Putting your church's sermons online can be a great way to reach out to the (global) community. It also provides a great way for those who've missed a sermon (or want to hear it again) to be blessed by the teaching and keep connected.
With church123 it's easy to manage online sermons within your church website (for our users we provide a full step by step guide to online audio and they are welcome to contact the helpdesk with any questions).
The hints and tips below are for those people who are running their own sites and are happy to experiment a little to get the best results.
As with any file on the Internet it's good to make sure it downloads quickly. A CD contains just over an hour of audio, storing about 650MB of information - that's a big file! A dial up modem would take about 30 hours to download it. To make audio available on the web it needs to be compressed (optimised).
Top tips for web sermons
There are numbers of different formats that audio information can be made in. Probably the best known is MP3. This is an excellent format with many advantages however it was originally designed for optimising music not voice. As the majority of systems and portable players can play MP3 it is at this time the logical choice. Technically speaking if you were only addressing a PC using audience (no Macs, mobile phones, iPods etc) you would be better off using Windows Media Audio (WMA) which has a free optimisation encoder specifically for compressing the spoken voice making it ideal for sermons. Remember WMAs will not play on many portable devices and therefore MP3 is very likely to be more compatible with your users. You could produce both MP3 and WMA versions but we think that's just making extra work for yourself.
MP3 - Great for Music and Widely Used for Voice
MP3 is very much a universal audio format available on all mainstream computers and portable players. Although technically not as well optimised as WMA for spoken voice you can still create very useable sermon files with MP3. There may also be times when you want to include music on your site and then MP3 is a great option. For website use you will want to reduce the file size and you can do this in a number of ways. Even with music for casual listening on a website mono is often acceptable. In addition to this you can reduce the bit rate (many portable music players, such as iPods, can play as low as 16Kbps although that would be too low for most music fans). Don't worry if this sounds very difficult it really isn't and users of church123 can get full assistance from the helpdesk.
If you want to edit and change the audio files you can download a free editor call Audacity (it is available for Macs and PCs). If you want to make MP3 files from Audacity you'll need the LAME encoder to go with it. Please note there is a bit of concern about whether Lame may be infringing on patents and therefore we have decided not to use it ourselves. However you can legitimately use Apple's free iTunes software to create an optimised MP3 from a CD or from other source files. For spoken voice we recommend the following settings in iTunes (32 kbps stereo bit rate, tick Use Variable Bit Rate encoding, Quality: Highest, Sample Rate: Auto, Channels: Mono , tick Smart Encoding Adjustments, tick Filter Frequencies Below 10Hz). Note in iTunes you specify a stereo bit rate but if you put the channels to mono it then effectively halves the bit rate. To get to the settings screen:
You may need to experiment with different bit rates and optimisations as the final quality will depend on your original audio.
Windows Media Audio - Voice Encoder
Download Windows Media Encoder.
In a nutshell you give it your high quality source audio file, tell it how you want the file optimised (selecting Voice Quality and either 7Kbps or 11Kbps should work fine) and it will churn out a new, much smaller, optimised file for you. Be aware that the WMA files it creates are compatible with Windows PCs and not much else.
It is very important that you always ensure you have the appropriate copyright or licence before you upload any materials to your website. If you are uploading audio sermons recorded in the church then it is likely that this is fine. However if you wanted to upload your whole service and this included songs you would need to ensure you have the distribution rights (this will not be automatic). Some church licences permit distribution for up to 25% of the congregation but would not public permit web distribution as this would be considered unlimited distribution. You may however be able to put the service behind a password protected area of your site so people who are home-bound can access it. Please ensure you verify licence issues with the relevant parties.