Houses of worship of every size, denomination and faith are discovering something you and I already know – video is a powerful communication tool. This may open a new area of participation for you. There are many opportunities to use video in the various areas of public religious life. There’s more to church video than popping a tape into a VCR and pressing play. The following tips will help you make videos that are practical, powerful and appropriate. For those who appreciate a good sermon, we’ve broken this message into three parts, all beginning with "P": Pick, Produce and Present.
Step 1: Pick a Project
To get you started thinking about how to use video in a worship setting, we’ve put together an inventory of many current applications. Some of these choices require more work than others, so plan accordingly. If these ideas seem new to you, start with one of the simpler uses and build on your experience.
- Image Magnification
Image magnification (IMAG) is a common use of live video during a service. IMAG uses a video camera to show a close-up of those singing or speaking. When used in conjunction with a projection system, IMAG makes every seat a front-row seat. You see this used in sports facilities and concerts everywhere or, of course, in large congregations and revival meetings. Billy Graham uses it, why not you? An extension of this technique is the closed circuit video feed. By duplicating the video signal in another area, you can expand your seating into an overflow area for special events or offer nursery workers an opportunity to view the services.
- Lyrics and Sermon Notes
Probably the most popular things to display on church projection systems are song lyrics and sermon notes. Using PowerPoint or similar presentation software, these applications are a natural extension of the typical business use for projection. Another common application is the display of announcements and other information prior to the service. This technique borrows from movie theaters that sell advertising space on their screens while you wait for the film to start. Combine lyrics and sermon notes with image magnification for a complete presentation. With a little creativity and some presentation software, both of these practices can be effective means of enhancing a worship service.
- Music Montage
Photo and music montages are more creative uses for video in worship. Create a montage as a stand-alone piece or in conjunction with a choir or orchestra. The montage is an excellent way to set a mood or convey a specific theme. A basic montage could be a simple series of still images set to music. A more artistic approach would include motion video that help reinforce the message of the music. The duration is typically determined by the length of the song, but typically should not run longer than three to five minutes. Placement within the service is critical since you want to support the flow of the service, not distract from it.
There are few things as powerful as a personal testimonial. A carefully edited segment in this style is a moving tribute and is useful in many ways. Often referred to as "sermon punctuation," a video interview placed at just the right time will help drive a point home and allow the congregation to understand how certain issues can affect them and their families. My church did a series of these interviews around Thanksgiving last year. There were five interviewees, and each described something or someone in the church for which they were thankful. Alternatively, video interviews or testimonials are often used for simpler tasks such as outlining a trip or event. Through creative editing, you can keep the conversation focused and limit the amount of time to a suitable length. An added benefit to this technique is the ability to capture people on video who would never feel comfortable talking in front of a large congregation.
- Dramatic Presentations
>Another application for video in worship is the "Dramatic Portrayal." This is often a skit or story depicted by congregation members or even local actors. Here’s your opportunity to shoot an independent movie. When properly staged, lit and shot, these video skits bring a whole new dimension to the message. If possible, find a similar subject in movie form, study it and emulate some of their production methods. Be warned, however. A poorly executed drama is painful to watch and can become a distraction to the parishioners in your congregation.
Don’t forget comedy. I’ve produced parodies of everything from fishing shows to the Crocodile Hunter. These funny bits are best used for event promotion or recruitment, but can be effective as sermon enhancement and, sometimes, just for fun. Comedy sketches are a bit more precarious than the other video forms we’ve discussed, especially in light of the deep importance of worship. Still, at the right time, and in the right venue, humor can often fit into the wonderful joyful aspects of spirituality.
Step 2: Produce Appropriately<
You’ve identified an area you’d like to explore. Great! But before you dive into that project, take a few minutes to take into account who will see your video. Also think about the setting and atmosphere during the viewing. These items should shape the mood and content of your production.
- Know Your Audience
When producing a video segment for your church, consider the personality of your church and the cross-section of membership. While there may not be formal rules for what is and isn’t appropriate, you should carefully consider the content of your video. If you belong to a congregation with a modern worship style that leans towards a younger membership, you might select a different music track than someone who belongs to a more traditional church. Video is probably inappropriate at the dawn High Mass, but it may be perfect for the 10AM guitar service. Approach your worship videos just like a television show and produce for your specific audience.
- Be Concerned with Quality
"Classy" is a word I like to use in worship video production. It implies a high level of quality and a careful selection of video elements. When producing for your service, target the broadest possible audience and keep the flash and dazzle to a minimum. What works for a used car dealer probably won’t be appropriate for a church service. In movies, you’ll rarely see any transition other than cuts and dissolves. Sound is loud and clear and music always agrees with the images on the screen. You should make clarity a goal in videos you produce for your congregation. In many ways, it’s easier and more effective to produce a simple, clean video.
- Don’t Call Attention to Yourself
While we’re on the subject of class, don’t include your production logo or credits on church video segments. These are videos with a specific purpose and message – not commercials for your business. If you want to extend thanks to those who contributed to the production, do so verbally or in a printed handout.
- Keep it Short
Keep a close eye on the clock when producing video for worship. Most of the church videos I’ve produced range from two minutes to ten, with the bulk of them on the lower end of the scale. This is merely a portion of the service – don’t bore your viewers with a production that drags on forever. If you’re having trouble with perspective, play the video for a congregation member that has no connection with the production. Explain how it will be used in the service and ask for feedback on length and quality. A few of these previews should give you a better handle on how the video will be accepted.
Step 3: Present your Production Properly
All the creativity and production time in the world mean nothing if your audience can’t see or hear your video. That may seem obvious, but I’ve seen churches try to show a video to 300 people on a 25" TV – using the built-in speakers. Another common problem is actually getting the video to play – regardless of the playback system. Think these issues through before showing your video and you’ll maximize it’s impact.
- Use a Big Screen
To use video in a service you need to have a video display system in place. These systems take many forms and there isn’t space in this article to discuss the wide variety of options in video display, but one of the most commonly used methods is an LCD projector. Just know that, practically speaking, the image can never be too large or too bright. For your productions to convey their intended message everyone must have a clear line of sight and the images must be vivid.
- Pick a Player
You’ll need a way to play your video through the display system. This could be something as simple as your camera or VCR, or as complicated as a DVD player or computer-based playback. This choice is a function of the installed display system and your production output methods.
- Set Up for Sound
You’ll also need a way to connect the audio from your video playback source to the church sound system. That sounds simple enough, but test the hookup prior to the actual presentation. Audio and video equipment have a history of conflict in these situations. Specifically, listen for hums or buzzes that crop up when you attach your video equipment to the sound system.
- Use Care in Cabling
Many video display systems use a video projector in conjunction with a computer to display text on the screen. Interfacing a video playback source with this existing system can be difficult. One of the most common problems is the cabling. Most video projectors offer multiple inputs – including composite and/or S-video – but you’ll have to use cabling specifically for your video source.
- Transition Smoothly
You may need to change projector inputs during the service when it’s time to show your video. With some projectors, the switch is automatic. With others, it means cycling through a menu or a list of available inputs: this can be very distracting to the congregation. On the bright side, some facilities have planned for these additions in advance and offer a simple, clean way to integrate your video programs. Practice your transition before the service so you can toggle quickly to the proper input on the projector.
There are many possibilities for video in worship. Experiment, but don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. Houses of worship are just now discovering this powerful medium, and anything new often raises questions in what can be a very conservative institution. A whole generation of church members have been trained to watch television from birth. Video can be a powerful tool to impact the folks in your flock, and it provides a great way for you to get involved at your church.
Sidebar: 4 Quick Ideas for Church Video
- Interview members on a topic related to the message.
What does Easter/Christmas/Passover/etc. mean to you?
Share about a time when you experienced _________.
- Advertise a church event.
- Highlight someone with a unique ministry.
Sunday school teacher(s)
Care for shut-ins
- Inform people about your church.
New or perspective members