Putting Sermons Online

A small number of church websites now allow you to listen to sermons online ("streaming audio"). This page describes how to upload an audio copy of a sermon to a website. Our method isn't necessarily the easiest, and will require some experimentation on your part, but we like it because it has the advantage of being virtually free!

There are three basic steps:

  1. Copy the sermon onto your computer
  2. Convert the sermon into RealAudio or MP3
  3. Upload the RealAudio/MP3 file to your webserver

1. Copy the sermon onto your computer

To do this you will need:

  • A copy of the sermon on tape.
  • A tape player connected to your computer. Connect it using a lead going from the Line Out (or Headphone) socket on your tape player to the Line In socket on your computer's soundcard.
  • Sound editing software. If you don't already have this then you can download it as shareware (e.g. try GoldWave or Cool Edit).

Play the tape of the sermon onto your computer, using the sound editing software to record a digital audio copy of it onto your hard drive. You should save this audio file in a wave (.WAV) format. The size of this file depends on the quality settings you choose, but for a 20-minute talk we would expect a file of around 50Mb in size.

At this stage you can use the sound editing software to remove the parts of the tape that you don't want, such as the gaps before and after the sermon.

2. Convert the sermon to RealAudio or MP3

To do this you will need either of:

  • Software to generate RealAudio files. For this you will need a copy of RealSystem Producer, produced by RealNetworks. Don't pay lots of money, since there is a cut-down free version called RealSystem Producer Basic. You have to hunt around on their website to find it; last time we looked it was available here (but it keeps moving, so you may have to do a search).
  • Software to generate MP3 files. Your sound editing software may do this already, otherwise it is easy to find shareware which you can download.

Using this software, the .WAV file produced in the first step can be converted to a compressed format which can be streamed from a webserver to the user. The choice of whether you use RealAudio or MP3 to do this is up to you, but it is worth experimenting to see what works best. One advantage of using RealAudio is that it is easier for users to listen to it online; often with MP3 they will have to download the sermon before they can listen to it.

We recommend that you use a very high level of compression, sacrificing sound quality for a smaller file size. This has the advantage that only a small bandwidth is required for a user to listen to the talk online. Our experiments found that creating a RealAudio file with a bandwidth of 8.5kbps produced acceptable results (giving a file size of around 1.4Mb for a 20-minute talk). Using a higher bandwidth, such as 16kbps, gives much better sound quality but makes the resulting file correspondingly larger; this may cause you to run out of space on your website if you are hoping to upload even a moderate number of talks.

Having produced the compressed audio file ready for the website, you may also want to create a backup of the sermon in a high-quality MP3 format (using a bandwith of 64kbps gives a file size of around 10Mb for a 20-minute talk). This means that you can then delete the large .WAV file safe in the knowledge that you've still got a high-quality copy in case you ever need to recreate the file for the website.

3. Upload the RealAudio/MP3 file to your webserver

Contrary to what you may have heard, you don't need a special (i.e. expensive) webserver to play streaming audio files. Simply use your regular webserver and you shouldn't have any problems. Some of the functionality isn't quite as good as you would get if you spent lots of money, but it works fine for online sermons.

If you are using RealAudio then your sound file will have a .RM extension. Before you upload it to your webserver you need to also create a .RAM file which points to the .RM audio file. The .RAM file is made by creating a one-line text file containing the location of the .RM file on your website (e.g. http://www.mychurch.co.uk/sermon.rm) and then saving this text file with a .RAM extension (e.g. save it as sermon.ram). Then upload these two files to your webserver and provide a link to the .RAM file from a webpage. Users clicking on this link will be able to listen to the sermon online! (If you want users to be able to download the sermon then on the webpage link directly to the .RM file.)

If you are using MP3 then before you upload the .MP3 file to your webserver you need to create a .M3U file which points to the .MP3 audio file. The .M3U file is made like the .RAM file — create a one-line text file containing the location of the .MP3 file on your website (e.g. http://www.mychurch.co.uk/sermon.mp3) and then save this text file with a .M3U extension (e.g. save it as sermon.m3u). Then upload these two files to your webserver and provide a link to the .M3U file from a webpage. Users clicking on this link will be able to listen to the sermon online! (If you want users to be able to download the sermon then on the webpage link directly to the .MP3 file.)

Further comments

It takes a bit of fiddling around to get the first few sermons available online, but it gets much easier once you've got the hang of it! One church which is using the method described on this page is St Luke's, Wimbledon Park — take a look at their sermon archive to see how it works in practice.

If you want to read more about RealAudio then the WebDeveloper.com Secret Guide to RealAudio is helpful.

This article came from hosea.co.uk (closed January 2004)

Choosing a domain name

Basic principles

Successful domain names are short and memorable. Get this right and you won't go far wrong.

  • Short: Your domain name will end up featuring on all your church publicity, so you won't want it to take up lots of space. Also, you don't want to put off people from typing it into their web-browser.
  • Memorable: Having seen your website address on a church noticeboard (or wherever) you want to help people remember it so they can visit the website later.

This immediately helps us choose a domain name for, say, St Daniel's Church, Littletown. One obvious domain, st-daniels-church-littletown.org.uk, is simply too long, whereas an abbreviated version, stdachli.co.uk, is both hard to remember and fails to make an obvious link with the church. Far better options would be stdaniels.co.uk, stdanielslittletown.co.uk, or danielschurch.org.uk.

Incidentally, it is best not to use hyphens in a domain name if you can help it. They make it harder for people to type the address, so shorten our-church-domain.org to ourchurchdomain.org. This can make the domain name harder to read, but this is not usually a problem if you restrict the domain name to contain only two words (or three at most).

Local community domains

If your church is trying to to reach a particular local community or town (and presumably it is) then one further option is to choose a domain name related to your community. This is a really good idea.

For example, St Daniel's Church, Littletown would do well to get a domain such as littletown.co.uk, littletownlife.org.uk, littletownonline.co.uk, or littletownchurch.org.uk,

Not only does this provide a domain name which is short and memorable, it gives you a website address which is immediately attractive and interesting to the very people you are trying to reach. It also opens up the possibility that you could make the church website just one part of a larger community website.

Creating a community website would take more work, but is a great idea. We suggest you read the Web Evangelism Guide's section on Community Portal Pages for some indication of what might be possible.

This article came from hosea.co.uk (closed January 2004)

Seasonal Events vs. Search Engines

Search engine time-lag

At particular times of the year, lots of churches make a special effort to invite local people to come to church services. For example, there may be an outsider-friendly Christmas carol service, an evangelistic presentation of the Easter story, or even an 'alternative' Halloween. Naturally, it is desirable to advertise these events on the church website so that they will be found by someone searching for, say, "Christmas services in Bristol".

So far, so good. But search engine time-lag creates a problem for the unsuspecting church webmaster. By the time your church minister tells you what the Christmas services are going to be, it will probably already be November. Suppose you manage to get the details onto the website by the 1st of December, and submit the relevant page to the major search engines. You could find that it takes around two months before the page is indexed by the search engines. So someone searching for Christmas services may not find them until February!

Solving the problem

Careful website design can reduce this problem significantly. The solution is work out which special events happen every year (e.g. Christmas, Easter, children's summer holiday club, etc.) and then create a page for each of those events. Upload those pages to your website now, so that they can be indexed by the search engines in good time.

Of course, you probably don't yet have most of the information you need for these pages. But it is still easy to write something based on what happened last year, and you can always go back and fill in the details nearer to the time. For example on a Christmas page you could write:

Each Christmas we have a number of special services to celebrate the birth of Jesus. You would be very welcome to come to our traditional Carol service, or if you have children they may enjoy our fun Nativity service. For further details please visit this page again nearer to the time, or contact us.

If you can include comments from people about how much they enjoyed the event last year, or photos, then so much the better.

Remember that you need to create a link from the rest of your website to each of the pages you have written, otherwise they won't be indexed by the search engines. The easiest way to do this is to have a "diary" or "what's on" page, and then list them as "forthcoming events".

This article came from hosea.co.uk (closed January 2004)

Basic Elements of a Church Website

This page outlines what should be considered the minimum requirements for a church website. Make sure your site isn't missing something!

1. Sunday services

Every church site should contain basic information about the Sunday services. As a minimum people will want to know the start times and whether there are children's groups or a creche.

Make sure that this information is up-to-date, and provide the details for special services (e.g. at Christmas) well in advance.

2. Explanation of the Christian Faith

Let people know what the church believes, in simple jargon-free language. If you don't fancy writing your own explanation then at least link to someone else's.

An attractive way of explaining the difference which Christianity makes is provide the testimonies of a few church members. If you do this, then get testimonies from a range of different people (e.g. a teenager, a young mum, a middle-aged couple, etc).

If your church runs an Alpha-type course where people can investigate Christianity for themselves, make sure you create a page about it. Then link to it from your other pages about the Christian faith.

3. Street Map

Show where you are so that people can come and find you! If you are trying to reach your local community then people probably know the area, so you just need a map with a few streets around your church building including other local landmarks (e.g. pubs, supermarkets).

If drawing your own map is too hard, then link to an online street map.

4. Contact details

It is easy to provide contact details for your church minister and church office (if you have one). Let people know their phone number and e-mail address.

This article came from hosea.co.uk (closed January 2004)

Common Design Mistakes

The most frequently made mistakes in the design of church websites are given here. Don't repeat them on your site... please!

1. Starting with the church building

Many church websites begin the homepage with a history of the church building. This approach shows the webmaster has forgotten that the Church is the people, not the building. So don't begin the website with "St Hilda's was built from red brick in 1908".

In fact, unless your church building is a significant attraction to visitors, there is probably little reason to have any historical information about it on the website at all. If there is something that you want to include, move it into a "Church Building" section.

2. Incomprehensible statement of belief

If your denomination or network has a 'Statement of Faith' or 'Doctrinal Basis' then it is tempting to include it on your website. But these documents are rarely written with non-churchgoers in mind, and are unlikely to help your users find out what the church believes.

A better way is to create a "What we believe" page which contains a simple explanation of what it means to be a Christian. Then, if you still want to include a more formal statement of belief, simply provide a link to the relevant page on your denomination's website.

3. Out of date content

It is a good idea to include news of forthcoming events and service details. But it isn't sensible to keep displaying this on the website after the date has past. Keep your website up-to-date.

4. Special effects

Some 'cool' features of websites, such as scrolling text or innovative menu systems, are just irritating. It has been shown that most users ignore all these special effects, and will leave your site if they can't find what they want quickly. So keep it clear and simple or else leave it out.

5. Long download times

Websites filled with graphics may look appealing when you view them on your own computer, but when users access them they can take ages to download. Unfortunately, most people won't hang around on a slow website.

So if you want people to find out more about your church then make sure that the website runs quickly. The best way to do this is to avoid too many graphics. Photos are fine, and they help to show who you are, but if you have lots then place them on a special "pictures" page so that people can choose whether or not to view them.

This article came from hosea.co.uk (closed January 2004)

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