If you’re a pastor, my guess is you didn’t take a seminary course on how to produce excellent church media. Now, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, you are – or soon will be – streaming your sermon and/or worship service each week.
I’m also guessing you want to do this well, but don’t know how. You may be intimidated by the media-savvy churches in town and think, “I’ll never be able to compete with their streams.” How can you make your online services as interesting and as edifying as your in-person services?
As a college media production professor and a scholar of religion and media, I can offer you some simple, but valuable advice:
Don’t try to produce excellent streaming services.
Seriously. I understand you need to reach your congregation right now. COVID-19 has us scared. Our lives have been turned upside down. We’re worried about our sick parents. We’re worried about our jobs. We don’t know what to tell our confused children. We’re isolated and lonely. We need a respite from this “new normal” by holding on to something from our “old normal.” We need the compassion and care of our pastors and other ministers, perhaps now more than ever.
Since your congregants can’t gather in-person, you’re doing the next best thing: sending out a Sunday morning stream of your sermon or perhaps even utilizing some staff or volunteer assistance to livestream your worship service. Maybe you are just shooting a sermon from your office. Maybe you’re using the webcam and mic on your Mac to reach your flock. Maybe you’re just using an iPhone.
Excellent. You’re doing everything you need to do. You don’t have to make your stream any better than that. In fact, don’t make your stream any better than that. Don’t go down the dangerous path of trying to create excellent media.
Quality video productions demand intentional effort and a significant investment. You’d want multiple video cameras and a switcher so that your director can cut between shots. You’d want a high-quality microphone, and if you plan to include a praise-and-worship band you’d want a strong audio mix. You’d need to shoot in a compelling, appropriately-lit environment, which may mean retrofitting your sanctuary to accommodate stage lights. You would also need to hire a producer part-time, someone with production experience who can guide you through the broadcast.
There are better ways to spend your time and money.
You know who broadcasts impressive streams week after week? Churches that are trying to broadcast impressive streams week after week. They have the multiple cameras and the state-of-the-art sound and lights. They may even have a fog machine.
“Don’t go down the dangerous path of trying to create excellent media.”
I bet there’s a church like that in your town. (And I bet deep down you don’t hold it in high regard.) I bet you think its worship is too flashy, or it’s too focused on “the show.” You probably think that church has misunderstood what it means to be “relevant.” You may dismiss its services as trite, with too much focus on inspiration and aspiration, and too little on compassion and ministry.
When one of your congregants asks, “Why can’t we do what that cool church is doing?” you may want to reply, “Because we don’t care about being cool! We care about being like Christ!”
That church may very well produce an excellent broadcast. It may have decided to take its cues from popular media. It may even have something about “using the language of today’s culture to reach the lost” in its mission statement. It decided it’s a holy calling to produce videos and memes and Instagram stories that are on par with the best television shows, most creative content creators and most influential Instagrammers.
You don’t have to be that church. Not only is it okay for your church to be terrible at video production; in my view, it may be preferable. It says, “Our values lie elsewhere. We aren’t interested in being a media-savvy church. We believe your needs are greater than anything we can solve with three-point lighting and 4K cameras. We don’t want your ‘likes’; we want you to have a genuine experience with God.”
In fact, your church could be a respite from digital media. If digital media is the language of the contemporary age, don’t assume you have to embrace it in order to be “relevant.” Instead, let your church be a holy, set-apart refuge from the cacophony and angst and general nastiness of a lot of digital media.
Don’t think, “We have to be a voice in the wilderness of digital media.” Instead, think, “My church will be a sanctuary from digital media.” Be the church that frees us from FOMO, and celebrates the beauty of IRL communal worship.
(That’s “Fear Of Missing Out” and “In Real Life.” It’s okay if you didn’t know that.)
Besides, even those media-savvy churches may be reduced from elaborate worship service productions to streaming a sermon from a Mac in the pastor’s office if shelter-in-place directives increase. If that happens, your pared-down streams will be ahead of the curve.
Overall, pastors, please remember that your church’s media reflects your church’s values.
Don’t think, “My COVID-19 streaming services could become the beginning of a weekly podcast ministry.” Your congregation probably doesn’t need another podcast.
Don’t think, “I bet I could create a YouTube channel with daily inspirational messages direct from Yours Truly.” There are better ways to spend your time.
Don’t think, “My congregation needs high-quality video.” We really don’t. We want peace and compassion, calm and care.
Don’t let this moment in the life of the church make you feel like you have to be a media star. We’d rather you be bad at media but good at ministry.
“Your church’s media reflects your church’s values.”
Don’t be afraid to look awkward on camera. If you ask out loud, “Is this on?” before the stream, we’ll forgive you. Make us think “My minister obviously doesn’t know anything about media production.”
I promise we’ll hold you in high esteem. And we’ll tune in each week until the church doors open again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.