According to Edison Research, 15% of Americans (39 million people) listen to podcasts at least monthly, with 13 million people tuning in to podcasts on any given day. Those who listen to podcasts weekly listen to an average of six podcasts per week, with 11% of weekly podcast listeners listening to more than 10 podcasts per week.
Chances are good that your church members are subscribing to, downloading, and listening to podcasts throughout the week. Are they listening to your message?
Read more statistics on sermon podcasting on Edison Research.
Sermon Podcasting Hardware
There are two approaches to podcasting hardware, and our church has used them both. There are pros and cons to each, which we will explore below.
A handheld recorder on the podium. The first and most basic recording tool is the handheld recorder. This could be a dedicated recorder, like our ZOOM H1 Handy Recorder ($100 on Amazon, pictured right), or it could be as simple as your smartphone. I transitioned from recording with our ZOOM H1 to my iPhone when I accidentally forgot the recorder and discovered that audio quality on the iPhone was comparable to the dedicated recorder with a 75% smaller file size.
The pros of using a handheld recorder include price and portability. They’re inexpensive and you can easily toss them into your bag or briefcase. If you’re using your smartphone to record sermons, you’re guaranteed to always have it in your pocket when you need it. Just be sure to turn on “airplane mode” before preaching.
The main downside of using a portable recorder is audio quality. Unless you’re using a mic with your recorder (many recorders do support them), you will pick up the ambient noise in your sanctuary. For small churches like ours, that will include rustling pages, my footsteps as I walk across the stage, conversations in the foyer, and giggling children in our kids area.
A wired or wireless mic connected to a computer. For churches with an existing audio setup and sound tech or media team, recording your sermon podcast via a computer may be a more viable option.
Using a computer confers several benefits. First, recording the sermon becomes the sound tech’s responsibility, which is less stressful for the preaching pastor and minimizes the risk of the preaching pastor fumbling with audio or forgetting to start the recorder altogether. Second, audio quality is significantly better. With a quality lapel or earworn mic running through a mixer, the sound tech has full control over the audio mix and background noise is eliminated.
Budget limitations can be an issue with a more elaborate audio recording setup. When our church grew to the point where we needed a sound system, the total cost for our mixer, speakers, and cables was around $3,000. You will also need additional staff or volunteers with the training and experience to monitor and adjust your audio settings. If you have an existing sound system and trained staff, you should be able to easily transition to recording your sermons through your current setup.
Software for Recording and Editing Your Sermon Podcast
Your sermon may not need to be edited at all. Since we began recording our sermons, we haven’t edited them. We are diligent to start recording as soon as the pastor begins preaching and to stop recording as soon as he has finished his closing prayer. This eliminates any editing and lets us upload the file directly to our website. This has been particularly helpful when we were using a standalone recorder, as that saves a step in the process.
Now that we are recording our sermons through our mixer on our sound booth PC, editing has become easier. There are a few software options for recording and editing your sermons on a PC or Mac computer.
Audacity (free). Audacity is a free audio recording software with a basic set of editing features. This is the tool that we currently use for recording and uploading our sermons. Audacity is fast, lightweight, and includes all of the basic features we need to trim sermon audio, edit out mistakes, and add intro and outro audio.
Adobe Audition ($19.99/month). Adobe Audition is a professional audio editing suite with advanced features. If you need more control over recording and editing features, a premium suite like Audition may be right for you. My advice would be to try a free tool like Audacity and upgrade when you have a clear and definite need to do so.
When recording your sermon audio, be sure to monitor your levels and ensure that the audio stays below the maximum volume that your equipment can handle. Too much or too little gain and you’ll have poor quality audio.
Where to Host Your Sermon Podcasts
Once your sermon audio is recorded, edited, and exported, you will need somewhere to host your podcast files. There are two options for hosting your sermon audio: hosting the audio on your website or using a third-party hosting service.
Hosting your sermon podcast from your church website. If your church website supports it, you can upload and host sermon podcasts directly from your website. When I built our church website platform, Koinonia, one of the first features that I built was our sermons module, which includes an iTunes ready podcast.
One of the key benefits to hosting your sermon podcast on your website is to streamline your syndication process. It is a good idea to include your sermons on your website so guests who are considering attending your church for the first time can hear your preaching and experience a part of what your church services are like. Church websites that support sermon podcasting out-of-the-box give you one central place to upload your audio, rather than requiring you to upload your audio to a third-party hosting service (below).
There are a couple of considerations when hosting your sermon podcast on your website:
- Does your hosting service offer enough storage and bandwidth to maintain your sermon podcast? Podcast audio files can be as large as 200 MB, and every subscriber will download a copy of the audio directly from your website. With 100 subscribers downloading 4 times per month, your monthly bandwidth could exceed 80 GB/month.
- Does your website support the required podcast feeds? In order for a podcast application like iTunes to find and download your sermon podcasts, your website must support an iTunes ready RSS feed that contains information about your podcast channel and each episode of your podcast.
To find out if your website can support a sermon podcast, contact your website provider.
Hosting your sermon podcast from a third-party hosting service. If your website does not support a sermon podcast, you can host your sermon audio files with a dedicated podcast hosting service like Soundcloud or Libsyn (ChurchMag uses Buzzsprout). Soundcloud has a free tier with some limitations, and Libsyn offers 50 GB of bandwidth starting at $5/month.
When choosing a hosting service for your sermon podcast, make sure that the hosting provider supports an iTunes ready podcast, and check the company’s support and documentation to make sure they include guidelines for submitting your podcast.
With some podcasting setups, you can host your audio files directly from Dropbox.
How to Distribute Your Sermon Podcasts
The key benefit of hosting a podcast versus standalone audio downloads is syndication. Podcasts are designed to be syndicated—that is, distributed automatically to listeners who have subscribed to your content in order to receive your content as it is published.
The most widely used podcast syndication service is Apple’s iTunes. Apple has historically dominated the mobile audio market share and users with Apple devices like the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad have out-of-the-box access to Apple’s podcast library. Users can open their podcast app, search for your podcast, and subscribe with the click of a button.
To submit your podcast to the iTunes Store and make it available for subscription, follow these helpful podcast submission guidelines from Apple.
To subscribe to a podcast on an Android device, you will need to provide your listeners with the direct link (URL) to your podcast feed (it looks like this: http://thegatheringashe.com/feed/podcast). This link will depend on whether you are hosting your sermon podcast on your website or on a third-party service. You can include your podcast feed URL on the sermon page of your website to make it easy for your subscribers to find.
Making Your Sermon Podcast a Success
Like any other communications program, “set it and forget it” won’t get your congregation and your community involved with actively using your sermon podcast. To be successful at reaching Christians and non-Christians alike through your podcast, you must commit to making your new service known.
We do a few things to publicize our sermon podcast:
- We include a podcast slide in our pre-service slide loop (pictured right).
- We feature our digital channels, including our podcast, in our church bulletin. We are working to transition to an all-digital communication strategy.
- We mention our podcast during our post-service announcements on a monthly basis.
The important step is that you tell people about your podcast! The more people who subscribe to your podcast, the greater your influence in advancing the gospel.
What questions do you have about sermon podcasting?
Ask in the comments below and we will share tips and pointers to help you get started.