Online sermons offer alternative for members and seekers
SUMMARY: I'll admit it. Last Sunday, I was so tired from getting up during the night with my child that I didn't make it to church. But, all is not lost for me. Why? My church offers the Sunday sermon on its Web site for those who can't make it, are sick or shut-in, or are "just too tired" (like me).
Offering your sermons online is an excellent tool for church members and seekers. Church members who miss the worship service can still hear your inspiring message, seekers can "test drive" the pastor and sermon before attending, and your Web site can garner new traffic! I promise it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do it.
Please, don't start talking orbital mechanics!
First, record the sermon using a tape player, CD recorder, or directly on to your computer through your audio equipment.
Save the file in a wave (.wav) format. Remember the size of the audio file will depend on the quality settings you choose. The higher quality the setting, the larger the file size. In general, a 20-minute sermon will be 50 megabits (Mbits).
You have the option of using the sermon recording "as is" or using sound editing software digitally to remove gaps in the sermon or any mistakes. Your church audio system may have built in software, or you can go to Audacity's Web site for free software.
Can we talk about trajectories now? No, let's stay on the orbital path.
After "fixing" your sermon file, convert the sermon into a RealAudio (.rm) or MP3 (.mp3) file. Your audio editing software will save files as MP3s, but you will need RealSystem Producer Basic (free) to create RealAudio files. Choosing which format to use (RealAudio or MP3) is up to you; however, be aware that RealAudio files are easier for users to listen to online. Typically, users must download MP3s before they can listen to them.
Remember that I said a 20-minute sermon would be 50 Megabits? Yes, I know that's huge. However, your next step is to compress the audio file into a smaller file size (not to mention that a user will use less bandwidth!). I recommend compressing the audio file tremendously – even to the point of sacrificing sound quality for file size. Keep in mind that this is not for a professional recording – this is for people who were not able to be in church and want to hear the sermon.
Using a bandwidth of 8.5kbps will produce an acceptable level of audio quality and will simultaneously shrink your 50-Mbit file into 1.4 Mbits. Sure, you can use a bandwidth of 16kbps for better sound quality, but your file size will skyrocket and consume precious space on your Web site.
You said Sky Rocket&ellipsis; I knew there had to be rocket science involved!
Now that you have a compressed RealAudio or MP3 file, upload the file to your Web site server and create a link to the .rm or .mp3 file from your sermon archive Web page. It is usually helpful to include the sermon date, title and a brief overview – especially for those who are "test driving" your church. Using a table on your Web page is a good way to convey this information.
You can offer more than sermons online. Do you have a special music coming up? Or what about the Christmas cantata or the bishop's visit? Use your Web site to offer seekers, shut-ins and past members the opportunity to get or stay connected!
And remember: sermon junkies like me enjoy listening to sermons from different churches. I may just happen upon your Web site soon!
-- Tracy Wood, Web coordinator, Connectional Giving Team, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. One of her favorite online sermon sites is First United Methodist Church in Niceville, Fla.