Sandy Thailing had a problem: As a volunteer with Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, he needed to expand the worship experience beyond the doors of the church to a satellite location about twenty miles away.
“We began using Blue Valley Middle School’s gymnasium about three years ago,” said Thailing, “We needed to coordinate a joint service between this location and the Prairie Village location, which had been in continual use since 1961.”
Thailing shared his insights during a panel at the WFX worship technologies conference in Atlanta, Georgia, during a panel entitled “Expanding Your Reach through Streaming Media: Why and How.”
To coordinate worship teams in both locations, Hillcrest used an instant messaging service. Hillcrest next added live video switching and video capture — but he didn’t start using live streaming right away.
“We went from a five-person volunteer crew, led by one part-time employee, to a 55 person volunteer crew and one full-time staff member,” said Thailing.
Hillcrest didn’t begin live video streaming for the Blue Valley congregation, which had been growing over its first two years, but to serve a larger community that was interested in the church’s message.
“When we started into streaming, we chose QuickTime Streaming Server [QTSS] for simulcasting between both sites, as well as to multiple locations within the original Prairie Village site,” said Thailing.
“Unfortunately, QTSS, as a whole, had stability issues and lacked some critical features like DVR capability for time-shifting the minister’s message,” Thailing added.
Hillcrest then turned to Wowza Media Systems, largely for its network DVR (nDVR) functionality.
“We’d picked the Makito from HaiVision, which let us send out both a high and a low bitrate stream,” said Thailing,
For Hillcrest, the high-end was a 720p stream at 3 Mbps, while the low-end was a 480p stream at 1.5 Mbps.
“Various formats are pushed from our Wowza server, including streams to iOS devices, three flavors of desktop players — QuickTime, RealPlayer, and Flash — as well as a Roku-compliant stream,” said Thailing.
The church now uses a streaming-specific website — http://www.highkmedia.tv — to deliver both the live streams and on-demand content. While the Wowza Media Server was fairly easy to set up, Thailing was thankful to have the help of a professional consultant.
“I’d worked with Ian Beyer at Resurrection Church,” said Thailing, referring to another Kansas City-based house of worship that had satellite locations. “I called Ian to help set up the strings and customize the solution for Hillcrest.”
Beyer now runs a company called Nerd Herd, Inc., which specializes in houses of worship. He recommends Wowza products, among others. Beyer and Chris Knowlton, a vice president at Wowza Media Systems, also spoke on the WFX panel.
In the end, Hillcrest encountered both expected and unexpected results.
“The expected result, based on the Wowza platform, was the ability to deliver multi-platform streams,” said Thailing. “Unexpected results were pleasantly surprising: not only did we have more users online each week, we also had greater numbers in the physical locations.”
After a local nursing home showed the stream live for a few Sundays, the residents requested a way to view it on a larger screen. Thailing and his team, along with Nerd Herd’s Beyer, created a Roku channel for the nursing home to use. That channel has resulted in more than fifty shut-in and nursing home residents participating in the service.
“We know it’s effective because our senior minister’s brother — who is wheelchair-bound and lives in another state — can now text his brother immediately after the morning service and offer, shall we say, constructive criticism,” said Thailing.