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Wired Church 2.0 is the go-to guide for church staff and volunteers coordinating multimedia digital technology for worship, the classroom, and marketing. Covering everything from website design and trends in digital media to selecting and training your media team.
Wilson and Moore were on the leading edge of media ministry with their 1999 volume The Wired Church: Making Media Ministry. Wired Church 2.0 is the guidebook for a new generation of technology, addressing new multimedia trends, including blogs, podcasts, streaming video, and more. Wired Church 2.0 is a comprehensive how-to book written in an easy-to-understand "dummies' guide" style. Church media coordinators will learn about the technology, costs, methods, and tricks-of-the-trade for producing high-quality web and video elements for worship, education, and marketing.
Len Wilson and Jason Moore run Midnight Oil Productions, a cutting-edge media ministry agency based in Grand Prairie, Texas. They have authored several books together, including Design Matters: Creating Powerful Imagery for Worship (2006), Digital Storytellers: The Art of Communicating the Gospel in Worship (2002) and The Wired Church: Making Media Ministry (1999), all from Abingdon Press.
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I recently spoke to a group of about thirty-five pastors about "digital ministry." During the question and answer time, I heard the same old argument I often hear made against media: "Let me caution you," a pastor said. "Sometimes it's important to be able to come away from media, and not let it get in the way of the message. Sometimes there just isn't an image that works, so at my church we keep it simple. There are some weeks we don't even use the screen."
Maybe you share the view of this iconoclast. As an advocate for digital media and image in worship, I may go to my grave hearing this same objection from some church professionals. I acknowledged that, yes, some weeks are more difficult than others to image, but when we decide to make it "simple" on ourselves, we are making a decision to make it more difficult on our congregations.
The questioner's argument raised some questions for me, such as: How many church professionals, regardless of denomination, confuse the small "w," the printed words of the Bible, for the big "W," the living Word of Jesus Christ, and in the process sacralize print as a holy form of communication and demonize image as a luxury, or worse, as untrustworthy? How do some preachers who have been trained in the value of homiletics so blindly ignore the value of story and the role of metaphor in rhetoric when communicated through a visual medium? How many of the same preachers still fail to see that in many parts of the Bible, truth is story and story is truth, and metaphor is about as biblical as you can get, whether God is a bush, the Holy Spirit is a dove, or we are clay or sheep or children, and that message and media are inseparable, messily mixed together? The oral practice of preaching was profoundly influenced by print and text, and will again be by screens and image, whether we like it or not. There were many, many people who once violently fought the introduction of print technology into worship, just as now happens with new media.
A SIMPLE DEFINITION OF MEDIA
The problem may be rooted in confusion about what exactly media is. Media is the plural form of the word medium, which is an agent for transmitting messages between senders and receivers. Messages can be anything from the verbal "I love you," to a printed direct mail card, to images on screens, to the civil warning siren that goes off in rural towns twice a month. Electronic, or digital, media are a means to send a message or set of messages to individuals or groups of people in which electronic forms of technology are used. Traditionally the electronic forms have consisted of a group of mass communication tools such as radio, film, television, and the Internet ("mass communication" being a term for the means by which masses of people receive the same sent message).
In popular culture, the term media has come to signify any form of mass communication, and even the industry that creates its messages. Further, digital media refers to this set of communication tools as a singular grouping, particularly in reference to the profound cultural changes they have brought about since the beginning of the twentieth century.
As distinct from detached analysis and criticism, digital, visual media is characteristically narrative in form, which means that it is adept at telling stories. This narrative purpose is in direct contrast to mass print culture, the culture of book reading and research that preceded electronic media. Its strength in storytelling is due to powerful engagement of the senses on multiple levels through visual and aural imagery.
The definition of mass, digital media is evolving as its technological components mature and become more dynamic. Business environments have global, face-to-face boardroom videoconferences; friends communicate real-time by chat, IM, and Twitter, then meet up at the local café using each other's GPS coordinates; groups of fans even persuade television networks to rethink programming decisions through grassroots digital campaigns such as the one that Jason participated in one lazy Sunday when he made a homemade YouTube video and helped save the cult favorite show Jericho. The rise of democratic, participatory media—often called Web 2.0—is signaling a maturation of this new digital communications macrosystem. In many ways it parallels the rise of the printing press from an agent of maintenance to an agent of change over 500 years ago. What it means for the church is that we now have the ability as Martin Luther once did to harness this new media to communicate the gospel in ways that we might not even imagine.
To fully respond to the pastor's statement, it's not a question of whether or not we should "come away from media, and not let it get in the way of the message." The question is, which media—which forms of communication—do we believe are worthy of communicating the gospel? Whether subconscious or not, the questioning pastor revealed that he preferred the more established medium of mass print in worship. The underlying philosophical proposition of this book is that image is just as worthy and capable, and in some ways, a more powerful and effective way to communicate the gospel in this time. (Ironically, there was once a time in church history when the printed word was new and mistrusted, and images were established and "traditional.")
Media is not simply an add-on to the existing means of communicating the gospel in worship, but an emerging, fundamentally new system of communication, equal to the oral and written word. It is imperative that today's Christian leaders understand and use media effectively in worship.
Media, then, should not be treated as operational support, but as a ministry that uses video, audio, graphics, text, the Internet, and other emerging technology applications to communicate the gospel. The more digital, narrative, participatory, and immersive, the better.
MEDIA AS A GOSPEL-SHARING MISSION
At a workshop on media in congregational ministry, a listener questioned me about the specific costs involved in producing high-quality media. He was concerned that it was simply too expensive to do on a weekly basis. I outlined a cost comparison between funding media ministry and funding more established communication forms, such as newsletters and organs. When I mentioned the organ, a man in the back of the room groaned and interrupted with the exclamation that his church had spent $1.3 million for a new organ. He was mortified because he realized that his church had spent so much money ensuring continued success at speaking to a small faction of his church culture through an organ. Now, his church is impoverished when it comes time to speak to much of his congregation, and the culture outside of the church walls, through digital media.
Regardless of its resources, a church is likely to fail without a clear purpose for what a media ministry should accomplish. There are unfortunately many tragic tales of churches that have bought a van full of equipment, only to realize their outsized efforts have produced little effective ministry. An effective mission statement is crucial for the beginning of a viable media ministry. Ideas drive technology, not the other way around.
Media ministry is demanding. Once a congregation realizes it has digital communications opportunities via video, graphic images, and the Internet at its disposal, seemingly every ministry in the church will want to utilize them for its own needs. While each ministry in the life of a church is important, a fledgling media ministry won't be able to meet every demand. A written mission statement keeps members focused on what is important. Having a clear purpose enables both the media minister or church leader and the congregation or staff to keep clear-eyed and objective about what is possible before powering up the tools.
A mission statement will lead to judicious spending of limited funds, support of key programs, and an understanding of what digital media look like and are intended to do.
When I started on full time in "electronic media" at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in 1995, my first order was to get the projector in focus. At the time, the task literally took a day. Having done that, I needed to figure out how to translate the theories of my education into the life of a congregation. So my second "to do" item was to create a mission statement. It had three parts:
1. Make excellent media. 2. Make media ministry integral to the life of the church. 3. Encourage a level of media literacy so that eventually each area of ministry in the church will create its own digital media, just as they currently make their own brochures and other written documents. Underneath these three points of purpose was the firm belief that (what was still called) electronic media was equally important as spoken and written communication in its ability to communicate the gospel, and maybe even more important in the media-driven culture in which we live.
This was my mission for media. Use the following chapters to help you create your own unique mission for spreading the gospel in today's digital language.
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Media ministry is broad and may take on many different forms. This book will help you understand some of these distinctions and their impact on ministry decisions.
Universities construct fields of discipline in a helpful way. At a large university a student has the option to pursue media through fine arts (a theater or literature major, for example); through traditional, mass forms such as radio and television (mass communication major); through oral communication (speech major); through tactile forms (art majors); through written forms (English or journalism majors); or through computer technology (information systems major). Each is a valid media form. Each addresses specific media as communication tools. Some of the ways, then, to understand the potential role of media may be characterized into the following four categories.
1. MEDIA AS THE ARTS
One understanding of media is defined as a means to (re)create the impact and experience of fine art. The fine arts have been traditionally thought of as stage, dance, sculpture, literature, painting, poetry, (what is now known as) classical music, film, and so on. Prior to the twentieth century the purpose of the arts for the church was to re-create the divine through representations of beauty and truth. The theological basis for the arts is largely one that views God as the manifestation of all that is good, beautiful, and true. Applied to the gospel, the arts aim to create a response in which the receiver perceives God through interpretations that engage the soul and the spirit.
To create a broad typology, art may be classified one of three ways: fine, folk, and pop.
Prior to the electronic age, fine arts set the cultural standard. After its inception as a state religion under Constantine in the fourth century, Christianity became the keeper of fine art and through it the standard-bearer for cultural norms. Pope Gregory made the announcement at the dawn of the seventh century that the arts were the primary means to disciple the uneducated. He called the arts "the Bible for the illiterate." The cultural Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was fueled by the arts, and was to a degree subsidized by the church, particularly in the areas of music and sculpture. Persons of all socioeconomic backgrounds partook of the arts.
Beginning in the late-nineteenth century, however, there was a transition in Western culture away from the fine arts as the cultural pacesetter. This coincided with a detachment in the relationship of art and the church. The fine arts have become increasingly abstract, ambiguous, and driven by an abandonment of the notion of objective truth. The worldview of fine artists has become increasingly relativistic, losing the Judeo-Christian value system of its religious and cultural benefactors.
Disconnected from the contemporary fine art scene, many in the church turn to historical art, particularly from the Renaissance era, as a means to visually communicate the gospel.
Others in the church have embraced the rise of what may be referred to as "folk art," or art created by and for specific social groups (often beyond our own experience). Folk art is created by self-taught artists and reflects indigenous social experience, and is mostly independent of the trends and movements of fine art.
As electronic and then digital media have permeated society, a third type of art has risen that captures more common creative expressions. This type of art, often called commercial or pop art, has become dominant. Time magazine, in a commemorative issue on the top artists and entertainers of the twentieth century, said, "Literature, the theater, classical music [have] lost the authority to set the cultural agenda. Today, the influence, the action, the buzz is all pop." Pop art has replaced fine art.
Some art advocates in the church speak of the need to "reclaim" the arts for the kingdom of God. This desire is commendable if art is once again an agent of the gospel, sponsored by and created with the aid of the church. What will not happen, however, at least in our lifetime, is a return of the fine arts to a former position of cultural authority, granted by sacred benefactors.
This shift is not to be mourned. The rules have simply changed. Pop art isn't the absence of art, as some fine art connoisseurs proclaim; its artistic beauty is in part found in its commonality. Creative expression in the digital age has become democratic. God would have it that way. According to Genesis, God created all people in the image of the Creator. All people, thus, are creative. And with the birth of the new communication system of digital media, many more people have the opportunity to express their innate creativity. And the consequences of that opportunity are proving explosive even within the communication arts. People with no formal media training post homemade videos to YouTube, blogs, or Facebook pages. A fourteen-year-old in media ministry gave me the URL for her website. Software enables children to create 3-D computer animation. Many of the savviest members of local church media ministries are teenagers or even tween-agers. The opportunities are incredible, and they do not require the same degree of training as the fine arts demanded and regulated for entry into an academy or guild.
The narrative theologian Frederick Buechner says that the most powerful preaching for this age comes from the poets, playwrights, and novelists. He almost got it right, with amends for his print-age bias. The most powerful preaching today is actually coming from the filmmakers, the stand-up comedians, and the producers—the storytellers of the digital age.
Media is most effective as a communication system when it expresses art for the cultural majority. There are always subcultures present, which are to be addressed. But the primary, the global reach of media is reflected through pop art expression. A return to fine arts is a "retro" move.
Our job, as messengers of the gospel, is to speak in whatever language the culture is speaking. If Renaissance history is any barometer, we are about to ride a wave of explosive creativity, as this new medium grows out of prepubescent awkwardness and becomes fully assimilated into the lives of those with truth to speak, with media that forces the receivers out of their state of indifference.
2. MEDIA AS INFORMATION
Manifestations of electronic media through the twentieth century have been primarily documentation, rather than interpretation. Radio, television, and now the Internet, the three largest mass mediums, have been known more for the ability to disseminate information globally than for the ability to represent artistic truth. Most early radio professionals came from print culture disciplines such as the newspaper business; likewise, the heritage of television is radio. All three disciplines feed the Internet. Television was touted as the first global medium, and its biggest victories came not through M*A*S*H and Dallas, both internationally popular programs, but in its ability to alert the world to breaking news stories as they happened. Vietnam was the first living room war. The world watched the British monarchy, in all of its pomp, get married. A new synthesis is emerging for the niches of each medium, with daily Internet information (of sometimes questionable repute) existing beside the twenty-four-hour news cycle of talk radio and television, which is so valuable in times of crisis such as 9/11 and so annoying when there is no actual story to cover.
Excerpted from The Wired Church 2.0 by Len Wilson Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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