What are my translation options for church?

Nov 28, 2018 | Churches, Technology

Every church has its own reasons for seeking to provide translation. Maybe you have a growing group of non-English speakers visiting. Maybe you’re part of an ethnic church with a young generation that does not speak your native language. Or maybe you want to reach out to people in your community who don’t speak your language and welcome them in your church. Your church translation options may seem limited at first if you are not sure where to begin.
So how do you get started? It can feel overwhelming at the beginning. There are several ways to provide translation each with its own costs and benefits.
In order to help you through the process of choosing a translation solution, this article explains:
  • The different translation options available, and how much it costs to get started
  • The resources you need for each setup
  • How you can think holistically about integrating diverse languages into the church

This article will talk about the following options assuming your church has bilingual volunteer(s) that can do the hard work of interpretation or translation week after week. This can be a big assumption, we know! If you need a solution when you don’t have enough talented volunteers, consider engaging a professional translator or interpreter. If those are out of budget, spf.io may be able to help

Here are five approaches to providing translation.

1. Chucotage (or whispered interpretation)

Whispered interpretation is the quickest option that doesn’t require any equipment. It’s just one person listening to what the speaker is saying and whispering the interpretation to a few people sitting around them.

Cost: Free unless you choose to acknowledge the volunteers that do this week after week with a gift.

What you need: A skilled bilingual volunteer

Pros: Doesn’t impact the speaker.

Cons: This only helps one or two people sitting next to the interpreter. Also, other people may find it distracting. You still have to coordinate to communicate to guests that translation is available and ensure a volunteer is available when it’s needed.

2. Printed translation

Another way to provide translation is to leverage prepared content (like a manuscript or slides) and translate them ahead of time. The preacher provides their message/notes ahead of time to a volunteer translator, who then translates it and gets it all printed out to be distributed to the people who need it. Free tools like Google Translate or Microsoft Translator may help speed up the process by generating first-pass translations.

Man holding piece of paper to scan with a printer

Cost: printing cost + time for volunteers to translate + optional love gift for volunteers

What you need: A bilingual volunteer, paper and printer

Pros: It’s easy to distribute and you can serve a lot of people

Cons: This option requires the preacher to provide prepared material in advance. It also requires coordination between the preacher and translator(s). Printed translation lacks the engagement of live interpretation and it cannot serve people who are illiterate.


3. Consecutive interpretation

Consecutive interpretation is when an interpreter stands with the preacher in the front and they take turns speaking into the microphone–the preacher says a few sentences and then the interpreter translates.

Image of multiple microphones on stage

Cost: Optional love gift for volunteers

What you need: A skilled bilingual volunteer. Not everyone is comfortable publicly performing on stage with the preacher.

Pros: Everyone gets translation by simply sitting in the audience like everyone else.

Cons: This can only provide translation into one language and the event ends up doubling in length. The audience may have a hard time following the message due to the constant change in speaker. And speakers may be less effective because of having to pause for their interpreter.


4. Simultaneous interpretation

This is when the audience listens to translation spoken by an interpreter through a wireless headset system. The interpreter typically sits in another room or in a special booth to reduce distraction.

Cost: Varies depending on number of listeners and equipment + optional love gift for volunteers. See possible equipment options below (note: some links below are affiliate links). Equipment quality, the number of available channels, and number of headsets included vary depending on the item. Be sure to read the item descriptions.

What you need: A bilingual volunteer, headset system OR spf.io with audio livestreaming, a separate audio line, a quiet enclosed space for the interpreter.

Pros: A smoother experience for the speaker and audience.
Cons: Church translation equipment can be a big cost upfront and can be hard to scale because it is limited to the number of headsets on-hand. Audience members may not know headsets are available, may feel like it is too inconvenient or even feel embarrassed and so choose not to use them. Also, the equipment needs to be cleaned, checked and maintained after use. (Note: If you choose spf.io audio livestreaming, many of these possible downsides are addressed.)

5. A combined approach

Our software spf.io enables you to take advantage of prepared content and scale translation to everyone that needs it in the format that they enjoy: written text or audio.

Image of male hand holding iPhone opened to spf.io, showing various options to receive translation

Cost: Depends on usage in minutes and simultaneous connections. Request a quote.

What you need: Laptop, internet, and microphone audio connected to laptop, volunteer

Pros: It creates a smooth experience for the speaker and audience. Everyone that needs translation gets it on their personal devices or on public displays. Live translation is easily distributed to people in real time. You can save money by re-using translations of liturgical content that is repeated week over week.

Cons: Some venues don’t support the level of internet required. If an audience member does not have a smartphone, you may need to provide a device for them like a Kindle Fire or an iPad.


When would I want to use spf.io over these other options?

Spf.io might be the right solution for you if you…

  • Expect to grow beyond five listeners within the next two years
  • Want to eventually translate into more than one language
  • Wish to provide both text and audio translation
  • Want to digitally provide translated slides and documents
  • Value not having to maintain equipment
  • Are looking for an all-in-one solution for translation and accessibility
  • Livestream your services or plan to livestream and want to make it accessible or available in multiple languages

A headset system/other solution might be right for you if you…

  • Do not expect to grow beyond five listeners in the next two years
  • Do not need to provide accessibility (i.e. captions and subtitles)
  • Have no or poor internet access at your church
  • Just need to translate into one language
  • Know your audience does not have their own devices

Other questions to keep in mind

Before deciding on how to provide translation, be sure to think about how to sustain this ministry for the long term and work with the people you want to include. Identifying and collaborating closely with a few leaders will create a shared sense of identity and ownership and help ensure whatever solution you choose is effectively used.

But these questions can help you think through the right solution for your church:

  • Modality – What modality do your members prefer? Do they like to wear headsets and listen along, or would they prefer to read the translation? Or would they prefer to have choices? Cultural preferences may be at play here.
  • Sustainability – What level of commitment is sustainable for your team? Will they be able to take a break and invest in outreach? What happens if they need to reduce their commitment or move away?
  • Tradeoffs – What tradeoffs are you willing to make between budget and volunteer labor and adapting your worship service to create the optimal solution for your church?
  • Preparation – How can you change the preparation process to make it more sustainable for the team?
  • Multilingual Worship – What changes can you make in the worship service to incorporate other languages more holistically? How can you accommodate other languages from the stage?
  • Leverage – Is repurposing or reusing translation work important to you to make translation easier going forward?


Translation is a valuable ministry that unites a church across various languages. It enables a multitude of people to worship together, creating a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Your church is on an exciting journey! Start with the simple steps and as you grow, you can change how you do things to increasingly reflect that Kingdom vision. Most importantly, keep nurturing your relationships with people from other cultures and languages so they are not merely recipients, but key partners in the life of the church. 


Looking for more guidance? Send us your question and we’ll get back to you!

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