Category Archives: Church

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.

Meaningful Mentorship for Ministry

As I talk with friends and acquaintances who believe that God has gifted them for pastoral ministry but aren’t there yet, I’ve picked up on some common themes. One of the biggest is this: “My church doesn’t have a plan to mentor me toward ministry. Or if they do, I’m not aware of it.” Okay, it’s not usually said that bluntly. But you can frequently elicit this conclusion by asking someone what path they’re being guided down, what kind of pastoral mentorship they’re receiving, what counsel they’re getting on next steps, and what the church’s timeline is for sending them.

Let’s take a step back and look at the less-than-meaningful method of handling up and coming servants in the church and then suggest some correctives.

They give me service for service’s sake

Men and women with a heart for ministry will do anything—yes, anything—if their pastor asks them to do it. I know guys who’ve had their hearts set on ministry and have spent years plunging toilets or teaching kids. Don’t get me wrong, these are awesome ministries. But tossing a dude a service ministry in hopes that he shuts up or learns on his own is an absolute death sentence for future pastors, planters, and missionaries. If the guy is passive, he’ll stay and serve in frustration, waiting on you to clear him for other opportunities. If the guy is hyper-passionate, he’ll quickly burn out or blow you off and move on to another ministry. Either situation isn’t great for developing next generation leaders in your church.

Instead, give those next generation leaders a variety of opportunities as they are faithful and willing. Let them try their hand at greeting, teaching, technology, nursery, counseling, music, or administration. You’ll never understand the impact of this question: “What areas could you use opportunities to develop your gifts?” Try asking one of the young leaders in your church that question this week. They’ll appreciate it far more than you can imagine.

They don’t give me much/any feedback

Once someone passionate for ministry gets assigned to serve, they get little, if any, feedback from their pastors. They serve in silence. The only feedback they get is if something didn’t turn out well. Good feedback from church leaders is one of the most effective ways for a person to nail down aspects of calling and gifting. By not giving feedback, pastors avoid offering the next generation the clarity that they desperately desire regarding God’s will for their lives.

Take time to give feedback to young leaders. No, this doesn’t always mean that you have to sit in their class or visit their small group. Just start by asking questions of those who serve alongside them or those who sit under their teaching. Collect what you hear and talk it over with him or her. It’s really not super hard. A teachable servant of the church will soak up the feedback and be open to critique. Be cautious about forming internal opinions about the young leader without discussing critiques and giving them clear ways to improve. If they’re consistently dropping the ball and you think they need to put ministry ambitions on hold (or reshape those ambitions in some way), clearly tell them as much. They’ll thank you for it later.

Pairing the idea of feedback with the previous idea of meaningful service, I’d recommend using a two-year leadership development plan. Let a young leader serve in a number of general ways in the church for a year with basic feedback and accountability. Then evaluate their fitness for Gospel ministry. If it makes sense, then do a year of directed and intense service with more robust feedback and follow-up. The goal at the end of the second year is to launch that leader into pastoral ministry. With intentional planning like this, it won’t take long for the word to get out and you won’t know what to do with all the men and women looking for an opportunity for meaningful mentorship for ministry.

They gave me a book to read

Among many evangelical churches in the US, head training is one of the things we do well. We have great books. We attend great conferences. We have great seminaries. It’s all great knowledge at arm’s length. So when a young guy seems to have a passion to plant churches, he’s often given a book (or a stack of them). Sometimes a pastor will meet with him and discuss theology. But who is talking with him about spiritual formation, calling, gifting, and ministerial challenges? Who’s prodding him about his sin struggles and spiritual disciplines?

Assign an elder to meet weekly or bi-weekly with next generation leaders. Use a programmatic tool to guide discussions to ensure that you’re equipping young leaders on a broad scale of topics and issues.

They told me to move and attend seminary

Sometimes I wonder if churches understand what they’re doing when they tell a young leader to leave and go to seminary. Often this advice demonstrates that the church leadership frankly doesn’t know with a young, aspiring leader. It essentially says that the church’s role in a leader’s development ends where seminary begins. Here are some of the bad results of this advice:

  • Young leaders leave their spiritual community, with plenty of potentially ruinous spiritual effects. The doctrinal and spiritual mooring of a local church can be helpful to young leaders as they weigh what they learn in seminary.
  • Young leaders lack the locale to practice the hands-on aspects of ministry. Enough said.
  • Young leaders lose a sense of sending and arrive at a sense of searching. Sending is when a church has your back. Searching is when you’re trying to find your own way. Sending is awesome. Searching sucks. Send your next-up leaders. Don’t leave them searching.
  • Young leaders are driven to non-relational networking to find pastoral ministry opportunities. Most of the ministry roles worth having are not the ones you find with a resume. They’re ones that are either forged through planting/revitalizing or initiated by others who know you well.
  • Young leaders make poor decisions about where to attend seminary. When telling a guy to go to seminary is a “check-out” move by a church, guys often make dumb decisions about where to go. What many guys don’t realize is that seminaries set them up to serve in and be heard by particular audiences or denominations. Stay involved in the process and visit a seminary or two with your young leaders. Make helpful recommendations based on what you know of them.

If your default is to tell a guy to pack his things, consider changing to more of an apprentice model. Can he take hybrid or online courses? Can he commute? Is there any possible way he can get a theological education while undergoing spiritual formation and pastoral training in your church? If you feel willing to train a next generation leader but lack the resources or ability, try asking about other churches in the area that do this well and forging a partnership with them. Do your utmost to retain the God-given task of pastoral training within the local assembly.

Someday, by God’s grace, I hope I can start meeting with more next generation leaders who can tell me: “One of my pastors and I meet weekly for accountability and discussing pastoral responsibilities, and I’m on a two-year track to be sent to revitalize a church in a nearby city.”

Principles to Remember when Discussing the “Gray Areas”

How to view the entire discussion

  1. You hold no responsibility to win converts to your position.
  2.  There is no “safe” position. You’re either at risk of legalism or license.
  3.  Your personal practices can remain as such. That’s between you and God.
  4. On any given subject you may actually be the weaker brother.
  5. Nowhere does the Bible say that the weaker brother is to remain in that state in perpetuity.
  6. It is just as wrong to permit what God prohibits as it is to prohibit what God permits.

How to know when you’re off track

  1. If the debate consumes more of your time than your interaction with God in prayer and the Word, you’re doing something wrong.
  2. If you find yourself getting worked up and angry, you may have taken it too far.
  3. Have you convinced yourself that the Gospel will rise or fall on someone agreeing with you on this topic?
  4. Is this a hill worth taking, or is this something you are willing to die for?
  5. Is a fellow-believer truly going to be in sin if they do not share your position on this issue?

 

How to consider the other side

  1. Be willing to listen closely to what the other side is saying without thinking about how you will respond.
  2. Be willing to admit that there are good Christians on the other side of the issue.
  3. Always remember that “esteem others better than ourselves” and “living peaceably with all men” is a two-way street.
  4. Don’t expect someone to change their mind in the middle of an online debate.
  5. Look for a possible middle ground.
  6. Understand the position of the other person.
  7. Make sure they agree with the way you’ve stated their position.

How to communicate your position

  1. Before wading into any discussion on gray areas, sit down, read Romans 14, and pray.
  2. You may hold a better application, but, if you force it on others, you’re actually sinning.
  3.  Avoid speaking where the Bible doesn’t or speaking loudly where the Bible is quiet.
  4.  Don’t say too much too forcefully so that you’ll have less to take back if you change your position.
  5. Be careful with terms like “wise” or “conservative” when describing your own position; these may lend more weight to your position than warranted.
  6. Be careful about dealing with these issues in front of non-believers.

Constructing a Philosophy of Teaching for Your Church

Four reasons to do it

1. Because teaching should matter to the church.

This kind of careful attention to the teaching ministry of the church is absolutely warranted given the high value ascribed to teaching in Scripture (Matt. 28.20; Deut. 6.7; Heb. 5.12-14; James 3:1; 2 Tim. 1.13-14).  Teaching in the early church was carried out substantially by elders in each city, and overseers like Timothy and Titus were tasked with ensuring that the teaching in the city adhered to the apostolic teachings which they had received. Teaching can be a conduit for truth or error, heresy or orthodoxy, and for churches to have a nonchalant approach stands in stark contrast to the directives of Scripture and the practice of the early church.

2. Because church shouldn’t be a fly-by-night enterprise.

I think a lot of people fear mission or philosophy or purpose statements because those sorts of things seem to be more appropriate in the business world. But if you think about it, businesses use mission or philosophy or purpose statements because they make sense. They realize the biblical principle of Prov. 29.18, “where there is no vision, people are unrestrained.” Propositional directives are a must in daily life, in business, and in the ministry of the church.

3. Because you don’t need to wait until problems occur in order to standardize expectations.

A teacher who’s been teaching for several years ends up telling a class that he’s not certain about biblical inerrancy. A teacher ends up carrying out a knock-down-drag-out discussion regarding the Christian’s use of alcohol. A woman volunteers to lead a mixed gender Bible study. Your church may have varying levels of concern for each of these cases, but hopefully you recognize the need to have a philosophy that addresses where your church stands on all of these issues before the questions arise. Setting the bar upfront will save you the headache of trying to fix an issue gone awry further down the trail.

4. Because Jesus serves as a model for a teaching philosophy.

Jesus wasn’t just the model teacher, he modeled a practical teaching philosophy for the disciples. He had specific reasons why he used parables on various occasions. He revealed certain teachings in systematic manners to his disciples. He relied on certain specific modes of questioning and logic. All of these facts and more point to the idea that Jesus had a particular philosophy of teaching in mind as he instructed his disciples. If Jesus had a defined approach to teaching, so should we!

Six questions to ask in order to construct it

1. What is the purpose of the teaching ministry?

Your purpose for the teaching ministry should be an outflow of the overall purpose statement for the church. A church purpose statement could read as follows: “____ Church exists to bring God glory by lifting up the Gospel in our teaching, edification, and worship, and by equipping saints to love and evangelize their community.” A followup teaching purpose statement could read as follows: “The purpose of the teaching ministry of ____ Church is to aid Christians in pursing spiritual maturity by teaching them to center their lives on the Gospel.”

2. What are the objectives of the teaching ministry?

In other words, you should be asking: what concrete steps must be taken in order to fulfill the purpose statement? Deconstruct your purpose statement and tackle it piece by piece. Typical objectives will include teaching content (breakdown of proportion of biblical, systematic, historical content), application (e.g., teaching for change), direction (e.g., Gospel-centered), and engagement (expectations of interaction, etc.). It is essential to build out what the Bible says about teaching and its importance in the church in this section.

3. What curriculum will we use?

This flows from the content section in your objectives. If you primarily let teachers instruct on books of the Bible or various topic, then you can provide direction on how they should be approaching these books. How should they determine what to include and exclude? Are there topics that should be avoided? Is there a preferred teaching method (lecture, Socratic, or hybrid)? Is there a system of books or topics that you see should be taught through? Some churches have a 5-year program that takes the congregation through the entire Bible. Other churches may alternate between biblical/systematic/historical theology during various seasons or years. This is where that program should be articulated. If you primarily provide material for your teachers, this would be an appropriate place to list that material.

4. Who can teach?

Most churches have varying approaches at different levels of the church. What kinds of qualifications or background checks are you looking for in teachers for children’s church or kids Sunday School? What about small group teachers or those teaching at the congregational level? What venues/age groups do you believe are acceptable for women to teach in? How long does someone need to be a member in order to begin teaching? What doctrinal beliefs do teachers need to assent to? Are there special behavioral guidelines that you expect for teachers? Who (specifically, what role) evaluates whether or not individuals are allowed to teach in the church? It may also be helpful to articulate ongoing methods for evaluation of teachers.

5. What is the method behind the madness?

This is different than articulating the objectives. This involves examining the existing or planned teaching events and charting a course that ends up at the family or individual level. This lowest common denominator is where churches should be aiming their teaching to be replicated by parents. Many churches use a funnel method in order to make sense of their teaching. For example, what is preached is applied and expanded on in small groups, and what is handled in small groups should end up applied and taught in the home. If you have an ideal flow such as this, here’s where you can articulate it so that your church can be on the same page with the leadership.

6. What roles do the various teaching venues play?

Think of this in terms of: (a) how they fulfill the purpose, (b) which objectives they meet, (c) implementation of curriculum for each, (d) what role oversees the teaching and teachers, and (e) how they fit into the method/flow of teaching with the church. Each teaching venue should include at least a two sentence summary that explains its role. Avoid being redundant, but rely on concepts and terms that you’ve already defined in the previous sections. As part of this process, you may ascertain that certain teaching venues are lacking or are unnecessary. This is an excellent opportunity to begin making programmatic shifts based on the prior conclusions. Categorize your teaching venues. Possible methods include: on-campus/off-campus, adult/teen/children/pre-K, men’s/women’s, Sunday/weekday, and/or lecture/discussion-based. Ideally these could be laid out on a spreadsheet prior to the final construction of the philosophy statement. The better you are able to categorize your teaching venues, the better you can fit them into the overall teaching program or perhaps see gaps in your existing teaching structure.