All posts by philipmt

Phil Thompson is a husband and father who serves as a lay teacher at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC and works in the travel industry. He holds a MA in Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and an MDiv from Columbia International University.

Mission Accomplished

Today I lost my best childhood friend, my greatest mentor, and the godliest man I ever knew.

I first remember meeting Dave Vogelsang (“Mr. Dave”) when I was seven years old and attending Anchor Baptist Church in Millersville, Maryland. I didn’t know the kind of impact that he’d have on my life and on the lives of countless others. I wish I could sum up all that Mr. Dave has and always will mean to me, but I can’t. The best I can do is write down several cathartic observations about a life well lived, at the very least to serve as personal reminders to myself.

He Had a Heart for the Next Generation

Mr. Dave taught the 5th and 6th grade Sunday School class at our church, and his was the class that everyone wanted to attend. And there was a reason. The reason wasn’t just the Tootsie Rolls that he generously gave out to all his students (he insisted that there would be no favoritism…everyone received and received alike)–although that was a definite perk. The reason was that Mr. Dave himself was the real deal. He cared about each of his students individually. He knew us and our parents. He made sure to visit the homes of his students at least once a semester. He wanted to know that we had a serious relationship with God.

I’ll never forget the day I was chatting with Mr. Dave after church and telling him about how much I wanted to be a pilot. He said, “You know, if you want to help me mow the church lawn on Saturday, I’ll take you to the airport and we’ll watch airplanes land.” Every Saturday for 4 years I mowed the church lawn with Mr. Dave. He (quite without my awareness) taught me how to serve. And then we’d grab Burger King and sit at the airport and talk. Not only could I identify every airplane and airliner at an impressive distance, but I also received the equivalent of a couple seminary degrees due to our extended theological conversations.

Over the years, even as college, marriage, seminary, kids, jobs, ministry, and so much more pulled our paths apart, I always knew that Mr. Dave was there in his little home on Alameda Parkway with Christmas decorations up year-round, praying for me. I never doubted that for a second. Sometimes he’d call and talk for no less than an hour. And he’d always send a Christmas card, with carefully selected poems and verses and a note scratched out in his ever-so-hard-to-read handwriting. Or sometimes it was a book–a love language we both shared. But I always knew he cared and that he always brought my name before the throne of grace–even when life got crazy and I forgot to call him back on far too many occasions.

He Had a Heart for the Nations

Mr. Dave’s Sunday School classes weren’t your ordinary classes. He taught the curriculum, but he always wanted to get to a missionary story. He would tell personal stories about his time with missionaries in Alaska (one of his favorite places on earth). He had an impressive grasp of geography and had instant recall of hundreds of missionary names, locations, prayer requests, and opportunities. He was the first to get missionary prayer letters and he always sent care packages (usually books) to our missionaries. He impressed on the minds of his students the importance of considering first if God would have us go to the nations before deciding to do anything else.

My call to ministry was directly impacted by Mr. Dave’s passion for missions. He knew my interest in aviation, so early in our friendship he handed me a book entitled Jungle Pilot in Liberia by Abe Guenter. As I read the book, my mind danced with the idea of serving God and doing something I was passionate about at the same time. Over the years, Mr. Dave would drive me to ground school and flying lessons. He would give me more books on missionary aviators. We would dream about what it would be like to land on a short dirt strip or on one of those pontoon planes that he loved so much in Alaska.

But more than that, Mr. Dave demonstrated his heart for the nations in his prayers. I remember the joy of praying with Mr. Dave on Wednesday night prayer meetings. He always prayed the longest (and loudest), but his prayers were always the most interesting. He would meander through missionaries I knew and didn’t know. He would pray for the kids of missionaries. He would pray for schools that trained missionaries. And he would pray for his little buddies like me to become missionaries.

One day Mr. Dave asked me if I’d like to go help out a church planter in inner city Baltimore. He helped me make the connection and regularly drove me into the city to serve alongside Pastor Fleck at New Southwest Baptist Church. Little did I know it, but Mr. Dave was a big part of awakening my vision for pastoral ministry and church planting.

He sparked the fires for Kingdom advance in little souls. And there’s nothing more he would have rather done than serve God on the foreign field himself. But there were reasons.

He Demonstrated Dignity in Suffering

At first all I thought was that he was just a little out of shape, and he walked with a cane at times. Eventually I learned that as a child he contracted the dreaded polio disease and his entire body was ravaged as a result. This weakened many of his muscles, but he was able to go on and recover significantly. He went on to serve in the US Postal Service until he took a bad fall and injured his knee. After some time sorting mail, he took disability and retired. During that time, he had married and his wife left him. In this chaotic series of events, there was a deep soul-crushing loss for him. There was physical loss–a lack of mobility that made travel and missions work challenging. There was an emotional loss–a spouse who deserted him, leaving him isolated and lonely. And there was a spiritual loss–for all of his passion for ministry, Mr. Dave believed that a divorced man could not serve as a pastor.

Over time, his physical trauma would only get worse. The first time I ever went to visit someone in a hospital was going to see my buddy, Mr. Dave. He had a standard knee replacement surgery and was hard at work doing physical therapy to try to get mobile again. But something went horribly wrong. One Wednesday night at church he told me about how badly his knee ached and that he needed to go in to see the doctor. When the results finally arrived, the doctors discovered that his knee had become infected and that there was no longer enough bone to re-insert a new knee. For the rest of his life on this earth (probably 20 years now), Mr. Dave would transport himself with a walker, his leg in a giant metal brace, and his foot in a shoe with a huge sole (to compensate for the lost length of his leg).

Mr. Dave hanging out at the family farm in South Carolina on one of his few and difficult journeys to come and see me.

As the years went on, Mr. Dave continued to experience incredible physical setbacks. But it never deterred him from service. He would still climb up on the tractor and mow the church lawn. He would drive me around to all the shut-ins, and I would deliver audio or video tapes of the church services to them. He would come early and stay late for church services, unlocking and locking the building and running the sound booth during the service. And I’ll never forget probably one of his last trips outside of Maryland–when, probably against all the doctors orders to the contrary, he showed up at my wedding in Greenville, South Carolina.

He Valued the Life of the Mind

Mr. Dave is the person who first taught me that PhD really stood for “Posthole Digger” and that an expert was nothing more than a former (“ex”) drip under pressure (“spurt”). He loved passing himself off as a know-nothing and making digs at scholarly elitism. But I think part of the reality was that Mr. Dave had spent hours teaching himself the Word of God and reading Christian books. He could see through so much of the pretentiousness of academia, but he really did know its value deep down. What he lamented was scholarship for scholarship’s sake. He loved scholars who applied their learning to missions and international training; he loved scholars who wrote books that the rest of the church could read and apply. I acutely remember his theory that conservative scholars frequently didn’t write because they were afraid of getting attacked by fellow conservatives (a theory that has given me boldness in my present responsibilities).

A vast number of my first theological books in my library have an inscription from Mr. Dave. He took me to theology seminars and to free Bible college classes at my church (when I was still a young teenager). We would discuss Calvinism, Dispensationalism, substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, church history and so much more. We read Spurgeon together. He was the first person to tell me about “this excellent preacher and writer from Minneapolis named John Piper.” He urged me on to tackle ever-higher page counts in my yearly reading goals, pushing me to read systematic theology: Ryrie, then Thiessen, then Strong, then Erickson before I turned 17. He never left his house without a book in the bag on the front of his walker. To this day, alongside my desk sits a copy of C. H. Spurgeon’s We Endeavour, a short book with messages to Christian leaders. Mr. Dave gave me that book in 2002, and I read it roughly every year. And, in turn, I’ve purchased copies and given them away to young pastors and leaders. Undoubtedly, he passed on his passion to study the Scriptures and to draw on the insights of the church.

No matter how deep we could go, it always turned back to practical. I’ll never forget that urgency. You could see it in his passionate evangelistic activity even when laid up in the hospital. You could hear it in his “Amen” from the back corner when Pastor Counterman would begin to make his applications. You could feel it on the late night drives home from the airport when he’d lapse into one of the homilies he would deliver at the local nursing home. He knew his stuff, but he knew that it was more important to know the Savior.

He is the Kind of Disciple-maker the Church Needs More Than Ever

Mr. Dave would dutifully attend events that we invited him to, even if they were physically difficult for him or even if they were as painfully awkward as my sister’s ballet recitals.

In his entire life, Mr. Dave never tweeted or posted on Facebook or wrote a blog. He never owned a computer, and his phone only made calls. He never had much money, and what he had he gave to missions. He served quietly on the periphery of the church. He prayed like I always have wanted to pray. And he knew his Bible backwards and forwards. His was a life of true piety, but it never stopped there.

He didn’t follow any disciple-making strategy that I’ve ever seen or heard of (besides in the first four books of the New Testament). There was no playbook, no leader standing over him telling him to invest in others. He had every reason to excuse himself from investing in the next generation. He could have allowed his pain and anguish over never getting to be a missionary or stand in a pulpit on a Sunday crush his soul. But instead, Mr. Dave cared enough to extend an invitation to serve in those little unseen ways alongside him. He overlooked the awkwardness of this quirky, geeky homeschooled kid to invite me into his life. It cost him a Whopper Jr. meal once a week and, okay, probably a decent chunk of book purchases on my behalf, but his investment will last for eternity. With absolute certainty I can say that I would never be the man I am today or serving God the way I am today without the life of Mr. Dave. And I’m not the only one.

I remember Mr. Dave’s frequent references to David Brainerd over the years. And one quotation from Brainerd that I suspect that Mr. Dave resonated with is this one:

“It is sweet to be nothing and less than nothing that Christ may be all in all.”

May our churches be filled with men and women who desire the sweetness of being less than nothing so that Christ might be everything to those who are far from him.

Mission accomplished, Mr. Dave.

Church Tech | Video Distribution

This article continues a series on church technology, particularly geared toward small to medium-sized churches. The previous article covered video production.


Video distribution is the process of taking a well-produced video and making it available on the web. Let’s look at several different avenues for video distribution and some tips for making the most of each one and some additional observations where needed.

Vimeo

Vimeo is a paid video hosting site that handles large video files in a clean, elegant interface. It’s important to think of Vimeo as a mom-and-pop hardware store. They don’t get a ton of foot traffic, but what they do, they do well. They provide a solid quality product, but you may have to go out of your way to find it. Here are some tips to make the most use of the medium:

  • As with all other platforms, add captions and a thumbnail for the ideal user experience.
  • Customize your embed settings and the player color scheme to match the colors for your ministry.
  • Change up the end screen to feature links, videos, etc.

Because Vimeo is a paid platform, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of using it for your video.

  • Pros
    • Vimeo gives you the most options when it comes to privacy. You can use this to your advantage when shooting video that addresses issues for members or that you want to keep from being embedded on another site.
    • Vimeo is the best ad-free, beautiful, and elegant video streaming player out there, bar none. If you want your video to look good on your site, use Vimeo.
    • Vimeo doesn’t downgrade your video quality, storing even the original video file for you to upload at any time.
    • Vimeo has stepped up its sharing tools, allowing you to push videos from its platform to YouTube and elsewhere with ease.
  • Cons
    • Vimeo is a competitor to Google-owned YouTube, and simply does not perform as well on Google search results as YouTube does.
    • Vimeo is not treated like a “social media platform” like YouTube, so don’t expect the kind of constant exposure that YouTube generates through subscriptions, especially among younger viewers.
    • Vimeo lacks tools for scheduling videos, exporting lists of data, and any sort of robust analytics. For example, I had to have a friend code an app to help me download a list of our videos on Vimeo.
    • Vimeo isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $20–$99/mo depending on how much video your ministry is uploading. They do have a free plan, but its small upload limit may not be sufficient for a 30–45-minute Sunday sermon depending on its quality.

Facebook

Facebook provides an excellent outlet for all sorts of church video content, but you should be aware of some best practices for that platform:

  • Make sure you have captions and thumbnails, as always. Note that Facebook requires subtitle files (.srt) to have a specific filename structure: name+.en_US+.srt. So, the filename should be sermon.en_US.srt.
  • If you have a video series, upload them in bulk as drafts via Creator Studio. Once they’re uploaded, you can schedule and craft the posts.
  • Figure out peak times for video engagement for your ministry. Usually I’ve found that pre-8:00am, noonish, and post-5:00pm are the best slots for us. Once you find these slots, make it a regular practice to publish specific types of videos at those specific times.
  • Post video natively to Facebook, and do not link off to Vimeo or YouTube unless absolutely necessary (or if you’re cross-promoting those platforms in addition to the video on Facebook). Native video auto-plays and is treated better by Facebook than cross-posted video.

Twitter

Keep this one in mind, but don’t invest too much time in it. You can upload videos to Twitter’s media studio, and add title, description, thumbnail, captions, etc. One unique aspect of Twitter, is that you can add a call to action on this step. From there, you can schedule tweets with those videos. I don’t put a heavy emphasis on Twitter because Twitter is constantly a low-performer when it comes to video minutes watched. It’s simply not a medium where people go to consume video content.

YouTube

The opposite of Twitter, I encourage ministries to invest heavily in YouTube. Here are some best practices and observations you should know:

  1. You can use your personal or work Google account to start a new channel. Use YouTube’s studio to manage uploads, video details, analytics, comments, and more. Make sure that your channel name and description draw on your ministry’s branding and mission statement. Each week, review and respond to comments and follow other likeminded ministries.
  2. Thumbnails and captions are absolutely critical on YouTube. Those thumbnails show up in all sorts of places. A good thumbnail guarantees good traffic. While Google auto-captions videos, those auto-captions are generally quite terrible. Quality captions get crawled by Google, letting the internal content (not just the titles) of those videos show up on Google searches as well as YouTube searches.
  3. End screens should be unique. We talked about this under video production, but you need a unique video file with a special 20-second outro that allows you to point to a subscription section and to other videos. Play around with this before you commission an outro video so you’ll know what to request.
  4. Schedule your videos. The biggest mistake that I see ministries make is that they get excited about YouTube and then they dump all their content onto the platform day one. But YouTube for all intents and purposes is a social media site, not a video storage site. So treat it like that. If you want people to see your content, don’t post more than three items each day. If you have a big backlog of video, count your blessings and schedule them out for the next year or two. Never, ever, ever, dump them all at once just to “build a large channel.”
  5. Use your community feature. Once you start getting subscribers, you can begin sharing posts with text, photos, GIFs, polls, etc. This is a great way to keep your audience engaged with your video content. I try to use this feature to flag a new video series.
  6. Build playlists. You can do this with your own videos or with videos of other ministries. These can be really helpful, especially if you are trying to provide your people with worship music that you tend to use on Sundays or preaching/teaching on key issues. But certainly build playlists of your sermon series. More on that in a sec.
  7. Tag wisely. Choose tags that reflect your “brand” as well as the content of the video. You can set a series of channel tags that will be the default for any videos you post on your channel.
  8. Build out your homepage. Make a featured videos for subscribers and non-subscribers that auto-play on your channel homepage. This will help tell people what you’re about. You can customize the sections of your homepage by grouping your playlists and presenting them as “sermon series” or “teaching series” or “testimonies” for those who land on that channel page.
  9. Weigh advertising carefully. You may eventually reach a threshold where advertising becomes an option for your channel. This creates a revenue stream, but it also clutters up your video with ads. The one upside of advertising is that it unlocks some unique features of YouTube, such as linked cards and links on the end screens. These are quite powerful for steering viewers to your website, books, podcasts, etc.
  10. Write good descriptions. Don’t just echo your video title. Make a description that’s catchy and put links to your site and other relevant resources down below (e.g., study guides, recommended books, landing page on your site, etc.).
  11. Crosspost where you can. Many churches have a strong Facebook following but a poor YouTube subscription audience. Try linking the YouTube videos or subscription link (maybe with a video thumbnail or other picture) to push followers over to YouTube.
  12. Engage with your audience by calling for comments during the video and then interacting with those comments. Don’t engage with trolls.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great option for video, especially when it comes to reaching the professionals in your church. I may need to come back and revise this section at some point, but my preliminary work with LinkedIn video has limited me to 200MB uploads (even when I’m not selecting anything for advertising). This limits video length substantially. So, if you have a short 1–3 minute video for professionals in the community, this is a great way to do it, and you may end up getting better analytics than you would with Facebook given that LinkedIn is less algorithm-heavy in their newsfeed.

Your Website

Consider making landing pages for each of your sermons that would include the embedded YouTube video, audio links/player, and a full-length transcript of the sermon audio. The key is the transcript. These will get picked up by Google and make inroads on Google searches. The more text content you have on your site around particular topics builds up its site authority on those topics, pushing up your ranking on those search terms.

ORR: Other random recommendations

  • I don’t use HootSuite/Buffer/other schedulers for video for a few reasons. (1) They tend to be more prohibitive with upload sizes (often taking a lowest common denominator approach). (2) They frequently don’t give me as much control over the custom aspects of videos that the native uploaders on the platforms allow me. (3) Videos are such a small aspect of most churches’ social media posting that you’re not really gaining much in terms of efficiency.
  • Watch what performs well and consider how to make repeat wins. Learn the nuances of each platform and its respective audience. Over time, you’ll be able to make the best use of each platform and each video.
  • Find ways to repurpose old content. Maybe a longer video or a panel discussion can be chopped up and released over a month rather than a single video on a single week.
  • Try to distribute new content around particular seasons in the life of the church. Quite literally, videos around Advent and Easter are valuable resources for the church body.

What other insights do you have from your experience distributing video? I’d love to hear your feedback. Any other recommendations or questions you’d like to have answered? Leave a comment, and I’ll address it.

Church Tech | Video Production

This article continues a series on church technology, particularly geared toward small and medium-sized churches. Previous articles have covered Church Management Software options and Online Giving solutions.


When it comes to church video solutions, the plethora of options can be overwhelming. Because costs have come down and because new platforms and technologies have brought radical changes even as recently as the past two years (e.g., live video on social media), churches are asking different questions and adopting different solutions. So let’s take a look at some of the common questions pastors and church staff are asking in regard to church video production. We’ll look at video distribution in the next post.

Should we go live on Sunday?

Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and other platforms have dominated the video conversation since 2017. Theoretically, these avenues provide a method for churches to reach further, alerting subscribers when the Sunday morning service is about to begin and giving them a chance to join-in. For small to mid-size churches that are thinking through this question, I’ll offer some quick thoughts:

  1. Think through your theology of the church. For some, this will seem necessary, and for others, this may seem absurd; however, I do think this is an important first step. I’m very pro-tech, and I think we should leverage the technology we have at our disposal for the glory of God. But hear me out on this possible caveat. For all that social media and live video brings to churches to expand their reach (especially on Sunday mornings), there is a flattening that’s happening as well. Social media flattens “community” to cheap interaction via posts and comments. It flattens “friends” as optional connections that don’t hear what we say when we disagree with them. It flattens “dialogue” into short tweets or TL;DR posts. And, in some ways, live video could have the same effect on our Sunday morning worship, particularly in flattening the perception of Sunday worship as an experience that’s equally relevant online as it is in person. But there may be ways to mitigate this if you’re thinking ahead of the curve. Just don’t forget to ask “what do we lose?” in addition to asking “what do we gain?”
  2. Understand monetization and distribution. Many of the churches and church media folks I hear that get excited about live video are attracted by the alleged reach and priority that live videos receive on certain platforms. I’ve personally done a number of well-publicized events on Facebook Live, and have found the reach to be underwhelming (i.e., distribution that was no more effective than regular video posts). YouTube Live has performed better, particularly for multi-day events that can continue to generate momentum across all platforms (pointing to it via Facebook, Twitter, web, etc.). Much of the reach issues that you’ll encounter on these platforms is because the platforms are not egalitarian. They prioritize paid content and incentivize organizations to boost the reach of their videos.
  3. Be aware of copyright issues.  If you’re doing more than singing music written before the 1920s, you are likely performing copyrighted content. There are complex ways of handling this, but for simplicity’s sake and for legal reasons, I would recommend omitting the musical portion of your worship service from the livestream.
  4. Think about engagement and interaction. The best use of a live video is not a camera in the back of the room gathering video content but video where the speaker is engaging with the live comments either during the video or after the video via comments. In other words, best practices for live videos often rule out the way that churches frequently use those platforms for their ministries (i.e., livestreaming a Sunday service). Instead, live video may be a better option for churches to deliver mid-week teaching or discuss events in the life of the church. You should also take a deeper look at analytics for your live videos. The best statistic is not “views” (on Facebook, 3 seconds watched is a “view”, whereas YouTube requires 30 seconds). Instead, look at minutes watched to see an apples-to-apples comparison of your live videos to pre-recorded videos.
  5. Weigh costs and options. There are a range of effective ways to deliver live video with inherent strengths and drawbacks.
    1. Level 1 is shooting live video via mobile phone. The strength here is in its portability and cost. It’s essentially free (you could add the cost of a $20 phone mount to improve quality), and it provides a great informal experience that actually lends itself to the live video platforms. Live video frequently provides a unique “behind-the-scenes” experience for followers that can be lost as production quality escalates.
    2. Level 2 is shooting video via a dedicated live camera. The dominant player in this space is the Mevo camera. For somewhere in the $500–$1000 range, the Mevo provides a great solution for live video. I would strongly recommend taking some time to familiarize yourself with the camera and some of the finicky behavior you’ll encounter from time-to-time before you do your first live video (e.g.,  Facebook Live allows you to go live with privacy settings so only you will see the video). Production quality on the Mevo is significantly higher than via the mobile phone, retains some of the informality of the platform, and provides a cheap fixed-point live video solution for multiple live videos.
    3. Level 3 involves HD video capture that is processed and streamed live via multiple cameras. Level 3 is often a solution that’s only accessible for churches with 7-figure budgets or substantial media teams. Production quality is extremely high, but it’s also important to note the principle of Ockham’s razor: the more cameras, audio equipment, computers, streaming software, etc. that get involved, the more likely it is that something will go disastrously wrong. An organization should only attempt level 3 live production when an experienced team is at the helm who has practiced and built up to this point. Even then, assume that something may still go sideways and sabotage your polished live video production.

What equipment should we use?

We’ve already talked about live video equipment earlier. But if you’re not focused on live video and want some bigger-picture and high-quality solutions for your church video, here are a few considerations.

  1. Know your crew. Your audio/video team is going to have preferences. They’ll have software they prefer working with and camera brands they use throughout the week. Pull them into the decision and try to get their input. At the same time, be careful of strong opinions that don’t get good online reviews or that seem to be out of sync with what other professionals in that space are recommending. You don’t want to invest thousands of dollars to make one of your volunteers happy, only to find out that it’s a terrible solution for everyone else.
  2. Know your budget and your intended use-cases. You can build a great starter kit for your Sunday morning church video needs for under $1k. That would include a DSLR camera like the Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (1080p) or SL3 (4K),  a solid lens,  a high-quality SD card, and a tripod.  If you want to record teaching/training videos or do high-quality announcement videos, you’ll need to add some important items such as a reference monitor that will give you a better idea of the picture you’re capturing, an audio receiver that will feed audio from the speaker directly into the camera (theoretically, a higher quality option is to do audio capture on a separate system and merge the audio and video files later, but this works just fine), a lighting kitacoustic panels (you may need around 30 of these 12 sq. ft. packs to fully cover the walls of a small office, but it’s worth it), and a backdrop. So you’re looking at probably around $1k to have a solid starter studio setup. Whatever route you go, you’ll also need to figure-in costs for video production software such as Final Cut or Premiere Pro (which comes with the Adobe CC suite, if you have team members already using Photoshop, etc.).
  3. Know where you’re going. In other words, before you get too deep into purchasing and rolling out new equipment, you should take some time to project 5 or 10 years into the future. Begin discussions with your pastoral and/or staff teams and seeking the Spirit’s guidance on these issues. What would be the ideal presence and posture you want your ministry to have online? What kind of video content do you want to distribute? What level of quality do you want to deliver? Who do you want to reach? Based on your answers to these and other questions, begin crafting an approach to visual media that will attain those objectives. Many churches struggle because they either (1) purchase too much nice gear but fail to have a good strategy for how it will be used to produce content over the long haul, or (2) purchase cheap gear and have lofty ideals about the quality and amount of content they’d like to produce over time. Instead, try to match your budget over the next 5 to 10 years with the kind of content you’d like to produce.

What about “post-production”?

Post-production is that phase between the video capture and the video’s distribution. Several things need to happen during this time if you want to distribute high-quality video.

  1. Add your bumpers. Go ahead and shell out some money to have custom bumper videos created. This should include a short animation of your church’s logo and/or tagline on the front end as an intro. And it should also include a set of two outro/end screen bumpers for the back end of the video. One of these outros should be a standard video end bumper that fairly quickly hits your logo and fades out. Another should be up to 20 seconds long that include a call to subscribe with open areas or designated slots for recommended videos and playlists (here’s one possible template).  The end result will be that you’ll export one video for social media/Vimeo that has the short outro bumper, and you’ll export a second video for YouTube with the longer outro bumper. I would recommend watching videos from other churches and ministries to get an idea of what their bumpers look like.
  2. Add lower thirds. These are elements that include the speaker name, titles, Scripture references, etc. High-quality lower thirds significantly enhance the look and feel of the video.
  3. Make a compelling thumbnail. Currently, YouTube uses a 1280×720 pixel thumbnail. If you use Canva/Photoshop to make images to this specification, you can use it with Facebook and Twitter as well. Some basic principles for thumbnails are:
    1. Make it pop by using bright and contrasting colors.
    2. Include text, but keep it minimum.
    3. Add visual interest with unique still frames or custom photography.
  4. [BONUS] Request captions. Captions are the secret sauce for video distribution, and good captions are essential. We’ll talk about the why and how of captions in the distribution section, but for now it’s important to know that you should immediately request transcripts once the video has been produced. There are two routes you can go here. One option is to request upper-tier AI Transcription (like Temi). You may need a staff member to look through Temi’s transcript to polish up the 10% that’s missed. Standard Human Transcription (like SpeechPad) is the other option. You won’t need to clean up these transcripts much (maybe inaccurate about 1–2% of the time), but they’re also more expensive (about $1.50/min for human transcription vs. $0.10/min for AI transcription). Human transcriptions can take up to a week (or rushed if necessary), so the earlier these can happen, the better.
  5. [BONUS] Burn captions. If you get solid transcripts, you can burn-in captions on your social media videos. Studies show that more and more social media viewers particularly prefer video with captions/text. Burning the captions into the videos ensures that the text is always available, even when someone’s social media settings don’t pull up the auto/uploaded captions.

What kind of content should we create?

Most churches have only one kind of content in mind when it comes to video: the Sunday sermon. It’s the one thing you can bank on every week. But your church should spend some time thinking about other ways to use the investment in cameras and equipment. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Mid-week update videos. This requires either a simple setup or simple live video from a pastor giving updates and prayer requests as an additional touch-point during the week.
  2. Video announcement reel. Most churches put someone on the spot to announce the upcoming events on a Sunday morning. By pre-recording these announcements, you can save time and make them look cleaner and take less time.
  3. Baptism or other testimonies. Shooting baptism testimonies helps convey stories more clearly and provides a resource for the person being baptized to share with their friends online or keep as a reminder.
  4. Special teaching series. Often churches can create training content that is on-par with or better than the off-the-shelf options via Lifeway or Right Now Media. For example, with the investment of a day in a studio, a pastor can record 12 segments at 20 minutes each that can be distributed weekly and used in small group discussions.
  5. Non-English teaching video. I mention this because sound English teaching content is incredibly common on YouTube and around the web. But if you have someone in your church who teaches in Spanish or Korean or Mandarin, these teaching videos could be of great value to the global church. Get creative on how you might be able to use the work your local church is doing to influence the nations online.
  6. Q&A videos. These shorter videos (5–15 min) can be used to answer tough questions, pressing issues, or cultural phenomenon in an easily digestible manner. For some time, the ideal length for these videos was believed to be in the 1–3 minute range; however, most research indicates that well-done videos can easily push into the 5–15 minute range without a major drop-off in viewership.

Do you have questions on church video production that I missed? Or did I overlook a great solution? Please drop a note in the comments! Feel free to comment with your camera equipment (along with purchase links) for those who are looking for alternative setups.

Church Tech | Online Giving Options Go Head-to-Head

This article continues a series on church technology, particularly geared toward small to medium-sized churches. The previous article covered Church Management Software options.


Besides questions about church management software (and included in those questions), the other most common tech question for churches is how to implement online giving. A host of online giving options exist for churches. Let’s compare seven of the popular options to see how they stack up in an even match-up:

a spreadsheet of church giving apps compared
Click image to expand

It’s worth throwing out a caveat here that some church networks or denominations offer giving platforms with more competitive rates than these. So begin your search there before you begin exploring these options further.

Of the above options, Tithe.ly and BlueFire are fascinating standalone platforms. Tithe.ly has an excellent array of helpful features (including an option for donors to cover transaction fees themselves). BlueFire has the best terms for a standalone service as best I can tell. EasyTithe doesn’t seem to bring much to the table given the current options available to churches, but they have a deep history in providing great service. Lifeway’s platform offers some intriguing features such as non-cash donations and coaching, but the monthly fees and transaction fees are incredibly high. Church plants may be drawn to Lifeway’s 6-month free program; however, they will need to find a better long-term option for the life stage of the plant from 6 months until at least year 1 or 2.

Subsplash is an exciting option for churches who are already in the market for an app for their members. After the setup fee (around $1,000) and while paying a monthly subscription fee (between $100–200), churches can take advantage of some of the lowest processing rates available right out of the gate. But what’s truly unique is that Subsplash uses a metric that they refer to as “GrowCurve”, which decreases credit card processing rates as giving volume increases. This model seems far more attractive than the Planning Center model, which increases a monthly fee as the number of givers increases. But the usefulness of Subsplash giving is contingent on whether your church is in the market for a church app–something that can be helpful for push notifications, sermon note distribution, etc. for a middle age and younger congregation. But an app may not make as much sense for an older congregation or a church with a tight budget. It’s worth considering that churches that need and can afford Subsplash could actually hit a break-even point and recoup their monthly app fees through decreased credit card processing rates.

I’m not confident that the monthly fees for Planning Center are justified, especially as their platform is tied to the amount of transactions per month; however, if your church is already committed to their platform, the additional cost may be worth considering, giving you a unified system for every aspect of your church. One unique aspect of PC’s setup is that they integrate with check readers, a handy tool for increasing counting accuracy, speed, and accountability. Breeze may work well for your church if you have not already committed to another church management software.

Two other financial tools are also worth a mention before we go:

  • Quickbooks: This is the gold standard in accounting software. It’s bulky and non-intuitive (pun intended), but a necessary tool for your church’s finances. Subscription costs normally range from $15 to $45 per month, but the best prices for churches are available on TechSoup.
  • The Cash App: The Cash app by Square is an incredibly simple and free tool for transferring cash from individual-to-individual. Whether you’re paying back another staff member for coffee or you’re a small group leader who wants the group to chip in for pizza, this is the app for you.

What’s working well for your church? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

Church Tech | Church Management Software

One of the perennial questions of pastors and church leaders relates to what church management software is best for their church. Church management software is a challenging investment. Many tools try to do too many things in the life of the church–check-ins, donations, slide presentations, group emails, and the list goes on. Usually, the larger they get, the more likely it is that some of the features or the overall service of the platform falters.

My general recommendation is: find the easiest tool that works well in your areas of need, and supplement it with other tech solutions that function better or easier or cheaper. For example, it’s hard to find products that do kid’s check-in and church people management (essentially a CRM for churches) better than the leading church management software packages. But you may discover that there’s a better solution for processing online donations. In this case, it may be advantageous to abandon the church management software donation component (even if you’re forced to pay for it) and use the other giving tool.

Below, I will highlight three common alternatives for church management software in the expensive, middling, and cheap price bands. These would be my go-to recommendations; however, each one of them has serious weaknesses that the church may need to supplement through other resources.

Planning Center ($$$)

Planning Center is the current gold standard for church management software. Their support is impressive and their constant innovation and improvement of their software is evident. Their solutions are designed to scale for various sizes of churches; however, even at the low end, costs may be prohibitive for smaller ministries.

The strongest features of Planning Center are definitely it’s kids check-in tool and service planning interface. The other four paid features (groups, giving, registrations, and resources) are good, but could easily be supplemented with other standalone software components. That said, if you begin scaling out Planning Center, you may discover that you are best served by using their other services in order to consolidate your data.

Pros:

  • Check-ins sets up rapidly
  • Quick response to support issues and extensive software documentation
  • Excellent design
  • Unique approach to service planning

Cons:

  • Doesn’t play well with other software
  • Incredibly pricey

Breeze ($$)

There’s a lot to love about Breeze. Unlike Planning Center, which parcels out various components for set rates and forces you to upgrade if you cross data thresholds, Breeze has a fixed price per month ($50) and allows unlimited data. In short, it’s church management software made simple for simple and small/medium-sized churches. They use a single dashboard to clearly present all their features and an easy to use way.

One of the cool features of Breeze is its API, which stands for “Application Program Interface.” If you’ve got programmers in your church, this will make them drool. APIs are the mouths and ears of software. They allow Breeze to receive and send information to other apps. This sounds boring, but it’s actually really cool. This means that you can create custom forms to input people into your database. Or you can tie giving data into Quickbooks with ease.

Pros:

  • Simple pricing with no data limits
  • Easy and strong API
  • Strong support, including custom training and importing assistance
  • Built for small/medium-sized churches

Cons:

  • No service planning feature
  • You can find cheaper entry level options

Church Trac ($)

Church Trac has some cheap entry level options (starting at $5/month) and is capable of an incredible variety of tasks. While inexpensive, the lower cost is reflected in the user experience and design. In a lot of ways, the look and feel is similar to 2005 web design. It’s garish and complicated. But it is a tool worth considering if your finances are tight.

Pros:

  • Incredibly cheap
  • Broad variety of features

Cons:

  • Poor design quality
  • Doesn’t play well with other software
Features Planning Center Breeze Church Trac
Check-Ins Yes Yes Yes
Giving Records Yes Yes Yes
Online Giving Yes Yes Yes
Text to Give Yes Yes Yes
Group Management Yes No Yes
Event Registration Yes Yes Yes
People Management Yes Yes Yes
Group Texting Yes Yes Yes
Volunteer Management Yes Yes Yes
Facility Management Yes No Yes
Service Planning Yes No No
No Limits on Data No Yes No
Plays Well With Other Software No Yes No

If you can afford it, I would recommend Planning Center for pure quality and robust capabilities. But I would strongly recommend considering Breeze as a cost saver for church plants, revitalizations, or churches with small budgets. Whichever you choose, commit to it and build out your data within it. Plan on a review of your database and usage of the software on an annual basis.

Honorable Mention

Depending on your church’s needs, you may want to look at some of these platforms:

  • FellowshipOne: Their pricing requires a call, and their software is geared toward large churches. If your church is growing beyond 500 or 1,000, FellowshipOne may be a better option to consider.
  • Realm: This looks like an interesting cloud-based platform with a robust array of features. Pricing isn’t publicly listed, but some sites indicate the pricing is between $30–200/month depending on the plan the church selects. Like FellowshipOne, this seems to be designed with large churches in mind. Realm absorbed another popular people management tool called “The City” some time ago.
  • BAND app: This is an app designed to facilitate group communication, whether for a youth soccer league or for a church small group. It’s a helpful tool that may help fill the communications gap for small group leaders, worship leaders, etc. if your church opts to take a more piecemeal approach to church management software.
  • ChurchTeams: This is another full-featured ChMS with loads of features and pricing ranging from $37–197 per month depending on the size of the church. The user interface appears to leave much to be desired.

Didn’t see your favorite ChMS listed? I’d love to see your comments on what’s working well for you. Do you have some additional pros and cons other churches should consider about the solutions I’ve offered above, please post your own pros and cons.

Three Reasons I Tell My Kids “I Like You”

I caught myself doing it again. My lanky 4-year-old was grinning from ear-to-ear as she showed off her latest skill she’d learned in dance class. I tousled her hair and whispered it: “I like you so much!” I remember one of the first times I said it to her, and it just felt right. I have always told her “I love you,” but now there’s a fresh word in my vocabulary that completes the picture. This isn’t to say that I verbalize either of these words enough, I’m probably about average when it comes to husbands and fathers who fail to speak words of affection to their spouses and kids. But it’s something I want to grow in. And to grow in it, I need to think about it (and write about it). So, after some time pondering why “like” felt so different, here are a few reasons that inspire me to use this word more frequently.

“Love” overlooks the bad; “like” revels in the good.

Deeply rooted in the Christian faith and in western culture more broadly is this notion that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The power of love is found in its ability to forgive, to heal, and to restore relationships marred by our inevitable human tendency to hurt others. But “like” shows approval in what someone is doing. We frequently have to remind our kids that we do still love them after they’ve done wrong and experienced consequences for their wrongdoing; however, there needs to be a way to high-five them in the good stuff they’re doing. For example, I “like” someone’s Facebook post because it’s something I agree with. So when I tell my daughter that I like her, I’m affirming that she’s doing what seems right to meI want her to feel validated and valued in her father’s mind for the good that she does. There’s nothing more she needs to do, no look she has to achieve, no academic award she has to win, nothing. You’ve got my thumbs up, girl!

“Love” can be done out of duty; “like” demonstrates delight.

You can tell a husband to love his wife. We make this unilateral promise at the altar to love each other until death parts us because love is a volitional responsibility that can be maintained regardless of physical intimacy or emotional connection. Love is a sacrificial and big word that means a whole lot more than we’d often like to admit. But because of its bigness, we can be lulled into feeling that we’ve done our job when we don’t walk out, keep paying the bills and save up for their obscenely expensive college tuition. I understand that love should be more than this, but sometimes we’re too satisfied with achieving the bare minimum of the Great Commands.

So kids need to hear that you delight in them beyond the mere daily obligation you have to them. I “like” my morning cup of coffee because it gives me joy and makes me feel human again. I “like” a good book because it satisfies an intellectual or emotional need. My girls need to hear that I like to see their smiles, to hear them sing, to watch them dance, to comfort them when they’re sad, and to celebrate with them in their successes. Just as I need to know that my Heavenly Father rejoiceshe sings and shouts and claps his handsover me (Zephaniah 3:17), my kids need to know that I feel the same way about them. I don’t begrudgingly carry them, wake up for them, or clean up after them; I exult in them.

“Love” is for the long haul; “like” is in the moment.

Love has this durative capacity that makes it essential for families to work. I will always love my girls regardless of what career choices they make, who they date, where they move, or what they come to believe. But liking someone is an expression of the more fickle sort. It’s here one moment and may be gone the next. While that quality may lead us to devalue telling someone we love that we also like them, I think that it adds a fresh dimension to our value of someone we love. We are souls that exist within the confines of time and space, so there is value in speaking pointedly and exclusively to the present. Telling my girls that I like them speaks to the moment we’re inright here, right nowand tells them that I think they’re wonderful. When I want to speak beyond the long-term and say something intensely appropriate for the present moment, “I like you” is a perfect way to express that feeling.

Bright Monday: A Meditation on the Day After Easter

The familiar ringtone breaks my semi-restful night at the appointed time. Another Monday–another week–arrives with the expected regularity. My routine of mug and bowl and Word seems about the same. Outside, the birds and bugs seem to carry on their everyday rhythm. Cars zip past as yet another workday begins.

But something is different.

The resurrection happened yesterday, did it not? The ground shook and soldiers fell down like dead men. Women gasped in astonishment at empty corpse-wrappings, and men ran with reckless abandon to discover the truth–while others desperately conspired to hide the truth.

But today my life continues as usual.

Or does it?

Bright Monday, for the Christian, is an aftershock of the resurrection. Sure, it’s a return to normal–another swing of the God-ordained weekly pendulum of life, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s the ordinary Monday lived in the brightness of the not-so-ordinary Sunday. The ripple effects of the rolléd stone baptize the Monday ritual of regular work in extraordinary worship to our resurrected King. As every Sunday serves as a resurrection reminder, so every Monday serves as an opportunity to live the new life we’ve been given.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Psalm 118:24 with Paschal Troparion (c. 6th century)