Tips for Creating a Church Podcast
One early adopter of church podcasting was David Hopkins, who headed the all-volunteer audio team at the Marlton Assembly of God Church, near Princeton University. What made him an expert? He was already creating podcasts of Princeton lectures and converting thousands of the university's Real Network and Windows Media files into podcasts. Armed with that experience, he decided to begin podcasting the church's weekly sermons.
Today, he is the director of the university's state-of-the-art broadcast center. He still lends a hand with audio at Marlton's Sovereign Grace Church. We asked him for some advice on sermon podcasting, and this is what we learned.
Motivation for Getting Started
Today, David explains, there are tools that make podcast creation just about foolproof, so there's never been a better time to get started. Consider these advantages:
You already own most of the equipment.
If you have a computer, a broadband connection and a microphone, then you have the basic hardware.
You'll reach a wider audience.
It's all about the message, right? Not only can you reach worshippers in your congregation who may have missed a service, but also you have the potential to reach an audience beyond your drive-to-church geographic boundaries. If your church is interested in planting new congregations, this is a great sampling device.
You're in control.
One of the great advantages of podcasting is its inherent flexibility. You can publish your podcast as often as you want (every day, every week, every month), and it can be as long as it needs to be. You're not limited to a format.
Once you've developed your content and listeners know where to find it, the foundation is built. If listeners subscribe to your podcast or find it on your website's home page, they're already motivated to receive your message. Podcasts are known for their inherent "stickiness." In other words, your listeners will keep coming back.
If you're like most congregations, you're already uploading sermons to your site. That's a good start since it's a great way to give newcomers a preview of your church. The beauty of taking the extra step to podcast is that sermons (and other digital programming you may develop over time) are automatically delivered to subscribers and available to inspire them whenever and wherever. Downloads are automatic. Your doors are always open to welcome new worshippers.
The initial investment is time, not money.
The cost of a sermon podcast for most small and medium-sized congregations is the time spent learning to use the (mostly) free tools available. Your church already has the talent. WordPress, for one, has a variety of no-cost, easy-to-use podcast plug-ins. Most directories (iTunes is still the biggest) are free, too.
Podcasting in Three Steps
There are three phases in creating and publishing your church's podcast, as David says:
Chances are, you're already recording your sermon to a computer, CD or recording device.
Tip: Use good quality equipment.
You want to make the best recordings you can. According to David, digital recording has forced churches to step up. "Good microphones like the ones Shure makes can mean all the difference in the delivery of a sermon or lecture. Studies have shown that people will sit through a badly produced video if the audio sounds good. But it never works in reverse."
Tip: Record a professional intro and outro.
Add an announcer who welcomes the listener and provides a context for the sermon. Promote your church at the end, and extend your audience's involvement by inviting them to attend. There should always be a call to action.
The next step is to move your recording (better if it's a WAV or "lossless" file than an already-compressed MP3) to the computer where you'll be doing the rest of the work. There are dozens of programs designed for editing audio. Open-source, cross-platform Audacity is one of the most common, and, like a lot of other essential podcast ingredients, it's free.
Along with getting the best possible recording in the first place, editing is where the artistry happens. This takes practice. You may want to add some music or an introduction, or eliminate the howl of a crying baby, the squeal of feedback or a too-long pause. David's church allows two days for this step. If your edited audio file is a WAV file, you'll need to encode it as an MP3. You can either do this in the audio creation software you're using or by importing it into iTunes.
Tip: Listen to your podcasts the way your audience does, and make adjustments.
"Until we added boundary mics for our sermon podcasts, we were getting a hollow sound that we didn't hear live. Now, we're picking up the ambient sound of the room. It has such rich stereo imaging that when I was listening to the podcast in my car a couple of days later, I could actually hear two people coughing on different sides of the room."
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. An RSS feed text file includes information about your podcast so that directories and aggregators (like iTunes) can find and download your podcasts for subscribers. It's basically a web browser for RSS content.
Create cover art for your podcast and your podcast title/category. Make sure to include the speaker and title of the weekly sermon ("Dinner with Jesus" and "Life is More Than Stuff" are two recent examples from Sovereign Grace Church) in your podcast description.
Have a media host for your podcast files. A popular solution most podcasters use is www.libsyn.com. SoundCloud also offers podcast hosting capabilities.
Now you're ready to submit your podcast to iTunes and other directories. Once it's approved, subscribers will automatically receive your weekly podcasts. To build a subscription base, make sure that you spread the word, starting with your congregants. Let them know that your podcasts are ready to inspire in the car, at the gym or on the run, and that they're as close as their nearest mobile device.
We asked David for any additional pointers, based on his 10+ years of church podcasting experience.
"It's all about engagement," David says. "That's why it's important to measure listenership, downloads and subscriptions." Those metrics are usually built in to the plug-in being used, whether it's WordPress or another platform.
Watch music licensing issues.
Most churches understand that CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) has rules that apply not only to the performance of licensed worship songs, but also to projecting lyrics on a screen and broadcasting them. It's an issue in live streaming video of sermons and services and also a consideration for podcasts or videocasts that include licensed music. Churches need to abide by copyright laws so that publishers and songwriters are fairly compensated.