How to set up a YouTube channel for your church [and why you must!]Last Updated: July 21st, 2020

During the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, congregations have pivoted to a whole new way of “doing church.”  Live streaming weekend worship experiences has become the new normal. Small groups, pastoral counseling, and children’s ministries are routinely using interactive videoconferencing platforms in lieu of personal connections. These new approaches are likely here to stay.

Building on the foundation of a robust, optimized website, a church’s YouTube channel is a core building block of a church’s online presence. You can use it to set up a virtual church by broadcasting your worship music, sermons, and prayer meetings in real time–offering your church family an experience that’s as personal as possible. And, of course, you can also upload recordings for your members to watch on-demand at their convenience. 

Don’t mistake your church’s YouTube channel as merely a temporary stop-gap measure during this season of social distancing. It can do much more than that. Applying strategic thinking, planning, and creativity, your YouTube channel can be a powerful marketing tool for your church. Used well, it can help to expand your church’s online ministry–building a growing and loyal local following. It will also allow you to break into segments of your target audience that turn to YouTube to find answers to their spiritual queries. 

If you don’t have a church YouTube channel, now is the time to start one. Here are nine basic steps for getting this project off the ground! 

Step #1: Setting up your church’s YouTube channel (the logistics)

To start your YouTube channel, first log into your YouTube account. To do so, log into your Gmail account and access YouTube from the apps icon. (If you don’t have a Gmail account, create a free one here.)

Next, click Create a channel.

You’ll see a popup — click Get Started.

Next, choose to Use a custom channel name:

As soon as you click Select, you’ll get to enter your channel’s name:

Next, you’ll be asked to upload a display picture for your channel, a channel description, and links to your church’s website and other links. 

Add your information in each of these fields. (You can find tips on choosing a good icon or display pic and writing a good channel description in the following steps. Remember that you can always go back to edit them later.)

Once you complete this step, your church’s YouTube channel will be ready.

Step #2: Branding your church’s YouTube channel

Once you’ve set up your church’s YouTube channel, it’s time to “make it your own” or brand it… because your church’s YouTube channel page, in many ways, is like your church’s front door on YouTube. 

Your church’s channel art — or the header image of your channel page — helps you do this. The channel art is one of key branding tools available for your YouTube channel.

It’s common for churches to use their logo and name as the key elements on the channel header. Check out the channel art of this church’s YouTube channel using their logo and name:  

The ideal dimensions for a YouTube channel art are 2560×1440, though the “safe area” — or the area that will always be visible on smaller screens — is 1546×423. Since mobile devices account for about 70% of YouTube watch time, keep small screens and the safe area in mind when choosing the channel art for your church’s YouTube channel. 

In addition to the channel art, you also get a channel icon for branding your church’s YouTube channel. Think of your channel’s icon as your church’s display pic on YouTube. You could use your church’s logo for this, as does the church in the example above. .

In addition to your channel art and icon, you can also add a branded teaser to your channel. This teaser appears under the Home tab and is usually the first thing your visitors will see when they arrive at your YouTube channel. 

Here’s an example of a great teaser for a church’s YouTube channel. It’s a short welcome message from the church’s senior pastor informing the subscriber what content they can expect on the channel and ending with a call to subscribe:

You might want to use a message from your pastor as your church’s channel’s teaser or create a custom video for it. (More on this in step 6.)

And finally, you should secure a branded URL for your church’s YouTube channel. Your branded URL should look something like this: youtube.com/c/YourChurchName

This is an example of such a branded URL: https://www.youtube.com/user/hillsongchurchsydney/ 

YouTube allows you to use capital letters in your branded URL. So you could use https://www.youtube.com/user/HillsongChurchSydney/  instead of the small case version. 

To apply for a branded URL, your channel must be at least 30 days old and have 100 subscribers. You can find the exact steps to request a branded URL for your church’s YouTube channel here

Remember that while these four things — your channel art, icon, teaser, and URL — take care of the major branding for your church’s channel, these aren’t the only ways to maximize your YouTube channel. As you begin posting videos, be aware that your videos’ thumbnails serve as another branding element. Branded thumbnails enable you to reinforce your church’s brand each time you post. Videos with a branded thumbnail are more likely to be viewed by browsing visitors. (More on this in step 6.)

Step #3: Writing copy for your church’s YouTube channel

With the visual (and video) branding in place, it’s time to write your channel’s description. Your channel’s description is the most important piece of copy that you’ll write for your church’s YouTube channel. 

Eventually, you’ll need to write descriptions for every video you post. We’ll address that shortly. For now, just understand that an optimized YouTube channel description can make your channel more discoverable in YouTube searches. Also, if your copy is inspiring, it can help grow your channel’s views and subscribers, resulting in a stronger reach for your church. 

So how can you write an optimized YouTube channel description? 

It’s simple — just follow these tips:

  • Use a good structure. Before writing your channel’s description, write an outline. Consider a simple outline like Intro—Service Schedule—Important Links (links to the website, online connection card, donation page, etc.)—Info on what you post and posting schedule—Call to action (CTA)
  • Frontload the copy. The first two or three sentences of your channel’s description are the most important for search engine optimization (SEO). The first 125 characters of your description are visible in YouTube’s search results, so make sure that your keywords are present there. 
  • Introduce your church and talk about the value you offer via your YouTube channel. You need to use your channel’s description to encourage viewers to subscribe, so it’s important to show the value subscribing will offer the viewers. For example, if you broadcast your Sunday services live on YouTube, add: “Never miss a Sunday service again – join us live at 9 AM each Sunday.” Or explain how you’ll answer the most pressing questions about faith, life and relationships. 
  • Use keywords. Adding keywords to your channel’s description is one of the surest ways of making it more discoverable in YouTube searches. 
  • Add links to key information. This one is pretty simple: If someone lands on your YouTube channel, you want to invite them to visit your website. So your channel description must have a link to your website as well as your service schedule.
  • Use a strong Call To Action — (Subscribe ?!) End your description with a direct call to action asking the viewers to subscribe. Write the CTA (“Subscribe”) and link it to http://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=YourChurch’sUsername. Replace YourChurch’sUsername with your channel’s actual name.

Most churches — even with a solid YouTube presence — often miss optimizing their channel description. This is a lost opportunity. 

Check out the channel description that Lakewood Church uses, then contrast it with the church below that hasn’t provided a description at all:

You get the idea, right?

Step #4: Researching content topics for your church’s YouTube channel 

Now that your channel’s front door is ready, it’s time to add content to your channel. 

There’s much more to having a robust YouTube channel than simply recording your sermon and uploading the video. To reach more people with your videos and to make your church more discoverable before your target audience, you need to understand how YouTube works.

Think about YouTube as a serious growth channel and optimize it for online search just the way you optimize your website and content for Google search. YouTube, just like Google, is a search engine, but it’s specifically for video content.

Just as your church website and content appear in Google searches only when you produce the right copy and content, your church’s YouTube channel and content become discoverable in YouTube searches when they are optimized for the video search queries that people make.

And that’s why succeeding with YouTube — like Google — starts with keyword research.

Also, just like regular SEO keyword research, the first step to perform YouTube keyword research is to create a list of sermon topic keywords. The easiest and fastest way to come up with a list of keywords is to think in terms of themes. For instance, if you list the themes that come to your mind when you think about your sermon content, here’s what your list could look like:

  • Gospel
  • Prayer
  • Faith
  • Salvation 
  • Marriage 
  • Parenting 

Once you have such a list of themes, it’s time to head over to YouTube and use YouTube’s auto suggest feature to expand upon the themes and discover the long-tail YouTube search queries around each. 

For example, if you type “sermons,” you’ll see the following list of long-tail keywords powered by YouTube’s auto suggest feature. As you can tell, most of these make up good ideas for sermon topics. The topics appear on YouTube’s search predictions because they are common topics people are searching for.

When YouTube predictions don’t work for a particular theme — or if you simply want to explore more themes — it’s time to use a keyword tool. 

LSIGraph is a good free option for doing such keyword research.

If you try looking for “Bible Reading” on LSIGraph, you’ll see that it comes up with a host of relevant long-tail keywords. 

If you look up these suggestions on YouTube, you’ll be able to gauge their demand on that platform. For instance, if you try searching for “Bible reading plan” on YouTube,  you’ll see some nice ideas for videos:

From the results, it appears that many people look for help with reading the Bible and are looking for “plans.” So this could make an excellent topic for doing a video.

Another keyword research tool you might use for this is Keyword.io. Keyword.io directly pulls YouTube’s autosuggest results for any theme you enter. For example, when you enter “sermons” in Keyword.io, here are the results it pulls up:

As you can tell, these would make some excellent video content.

Now you might wonder about the number of (SEO) video ideas you need.

There’s no right number of SEO videos you should publish, but assuming that you would post a video once per week, coming up with 50-55 ideas per year should suffice. 

Don’t forget that in addition to these videos, you’ll be inserting a special video series from time to time, like the Divine Mercy Novena series, for instance. And around all the other important occasions as well.

You’ll also be creating videos (ideally, SEO-friendly) related to other ministries of your church (for example, Financial Peace University, counseling, MOPS, Marriage Ministry).

These videos, coupled with the livestreaming of your services, will help you create a rich and diverse feed for your church’s YouTube channel.

Step #5: Building an editorial calendar to streamline your church’s YouTube channel’s content

Once you finalize all the topics you’ll be creating videos for, it’s time to put it all together in an editorial calendar. Your editorial calendar will help you post consistently on your YouTube channel.

An easy and free tool to create this is Google Calendar. Just visit calendar.google.com and add the “Christian Holidays” calendar to it. 

Here’s how:

Please download and add this video here: https://www.awesomescreenshot.com/video/96471?key=95305a2afe2416ca4ee7e9cd2ab5165c

As you can see, this calendar already has all the key dates marked out for you, so it gives you some good direction on the videos you might need in a certain month.

Adding new video ideas is also simple — just add them as events. For example, if you decide to post a “Weekly Reflections” series, just set up a recurring event that repeats every week… let’s say on each Friday. Or, you could set up a “Daily Mass” series where you upload recordings of, say, 20 minutes of your daily prayers. If you bring on guest preachers, you could add events for those too.

No matter what content you’ve planned, just put it here in this calendar because this will direct your posting/broadcasting schedule.

Step #6: Creating engaging content for posting (or broadcasting) to your church’s YouTube channel

Now that you know all the videos you’ll need, it’s time to create them. 

Most of your videos will come straight from your lead pastor or ministries (as you’ll likely record them). 

But not all of them. For example, if you want to create a video on the Bible reading plan topic, you could just write your video script as a blog post and repurpose your post into a video. All you’ll need to create such videos will be good images to run in the clip and some appropriate music. Your images will have your content. Compiling such videos is easy (and also free) with Google Photos. 

Or you might want to use premium video maker tools to create such content. Biteable, for example, comes with a library of images and footage to use for the background and lets you add text to them scene by scene. Below you can see how this works: 

Opening scene:

Scene two:

In these tools, the watermark-free copies of your videos are only available in the premium versions. So you’ll have to subscribe to their paid plans.

Don’t forget the thumbnail…

One very important part of creating your video is creating its thumbnail. Your video’s thumbnail is its featured image. YouTube picks three images of each video you upload and lets you choose your thumbnail for the video from them. 

YouTube’s picks may not, however, be the most ideal shots from your video. So instead of letting YouTube do this for you, you should upload a custom thumbnail for each of your videos. (Note: Only verified accounts can upload custom thumbnails.)

YouTube gives an excellent tip on what makes a good thumbnail:

Close-ups, in-focus, high resolution, accurately represents content, looks good large or small. — YouTube

Here are examples of thumbnails for videos with the same content:

As long as you create a branded thumbnail using a quality image for each video you post, you should be in good shape. Also, remember to keep the thumbnails of all your videos consistent. You can use free tools like Canva to create these.

Also, remember to add cards…

Youtube lets you add five cards to each of your YouTube videos. 

So what are cards? 

Cards are basically clickable tools that you can use to promote more of your content (or playlists) at different points in the video your viewers are currently watching. So, for example, inside your Bible reading video, you could add a card at, say, 30 seconds pointing viewers to your video that has the first day’s reading session. This way, your viewers who are ready for the session can simply click through and watch that video. 

Cards usually do better when they’re toward the end of the video, when the viewer is likely looking for the next thing to watch.

And an end screen… 

End screens are like cards, but they only show up in the last 5-20 seconds of your videos. They’re your tools to recommend more of your videos and playlists (and even channels) that you’d like your viewers to watch next. This helps you make your content more discoverable to engaged viewers (who’ve just finished watching a video till the end). 

You can also use end screens to ask your viewers to subscribe to your channel (by adding a clickable subscribe link) or to link to your church website.  

An end screen supports up to four elements, so you can promote up to four videos or maybe three videos and a subscribe button on it.

Step #7: “SEO-ing” your YouTube channel’s content for higher discoverability

Once your video content is ready, it’s time to optimize it for better rankings. Ensuring that your videos show up in YouTube for the relevant keywords requires that you optimize their titles, descriptions, and tags.

  • Using an optimized title. Your video’s title must use the keyphrase you want it to show up for, because seeing the keyword in the title reassures the searcher that it is indeed the content they need. If you go back to the Bible reading video example, then your title must contain the keyphrase “Bible reading plan.” Also, keep your titles short — under 60 characters — and use your keywords at the beginning. With the title, you’re trying to balance discoverability with clickability, so it must be compelling too. 
  • Writing rich, descriptive text in the description field. Unlike your viewers, YouTube can’t get what your video is about by watching it. Instead, it learns about the content of your video by examining what you write in its description field. That’s why detailed descriptions help rank a video better. When you write your video’s description, “front load” it… i.e., use your keywords in the first two-three sentences. Also, note that with support for 5,000 characters, your video’s description can be a blog post (of around 800 words) in itself! So don’t be afraid to go long-form. However, keep in mind that only the first 100 characters or 2 to 3 lines will be visible by default – the rest only shows up when a viewer clicks Show more. Remember that you can add links to your video’s description. So if you’ve a follow up resource or video, link to it in the description. You can also add a subscribe link (using the same method described in step #3).
  • Adding relevant tags. YouTube supports hashtags in the title and description fields. So if you use a hashtag like #EasterMass in your Easter mass video, you’ll have a better chance of showing up in the search results when searchers/viewers use the hashtag. Even YouTube will be able to better understand the context of your video if you use the right hashtags. But use hashtags responsibly — not that using over 15 hashtags for a video will make YouTube ignore all of them. In our example, we could use a bunch of relevant hashtags like #BibleReading and #DailyBible and so on.

Your channel’s description is also an important part of the YouTube SEO mix, but you took care of it already in the third step!

Step #8: Promoting your church’s YouTube channel

When you “SEO” your YouTube channel, you set it up for organic success. Eventually, you’ll see people discovering your content and also subscribing to your channel. This process, however, takes months sometimes. 

So instead of just relying on organic growth, actively promote your YouTube channel via other tactics too. Here are three effective ones. 

  1. Promote your church’s YouTube channel among your current community. The first one is easy. Here, you just need to ask all those who visit your church to subscribe to your YouTube channel. This simple ask can give your first few hundred or thousand subscribers and all the momentum you need to kick off a successful YouTube channel. So make your regular attendees your first subscribers. 
  1. Engage with the YouTube influencers in your niche and appear on their YouTube channels. This one needs work… Here, you need to team up with people — for example, a local believer who runs a popular YouTube channel — and make a guest appearance on their YouTube channel and invite them to yours too. Such collaboration lets both the parties hack into each others’ YouTube audiences and grow. 
  1. Cross-promote your channel on other platforms. This one needs you to share your YouTube channel’s content on Facebook and Instagram. When you do so, you don’t just prompt your Facebook and Instagram followers to follow you on YouTube, but you also help them share your content with their Facebook/Instagram circles. You should also consider joining other groups (such as those around faith) and leaving links to your videos in responses to relevant posts or talking about your upcoming live broadcasts. Use this tactic with care, though, because you never want to come across as spammy. 

Step #9: Creating a monitoring plan for your YouTube channel’s content

Analyzing your channel’s performance is an important step if you want to keep growing it. And luckily it’s super-easy with YouTube Studio Analytics. You can think of it as Google Analytics, but for your YouTube channel. Unlike Google Analytics, however, YouTube analytics is very intuitive. Within seconds, you can find out how many subscribers you have, how many views you got within a certain period, and which sources are effective at sending traffic your way (among a host of other measurables). 

With YouTube Analytics, you can:

  • Know how you’re getting found on YouTube: So you can know whether your YouTube traffic is coming primarily from your videos showing up in suggested videos or from ranking for their target keywords or if external sources (like websites) are sending the traffic.
  • See “who” is engaging with you on YouTube: Audience analytics gives you demographic data about your viewers like their age, gender, language, and location. And also data on when they’re online — an insight that can help you finetune your posting/streaming schedule. 
  • Learn how your content is doing: You can see your top videos and playlists and also the best-performing cards and end screens. This can help you plan more of the content that’s working and also optimize cards based on learnings from those that outperform others.

When you’re just starting out, monitoring the number of views and subscribers once a week should be good enough. These metrics will show you how your channel is growing. In addition to this, do a monthly review of your content, audience, and traffic sources. You can monitor these more frequently as your views and subscribers grow. Likes, shares, and comments are a few more engagement metrics that you might want to add to your monitoring plan over time.

Now that you understand how to set up a YouTube channel for your church and how to grow it organically (for free), let’s look at some other potential costs for you to run a YouTube channel for your church.

Setting up your church’s YouTube channel: the investment

Your church’s YouTube channel will mainly have two types of content: 1) Videos that you create, and 2)  Live Streams. 

Creating the first type of content — videos that you make —  is almost free unless you use a paid tool to make the videos. At the most, you might need to invest in a good camera (that you could get for about a hundred bucks) for making good recordings for uploading. 

The real investment is needed for the livestreaming part of “YouTubing.” Because here you need an entire livestream setup, which needs at the very least: 

  • A good camera
  • A video capture device
  • A decent computer with about 8 GB RAM 
  • A Tripod
  • A good internet connection
  • Streaming software (like vMix)

Even a basic quality setup could require an investment of a few thousand dollars if you don’t already have these items — and it will require costs for maintenance and care. So before you invest a great deal of money into this, be sure that livestreaming makes sense for you. If you don’t see live streaming as an essential part of your long-term YouTube and general church marketing mix, avoid it. You can always start when you feel ready.

Besides, don’t forget that live streams are just one of the many types of content for your church’s YouTube channel. So not being able to livestream shouldn’t feel limiting in any way.

WE CAN HELP

Missional Marketing is ready to help your church think through a comprehensive online strategy and then work with you to create a highly effective YouTube channel. We can walk your church through the steps necessary to plan a long-term solution that will meet your budget and technical ability.

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