Podcasting Your Church

33 comments | Posted: 19 February 06 in General, by Jeremy Flint

One of the big projects I have taken on at my church is making our sermons available online. Three years after being placed on the sound and media team at the church, we have finally acheived one of those original goals. Although it is not directly related to web design, this task is usually give to whomever is in charge of a church’s web site. I thought I would share a few things I have learned in the process.

The Source

The first thing you will need is a way to get a recording of the sermons at your church. We have a fairly elaborate sound setup at our church, running a 48 channel board with a full range of compressors and amps, much of which I cannot begin to tell you how to work. We have a direct feed from our sound board to the line-in audio input on a Windows XP computer. We have a special cable that helps to remove any noise on the line so we can get a crisp signal.

There are other ways of getting audio out of a soundboard and into a computer. One of the more common ways is using a USB audio device like the Tascam US-122 or the Apogee Mini-Me. Both will take various audio inputs (XLR, RCA, Mini) and convert the signal to a USB cable that can be plugged directly into a computer. This is helpful if you want to be able to grab only one or two channels, rather than a full mix.

The Pull

For recording this audio signal, we are using the open-source audio editor Audacity. We record our entire service, inserting a marker at the beginning of the sermon. This allows us to quickly go back in and select only the sermon for exporting.

The Output

We are exporting our sermons as MP3 files for maximum compatibility across platforms and devices. At first, we were encoding the MP3s at a very high bitrate, creating 30MB files for 15 minute sermons. We have since changed that to get our filesize down to 8-10MB, depending on the length of the sermon.

The Download

Aside from offering a link to download the MP3s, we have also began rolling a podcast. For this, I have set up a completely seperate blog just for the audio files. I am using Wordpress 2.0, mainly because of the fact that when it detects an audio file in a post, it automatically creates the proper tags that make an RSS feed a podcast (enclosures, etc).

One of the other things you will need is bandwidth. If the podcast gets popular, you will need lots of it. We settled on hosting our podcast on the same webhost as our youth site, which is Dreamhost. They are offering a minimum of 1 Terabyte of bandwidth on their hosting plans right now, so it was a natural choice. In the near future, our youth pastor will begin podcasting his Wednesday night sermons, so it will serve that as well.

For tracking the popularity of the sermons, we are running our podcast feed through Feedburner, which gives us a better measure of the number of unique subscribers, as well as how they are subscribing. So far the downloads have been well received and are a great resource for our members as well as guests. I have heard from several members that were out of town one Sunday and were able to download and listen to the sermon that they missed.

I hope this helps you out if you are planning on podcasting your church’s sermons. The hardest part is getting a good recording of the sermon and converting it to a portable format. Once you are past that, it is relatively easy to get the files out there.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Sean S

    We’ve been considering Feedburner for awhile without coming to any conclusions. How have you liked it? Do you find their service at all restricting or limiting?

     
  2. 2 Andy Knight

    This is a nice, practical article for church’s and pastors. A weekly sermon is perfect content for a podcast. It’s probably the reason God had someone invent podcasting in the first place.

     
  3. 3 Yannick

    Very nice Jeremy. I was thinking about this the other day and wondered how someone would go about setting up everything for their Church to podcast. Thanks.

     
  4. 4 Jeremy Flint

    Sean – Feedburner is nice. There are plugins for Wordpress that will redirect its feed URI to feedburner, but I just went with direct links. It is restricting only in the sense that to get any really indepth analysis, you have to pay for their extended services.

    However, the free version will give you a basic visitor count, as well as show you how people are reading the feed/podcast (itunes, online readers, etc).

    Take a look at the screenshots I uploaded to my Flickr account from my sites Feedburner stats for a visual.

     
  5. 5 Dan Perdue

    I recently designed and developed a new site for my brother’s church and he wanted to do podcasting. I felt like Wordpress was a little overkill and wanted to be able to easily integrate the podcast into the rest of the site, so I rolled my own system. To me, this was easier than trying to develop a Wordpress theme that looked like the rest of the site.

    The one thing I really liked about Feedburner is that if you tell it you’re doing a podcast, you can add all the iTunes specific stuff to your podcast feed automatically. It also can generate all those mega-cool subscribe buttons for your podcast page automatically.

    One problem that I ran into while developing my system was the fact that I couldn’t upload the large files necessary for the podcast via the typical HTTP upload present in most forms. I worked around this by having them upload the files using FTP (much more reliable anyway) and then selecting one of those files from a dropdown to add to the RSS feed. Jeremy, can Wordpress handle the large file uploads via HTTP or are you uploading them via FTP?

     
  6. 6 Jeremy Flint

    Dan – I am handling my uploads Via FTP for that same reason. It is just a more reliable connection than uploading via the Wordpress admin utility.

    I am also not really concerned with having the podcast site look like the rest of my site. This podcast will be used by the church as well as our youth pastor, and the youth site is completely different from the church site.

    In the future, I may switch over to another method of rolling the podcast feed, but the WP route was just quicker and easier.

    I am also wrangling with the idea of calling it a podcast. I wonder if the majority of people who attend our church understand what it is, that you don’t have to have an iPod to use it, etc. I may switch out to just calling it Sermon Downloads or something more generic, and have the podcast as delivery option, rather than branding it as such.

     
  7. 7 Dan Perdue

    Over at North Cross they decided to brand the main button as “Listen Online” and then at the bottom of that page we explain what podcasting is (or rather we have a link to the Wikipedia article on podcasting) and offer buttons to subscribe to the feed.

    A lot of people know what MP3s are and they know what to do with them, but I dont’ think podcasting is quite as mainstream right now. My mom would never actually subscribe to the RSS feed and have it automatically downloaded to her computer, but she probably would go to the site every week and check for new sermons and download them.

    I’m also considering adding some sort of inline Flash player to the podcasting page so that people don’t have to actually download the file, they can simply click a little button and it will start playing.

     
  8. 8 Joel Pan

    Jeremy, I don’t think that calling it a ‘podcast’ is necessary; the geeks in the congregation will know how to call it that and the less techie people will understand “Listen Online” or “Download Sermons here” just as easily.

    Regarding hosting, what do you think of LibSyn (http://libsyn.com)? They seem to offer very attractive podcast hosting packages, and it would allow churches not to worry about bandwitdh issues.

     
  9. 9 Josh

    I’m overdue in providing my church with a new site and podcasting will surely be apart of it. I’ve recently been thinking about adding podcasts for two reasons. One, my pastor rocks and I think all should have the opportunity to hear the truths that God has been revealing through him, and two, my church currently records sermons on tape and I don’t have a tape player (not quite sure when that happened) so if I miss a week, I’d have to borrow a tape player.

    Thanks for sharing your experience on this topic.

     
  10. 10 Jeremy Flint

    Dan – I think I am going to swap out podcasting for a different term, and just outline the podcast as an option. I am also looking for a way to force the download of MP3s when the link is clicked, rather than it trying to open and stream it using quicktime or whatever. I think there is an htaccess trick for that.

    Joel – I went with dreamhost because our youth site was already hosted there and had 20gb of space and 1 terabyte of transfer per month, which is more than enough for the near future. Plus it had the on-click Wordpress install, which made it easier on me to get it up and running quickly.

    Josh – We still pull the entire service to tape. We also used to record the service to a CD on the fly using a TEAC RW-CD22. The problem with that was the trouble of having to rip the CD to WAV then edit out the sermon to MP3.

    By recording to the computer, I can go in and pull out just the sermon and export directly to MP3 (or WAV for burning to CD). I can have the MP3 created and uploaded to our site within 20 minutes of the end of the service.

     
  11. 11 Jeremy Flint

    Dan – I noticed you are just north of Atlanta. Are you going to An Event Apart in April?

     
  12. 12 Mike Cox

    You might want to look at www.libsyn.com
    They provide UNLIMITED bandwith for your podcast you just pay for the amount of storage you need. Also they handle the RSS for you. Just thought this might be usefull to some new to PodCasting.

     
  13. 13 Granata

    I’ve had a very positive experience with Podcast Maker (for Mac) for my church’s podcast. Check it out: http://www.potionfactory.com/

     
  14. 14 Josh

    Granata – Nice little application. I wish my church had a mac. ;)

     
  15. 15 Tim Bednar

    The downside to feedburner is that they own your feed location; so all the equity you build up in iTunes or Podcast Alley is really building equity in a link you do not own or control.

     
  16. 16 Tank

    While I understand the desire to make things non-tech friendly we should embrace teh fact that “podcast” is actually a word that is being used more and more. And from what I’m reading I’m not really sure that half of what we are talking about is actually podcasting. It’s not really a podcast unless you tie an RSS feed to it. Making sermons downloadable is completely seperate.

    The way we do it is that we use a Flash Player to do some streaming from the browser and then we also offer the file in a downloadable format (mp3) for those that want to listen or aren’t familiar with podcasting. Then we offer the podcast feed as a direct link to the iTunes store and also the raw RSS feed. I didn’t know that feedburner offered all the cool stuff. I may check into offering it that way.

     
  17. 17 James Higginbotham

    We rolled our own as well, mostly because we had archives going back years and wanted to allow visitors to browse by the series, Bible book, or most recent. I think the new web leader has a podcast feed for those that want it, but most actually enjoy browsing without knowing about podcasts and such. We have had nothing but great feedback after we improved the interface since our last website design. Check it out at http://www.calvaryaustin.org/msgs/ to see the various ways we allow browsing. I’ve been tempted to repackage the code we did (admin UI and front-end basic search pages) for use by other people. Contact me if you might be interested.

     
  18. 18 Nathan Logan

    I haven’t messed with it yet, but a friend directed me to an auto podcast maker, which is basically a screen-scraper for a page with MP3s on it. Kind of a neat way to go about things…

    And I agree with the comment above – sermons are perfect for taking advantage of podcasting.

    Thanks for the article, Jeremy.

     
  19. 19 Dan Perdue

    @ Jeremy – North Cross is actually my brother’s church. I live a couple hours South of Atlanta. I was sick when I saw that they announced Atlanta as the second AEA. I just started a new job down here and don’t think I could swing the professional leave or get my boss to pay for it. In June (gotta start early) I’m going to start pumping for SXSWi ‘07 though.

    @ Joel and Mike – There’s a great podcast with the guys from Libsyn. Sounds like they are a really cool company doing neat things. Anyone interested should probably give it a listen.

    @ Tank – I certainly agree that podcasting is different than downloads on the site, but all podcasting is is the tying together of MP3s and RSS2.0 enclosure technology. The thing that makes podcasting special is the clients that can understand the technology and download it. If you’re going to be podcasting, it makes a whole lot of sense to go ahead and put the files for download where someone who doesn’t really have a client application or someone who just wants one file can download them.

    @ Tim – I had never considered that, it’s a very valid point.

     
  20. 20 Rich

    James, very cool to know who helped inspire our site! I do the webpage for the Calvary Chapel Chattanooga (http://www.calvarychatt.com). My pastors liked the design for your website and the website for Calvary Chapel Miami Lakes – so I did a hybrid. Not done yet but getting there. Whatever happened to your building project? That was a fantastic presentation that you put on your website for that.

     
  21. 21 James Higginbotham

    Rich – Our building project is on hold as that land offer fell through. We have 2 Sat satellite services and the main campus currently, and are looking for either an existing building, land, or a place to lease for the 2 main Sun services. Hopefully we’ll have some news in the next few months posted on the site or via Allen’s blog.

     
  22. 22 Jeremy Flint

    I think we need to have a Godbit invasion at SXSW 07. I have been for the past two years, but won’t be able to make it this year.

     
  23. 23 Tank

    @Dan Exactly :)

    the way we do it is that for each talk we upload to the server via FTP and then in the CMS the guys just type info (filename, title, date, etc..) about the talk/series that is all saved to a database. Once it’s in a database you can do litereally anything with it. We generate the XML playlist for the Flash player, generate the download file list, and create the RSS podcast feed all based on the info in the database. So once the talk is added in one place it is updated across the board in one motion. This wat no one is left out no matter how they want to listen. We are working on figuring out a good way to offer lower bitrate files for people on dialup, but to automate that process I need to look into server software solutions that will do that. (a wholt other topic ;) )

     
  24. 24 Micah

    Our church is not technically podcasting yet, but only because we haven’t finished creating an RSS feed from the sermon database. We do make our sermons available online for streaming or download, and we also use Audacity for much of the editing and preparation. We haven’t been using any fancy equipment to record messages, just a split from the cassette and CD recording feed going to the line input on an old laptop. I have some detailed instructions on the web explaining how we use Audacity, LAME and some free plugins for post-processing messages before putting them on the web.

     
  25. 25 Jeremy Flint

    Does anyone have any solutions for recording digitally from a small, mobile setup?

    For instance, when we need sound in our fellowship hall, we have a small rolling rack with a 6 or 8 channel board in it, an amp, etc. and we just use wired mics. It is hard to really attach a computer to such a small setup on a regular basis.

    Any ideas? We have thought of dropping a CDR deck into the rack, but that sort of complicates the process of getting audio out quickly.

     
  26. 26 Tank

    Nothing under $300 that has decent quality that I’ve found. We looked into replacing the CDR drive with a digital recorder in order to help transfer time in getting the sermons online but the quality just wasn’t there for the smaller devices.

     
  27. 27 Dave Chalmers

    Hi all, we have just started doing a podcast of our sermons. It is VERY popular. We call them ‘Sermon Podcasts’ and folk think their pretty trendy downloading them!! :-)
    We are all Macs on our podcast chain. Here’s how:
    Some notes:

    1. We record onto an Apple iMac using Audacity (or Sound Studio) taking a feed from the PA mixer (the one that goes to the hearing loop).
    This lets us top and tail the file then save as a .wav file.
    2. We transfer the .wav file to an iPod (as a file) and take it home.
    3. We then import into Garageband 3.0, which has FANTASTIC podcast features and let’s us add an iTunes graphic, and we have started experimenting with adding the sermon PPT slides as graphics that pop up during the playback.
    (the only thing missing in Garageband is a decent normalisation function, so sometime I sneak the file out to Soundtrack Pro and do an bit of adaptive limiting to get the level up)
    4. We import the PPT file into Apple Keynote, resize the slides (to square aspect ratio), and save out as .png files for each slide (keynote saves them all out for you). We can then import these into Garageband and place them on the podcast track at exactly the point they are referred to in the audio. Cool!
    5. We then save this as an enhanced .aac podcast into iTunes and into iWeb (new Apple web authoring package). In iWeb we add a podcast entry (really easy) and also transcode to .mp3 in iTunes and add that to the podcast entry. iWeb adds all the right info for iTunes music store automatically, and adds a ‘subscribe’ link for the RSS feed to the top page.
    6. We add a link to biblegateway.com for the bible passage, so listeners can read the bible passage as they listen to the podcast.
    7. We upload the new podcast entry to our web server using cyberduck (ftp client with sync function)

    We got all this working in a few hours – it really is that easy.
    If you are interested in doing enhanced podcasts with sermon slides and sending them to iTunes RSS feeds I strongly recommend checking out Garageband 3.0 (for Macs only of course!)

    Have fun.

    P.S. here’s the finished result, if you are interested.
    http://www.saintthomas.org.uk/saintthomaspodcasts/saintthomaspodcasts/
    Sermon%20podcasts/D91F3229-60A1-48D8-82FC-1466EC980D9B.html

    (sorry – couldn’t figure out how to post a proper URL – that’s how clueless I am about web stuff and I STILL managed to do a podcast feed on a Mac!! :-)

    P.P.S. we also podcast our homegroup talks.

    Dave

     
  28. 28 Josh Lavin

    Tim: If you use FeedBurner’s MyBrand you can have your own link with their service. It’s priced reasonably.

    Jeremy: You might look into running Linux on an iPod (iPodLinux project). This allows you to record in high-quality for long amounts of time.

     
  29. 29 Jeremy Flint

    Good idea Josh. I have an aging 3G ipod that I may try that with.

     
  30. 30 Fraser

    We are just starting to podcast sermons too and it seems like we have a similar setup to Jeremy. To solve the problem we bought a Creative Zen Nano Plus mp3 player which also has a line in and built in encoder. It just takes an output from the sound desk and records straight to mp3.

    I then take it home and connect via USB to my PC and edit the relevant part then upload via FTP and add to the site with wordpress as discussed above.

     
  31. 31 The Westwind Podcast

    Those are some great tips. It is very similar to what i do with the podcast from my church. It would also be good to mention how to have the subscription button for itunes because it is the most used podcatcher.

     
  32. 32 Brad Hill

    Not sure if anyone else has seen this yet, but Tivo just released podcasting functionality on their system. I tried it out this morning by subscribing to a couple of the Podcasts from my church and it worked great.

     
  33. 33 Rich

    I don’t think this was mentioned but if you are using wordpress, you may find this plug-in helpful. Looks promising and thinking about using it myself.

    http://www.mightyseek.com/podpress

     

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