible studies, announcements, students ministries, men’s and women’s ministries, etc. This production space is radically different and equipped with the tools needed to produce content quickly and easily. Instead of streaming to hundreds or thousands from a large space and stage, the produced content is edited and streamed or made “on-demand” from a far more intimate and smaller scale space that is infinitely easier to use and costs less to operate.

Streaming can’t and shouldn’t replace coming together to worship and fellowship, but it can be a highly effective communication tool to augment the in-person experience. A studio represents a new and powerful resource the church can harness to not only survive the new normal, but even grow and connect with people more effectively. The Studio also opens up the live and interactive world to the church in that the audience can respond and react to live streamed content via messaging or even tie-in live to Teams/Zoom/Google Meet and other platforms. Having this sort of conversation from the stage could be much more complex and costly.

The fascinating reality is that church is no longer bound to connecting with people only on Sunday mornings for an hour. The church can now meet people where they are and when it’s convenient for them. And content can be highly targeted to where they are in life.

Now that the difference and purpose of the Stage and the Studio is clearer, we can begin to properly evaluate how each may fit into your organization.

Purpose-built for what?

This is a space purpose-made for larger audiences. It has big sound, big lighting, and big projection which are required for a larger audience. Skilled staff and volunteers are needed to drive this venue. Typically, the stage (or alter) is your signature look and not something you want to change a lot, or ever.

The challenge for the stage is how to make the live stream from the stage as high quality as it was when there was no audience, and you could land cameras and equipment right around the stage and then post-produce it. With a live audience, you can’t get away with all those distractions. But to keep the production-value high, it will take additional cameras, camera movement, lighting, intercom systems, and other hardware to retain your audience and engagement. That can get pricey.

To avoid the additional cost, it may be tempting to make the Stage also be the Studio. There are multiple reasons this won’t work:

  • Creative sets and backgrounds are very expensive and difficult to deploy on a large stage.

  • Technical staff are needed just to use the space.

  • Cueing dozens of theatrical lighting fixtures on a lighting system isn’t practical when you simply need to light a single person. Not to mention the technical skills needed to do this.

  • Firing up a large audio system just to mic a single person is also technically challenging and requires an audio engineer.

  • Energy dollars are wasted cooling down a large room for a small team for short durations.

Let’s look at the advantages a Studio space provides:

  • One production person can drive an entire studio.

  • Light kits or installed lighting are all you need to do excellent lighting.

  • Mics can be connected directly into a camera or into a small mixer for recording.

  • Sets can be easily changed at little to no cost.

  • Staff and guests are far less intimidated by a small studio versus the stage.

  • An unused office can be converted into a Studio.

  • A larger Studio can be equipped to do live streams.

  • Acoustics are easily managed and controlled.

If you do consider implementing “The Studio,” also consider how to equip and staff it. Many churches struggle with getting good sound on the stage until they find that paid audio engineers worked best. The Studio is no different – you will get the best results by hiring skilled videographers and/or editors to produce your content. These are not typical roles in many churches, but there is nothing typical about how today’s church functions.

Are you missing opportunities in this "new normal?"

While challenging, these are indeed days of immense opportunity for the church to connect with people and engage with them in new and exciting ways using technology many of us got accustomed to by force thanks to Covid. The Studio may not be for everyone but is worth consideration. The new normal demands we rethink how we do some things. For example, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples tried to go back to “normal” doing what they did – fish. They fished, tried all night, and caught nothing. These were very skilled fishermen but were unable to get the results they always knew. Then Jesus showed up with a simple request, “Throw your net on the other side of the boat and you will find fish.” When they did this, they were unable to even haul the net in because of the abundance of fish. The Studio may be the other side of the boat for your church.

Regardless of where your needs land, the stage, the studio, or some combination, it is imperative that a church partners with a systems integrator experienced in both.