And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Breaking down the barriers to in-house video promos and testimonials

People and a plan—according to Ken Dekker (a self-taught AV expert and technology volunteer at New Life Church in New Lenox, Illinois), those are the two required elements for successfully using in-house videos as a promotional tool for small groups. Challenges can and do arise, Dekker added, but if a church has the right people in place and is committed to the video ministry plan, other obstacles can be overcome.

Think Like Joshua

When Joshua had to lead the people into the Promised Land, he knew he couldn't just herd everyone over the border and hope for the best. Instead, he chose two reputable, skilled men to conduct a little reconnaissance and let Joshua know if it was safe to proceed. Starting a video ministry to produce small-group promos and testimonials is not all that different.

Finding Key People

Before the first footage is shot, a church has to find people who are willing and able (as in God-enabled) to serve in this ministry. Just because a person likes to shoot home video of his child's every waking moment doesn't necessarily mean he's qualified to start and run the church's video ministry.

However, having a passion to enhance congregational life through the use of video technology, when combined with proper training and faithful congregational support (prayer, financial, encouragement), will help get this ministry off to a solid start.

Training Key People

Dekker, who started out in church video ministry after attending a local cable TV volunteer training class, said that providing training for volunteers is crucial. The worst thing a church can do is grab the nearest member with a handi-cam and ask him to film an endless list of people answering the same question: "Why is your small group important to you?" Even with editing, the "talking head" format will quickly overwhelm any heartfelt message delivered by the speaker.

Fortunately, training is readily available. "There are so many training opportunities out there," Dekker added. "When I took that cable training, I picked the teacher's brain endlessly and gained so much knowledge from that free class. Then there are community college classes in video production and editing. And don't overlook your high school students. These kids may already have some video skills your church can tap into. Mine that talent."

In addition, churches like Granger Community Church in Indiana offer workshops and conferences on using AV media in various ministries—mainly through their Wired Churches organization (www.gccwired.com). Dekker said he attended a Granger workshop about ten years ago as he was beginning to explore video production in church. "It was incredible," he explained. "They are a church that is so willing to share. Their motto is something like, 'Don't plagiarize, customize. Borrow it, change it to fit your church, and use it!'" Even ten years later, Dekker continues to rely on Granger for inspiration, trends, and techniques that will help him improve the video ministry at New Life.

Lead Like Joshua

With his reconnaissance done, Joshua prepared to lead the people into the Promised Land, according to God's plan for them. The night before Joshua's conquest of Jericho, the angel of the LORD appeared to him, and Joshua's response was twofold: he fell on his face and worshipped the LORD and asked, "What do you command of your servant?" (Joshua 5:14). Good question!

Know Your Purpose

Before you film your first video promo or testimony, make sure that key leaders in your church have 1) been in prayer about this decision and feels led by God to add this type of media into your worship services and/or website, and 2) confirmed that everyone is on board with this new direction.

Joshua would have had a really difficult time bringing down the walls of Jericho if some of the marchers had been moving in the opposite direction. As crazy as Joshua's orders sounded—to walk around the city walls for six days with seven laps on the seventh day, complete with non-stop trumpet blaring the entire time—the people followed his directions because they knew the plan was God-given and part of God's purpose for their lives.

"Especially if you have an older or more traditional church," Dekker said, "the use of video might not be perceived as important or necessary. And there's nothing more discouraging than for a volunteer to spend a lot of time creating a video only for the people in charge to decide to not use it."

Dekker strongly encourages team meetings among key ministry leaders and the newly identified video volunteers well ahead of any introduction of video promos/testimonies. Pray together. Listen to God's leading. Make sure that all questions and concerns are addressed before the volunteers are asked to do the work. Then support and encourage those volunteers in their efforts so that the end result transforms people's hearts and minds and makes them want to participate in small groups.

"You never want people to see your work on the screen and say, 'Well, it wasn't that good, but that's okay. It's only church.' We should strive to create the best quality we possibly can," Dekker said.

Which means you also need to …

Equip Your Team

In addition to finding the right volunteers and making sure the volunteers and the leadership are united in purpose, the ministry needs the proper tools in order to succeed. Just as the priests required the trumpets, the video team will need, at a minimum, a video camera, a computer, and video-editing software. As finances allow, also investing in extra lighting, backgrounds, higher quality microphones, and a designated place to work at church will help the ministry grow.

"Whatever you have already at church, try to use it. If you have wireless microphones for your pastors, just get the adaptors that allow the wireless mikes to record directly into the video camera. Good sound means better videos," Dekker explained. But he also knows firsthand that money can be one of the biggest obstacles to starting a video ministry. If you can't buy an extra light or two so that you don't have to rely on fluorescent overheads when filming, see what you have around your house that might work.

Dekker made the same recommendation for backdrops. If your church can afford to buy a few inexpensive paper backgrounds, great. If not, find a nice neutral wall and arrange some artificial plants or other props to enhance the shot. "Just make sure the person you're filming doesn't look like she has a tree growing out of her head," he chuckled.

Rely on Insider Tips Like Joshua

Just as Joshua's spies got him valuable insider information, thanks to Rahab, Dekker revealed his own list of tips for those wanting to try their hand at video:

  1. Start small. The basic rule of thumb is that for every minute of finished film, there is an hour of work behind it. Ease in slowly by creating a video transition to move between announcements and offering, or a video that introduces the theme of an upcoming sermon series. These can be very short and might only include words and graphics if it's your first attempt at a video project.
  2. Find decent software. If finances are an obstacle, consider using Windows Movie Maker, which typically comes standard on home computers. A basic professional editing program that won't break the bank is Adobe's Premiere Elements, which is often sold bundled with Photoshop Elements for around $100.
  3. Purchase videos as needed. Consider buying pre-made videos to test the waters on using AV media in worship. Companies like Midnight Oil Productions, BluefishTV, and Floodgate Productions all make short videos for churches on a myriad of themes. They also have specialized content—some on announcements/promos, others on personal stories, others on comedy.
  4. Copycat as needed. While checking out the above companies' online inventories, multitask and take note of the styles and techniques these professionals use. Visit their websites for inspiration (and often free downloads): www.bluefishtv.com, floodgateproductions.com, and www.midnightoilproductions.com.
  5. Read, read, read. Find resources to help you get to know your ministry area. Online magazines like Technologies for Worship Magazine and Church Production offer free digital versions. VideoMaker Magazine, a secular publication for beginners, is subscription-based but filled with a wealth of information. Anthony Coppedge also has a relevant, info-packed blog for those working in church media ministries: www.anthonycoppedge.com/ac/.
  6. Get help from others. Find a church in your area that is already using video promos/testimonies and ask to meet with their video ministry team. Chances are good that whatever obstacles you're facing, they have faced, too, and can tell you how to overcome them with a lot less pain and suffering.

Here's what God told Joshua be he headed into the Promised Land: "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Know that whatever barriers stand in your way of using technology to promote and honor small-group life, those walls can come tumbling down when you are strong and courageous and take God with you in your work.

—Rachel Gilmore is author of The Complete Leader's Guide to Christian Retreats and Church Programs and Celebrations for All Generations.

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