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Wiring Your Church for Worship
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2007 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStarting Out or Starting Over
It's a new world. My video iPod proves it. And before that, the almost-hourly text messages from my teenagers on my cell phone proved it. And before that, the HDTV in my family room, which is so lifelike it's creepy, proved it. And before that, the wireless Internet connection that allows me to write this book from my screen porch proved it. And before that, the DVD player, which rendered boxes of VHS tapes useless. And before that, the twenty-four hour news channels, broadcasting news every minute, from every corner of the world. All the way back to the eight-track player in my high school boyfriend's Cutlass Supreme.
The world is "new" every few years, isn't it? The distance in time from the cool eight-track to the cool iPod is short— only a couple of decades. But what a difference in the way we give and take in information! What a difference in the way we communicate with each other, the way we tell what's important in our lives, the way we share our stories.
That's where you come in.
It sounds clichéd because we all say it all the time. But your task in the media ministry is to tell your church's story. This guide is aimed at equipping you with the knowledge, tools, and strategies you need to get started. It begins with a look at your media ministry's foundation, then shows you how to build the ministry using both volunteers and paid staff, offers a few tips to help you create great media, and guides you through the basics of choosing equipment.
Two Foundational Principles
Whether you're just beginning to dream about using media in your church, or you're already leading a thriving media ministry, you must build on a firm foundation. Following are two principles that are critical to effective and sustainable media ministry. If you're just starting out, spend a couple of days thinking, praying, and working with others on a thorough consideration of these principles. If you're already well on your way in media ministry, set aside time each year to go back to these principles, to evaluate the strength of your foundation. (Note that the book, Video Ministry: Using Media in Worship Without Going Hollywood [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006] is a thorough explanation of these and other critical principles, including a series of questions about each, to guide you through an evaluation of your ministry.) You'll face many challenges, some of which might even threaten to knock the ministry off balance, to uproot it.
Use these principles to help keep your ministry Christ-centered, and it will grow to be like a tree "planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and then go right on producing delicious fruit" (Jer. 17:8 NIV).
Principle 1: purpose
Your media ministry should have a clear purpose. That purpose should be above and beyond "making it easy for people to see the lyrics," or "bringing video into the service so more teenagers will come," or "everybody else is doing it, so we should too." The media ministry's purpose should extend directly out of the purpose of your church. It should be written out, in no more than a few sentences. It should be printed and posted where everyone might see it.
* Why is purpose so important? Media ministry is still new in many churches. Congregants may not understand why they should support it. Unlike our colleagues in other ministry areas, there are very few networking organizations providing support and resources and models for media ministry. A clearly stated purpose helps everyone—including you—understand what the ministry is about and why it's important to your church. This is critical in building a ministry that makes good use of church resources, avoiding the unimportant projects syndrome, helping the church to grow, gaining and maintaining congregational support. CHAT ROOM * How can you define your purpose? Ideally, your church already has a written purpose statement, and everyone who's actively involved in the body knows it. If that's not the case, start with a conversation with your pastor or church council chairperson, or the people shaping the discussion of purpose in your church. Suggest a meeting or brainstorm session with church leaders to define and agree on a purpose statement. This is important for the whole church, not just the media ministry.
Get the church's purpose down on paper, and the media ministry's purpose will follow. If your church's purpose is "To share the gospel with unchurched people in our neighborhood," your ministry's purpose might be "To use video and other media as tools for sharing the gospel with unchurched people in our neighborhood." If your church's purpose is "To nurture Christian families through Bible study, Christian disciplines, and corporate worship," your ministry's purpose might be "To create media that aids in nurturing Christian families by providing media-based resources for Bible study and personal discipleship practices and by providing media and technical support for large group gatherings and weekend worship."
You will find a clear purpose helps you decide what to do —what projects are important, how to spend resources, where to concentrate efforts, what kind of equipment to invest in, and how to organize volunteers. It also helps define what not to do. In the media ministry area, the work is never done. It serves nearly every other area, either supporting technical needs for programming or producing media for worship and events. As a result, media ministries commonly spin out of control. A well-defined purpose helps keep your media ministry safely on track.
Principle 2: culture
If you're telling a story in French to a group of people who know only Chinese, is your storytelling effective? Of course not. The media ministry must speak your church's language and reflect a picture that's recognizable and authentic. Just as the media ministry's purpose should be a natural extension of the church's purpose, so should its work be integrally shaped by the church's culture. The church's culture is a snapshot of who the people are, what they're like, how they give and take in information; their commonalities, their shared needs, and their demographic profile.
CLOSER LOOK * Why is it important to consider your church's culture when building a media ministry? Simply put, because understanding that culture can make your storytelling effective. Your congregation is more comfortable with the media you produce, there's less resistance to it from the get-go. The congregation better understands the messages in your media and is compelled to action by them because the messages make sense to them. And people feel a positive sense of community because the media reflects who they are as a church in an authentic way. All of this helps the church to fulfill its purpose and to grow. POTENTIAL PITFALL When we ignore our church's culture, we pour fuel on the fire for the folks who don't like media in church to begin with. If people say media doesn't belong in church, we've proven them right with media that doesn't seem to belong in this church. If the images are always edgy, hip-hop-styled in a church that's neither edgy nor hip (let alone hip-hop!), the congregants may be distracted and miss the point of worship entirely. If media reflects a picture of the church family that's too different from reality, the family may begin to feel uneasy, to be unsure about who they are, and may actually begin to fracture. TO DO LIST * Getting a handle on the church's culture isn't difficult. Contact local government agencies and school districts to request demographic information for your area. Drive through the neighborhoods near your church and try to look at them with fresh eyes. Make notes of the trends you see. How do people live? What kinds of jobs do they have? What are their recreational habits? Contact the local paper and cable TV company and try to determine where your people like to get their information. Are they newspaper-readers, network TV-watchers, or podcast-downloaders? Pull together as much information as you can about the people your church serves. CHAT ROOM * Gather a group of church or ministry leaders and together draw up a cultural profile of your congregation. From there, discuss what "language" your media should speak. What stylistic elements will work best? What styles might be a turn-off? What types of media will be most effective and expected? Simple lyrics and sermon points on still backgrounds or tons of video and web-based extensions? What sort of special effects will work with this audience? What sort of pacing will keep their interest without becoming distracting? Ask each other lots of questions and make good notes. KEY CONCEPT * Create a stylebook. This can be as detailed as you wish (and more detail is better than less). A stylebook is a document that sets the parameters for the look of your work. You'll determine what goes in your stylebook, and you'll probably add to it and alter it as time goes on. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 1. Decide which fonts you will use and which ones should never see the light of day in your sanctuary. 2. Decide what colors you will use and which ones (day-glow green, maybe?) you will avoid. 3. Set clear guidelines for effects. ("Always use drop shadows, but only black ones," for example.) 4. Determine the optimum length of videos for worship. I suggest you aim for one minute for most pieces and no more than three minutes for special projects. The exception might be stewardship and capital campaigns, where you may need five minutes to tell a compelling story. Five minutes should be the max for any video in worship. 5. Set standards for font size in projected lyrics and for formatting of scripture passages, sermon points, and other text. Get down to the nitty-gritty: when to use italics or boldface type, what to center and what to justify left, where to put scripture references on screen, etc. 6. Publish your stylebook. Everyone who creates or uses media in your church should have a copy. And make sure the stylebook is kept updated. * Recognize that you may be most comfortable in a different church culture than the one you're creating media for. But remember Who and Why you serve. Your aim should not be to express your own creative voice, although that may be the happy by-product sometimes. Your aim should be to express God's voice for your unique congregation. There's no more humbling or important calling, is there?
You understand your ministry's Purpose and how to communicate in your church's Culture. You have set a strong foundation; now it's time to build (or rebuild) the media ministry. Once each year, spend time taking stock. Assess assets and resources. What skill-sets do staff and volunteers possess? What sort of equipment does the ministry have? How about the facilities? What other resources are there—positive attitudes, a collaborative church staff, an encouraging senior pastor? What is going well in the media ministry?
Next, scrutinize the ministry, looking for gaps, weak spots, missing pieces. If you're just starting out, you may see more liabilities than assets. That's okay; you'll soon see that balance begin to shift.
MAKE TIME FOR THIS Hold a daylong long-term planning session. * Invite four to eight others. The list should include people who are stakeholders or collaborators in the media ministry—volunteers, staff, your pastor, the music director. * Invite one additional person to serve as facilitator; this should be someone who is objective and has no agenda; ideally, it is someone who has led meetings like this before, who can keep the group sharing openly without getting bogged down. You should not facilitate your own planning session. * Set up a meeting place that will be comfortable for this long meeting. Make sure there's food and drink, including lunch, for the participants. Use giant flip-chart paper to record all the responses and designate one person as scribe.
Devote the first part of the session to the stock-taking questions discussed above. Other issues that need to be addressed should be big issues, requiring problem-solving strategy, such as establishing a process between music and the tech team for graphics production. Don't waste planning session time on small things that just need to get done, such as equipment repairs.
After you have listed all the major assets, liabilities, and issues, it's time to boil that information down to the essence. Keeping Purpose and Culture in mind, the group should review the information on the flip charts. What are the most important points? What points appear over and over? What points are least significant? What rises to the top?
Together, agree on distinct objectives to address the most critical issues. Don't take on more than five or six objectives at a time. Assign a due date and one owner to each objective; it's the owner's responsibility to make sure the objective is met. He or she should determine how to get the job done, but that doesn't mean the owner does all the work. The objectives should leverage your assets and minimize the effect of your liabilities. They should help you stay purpose-centered, speaking effectively in your church's culture and working with excellence.
Media ministry leaders often complain that their ministries seem out of control. It's tough to carve out time for this sort of long-range planning, but it's one of the best ways to bring—and keep—the media ministry under control.
Your Pastor's Voice
I get this question often: "What's it really like to work with Adam Hamilton?" Media ministry folks generally ask because they are wondering how to navigate the working relationship with the pastor. This is apparently tricky territory; the questions come up at every Leadership Institute and every time I meet with media ministry colleagues. Every pastor and every media producer is different. They work differently, think differently, and communicate differently. While there isn't a simple list of rules to ensure a productive and healthy relationship with your pastor, here is a representative list.
Some rules to help relationships. * Understand the pastor's intention and trust one another. Know your pastor's heart. Know him or her as a person. Build trust between you. When you face a stressful time, you will both need to rely on that trust. It is irreplaceable. KEY CONCEPT * Learn the pastor's voice. Media ministry people are the pastor's chief communicators. You're the megaphone, the canvas, the storyteller. Your voice must match the pastor's voice. You must learn the words, rhythms, phrases, pacing, and style of the pastor. You must hear the music that resonates most completely with your pastor. You must observe which colors, images, fonts, and other visual elements the pastor appreciates most. There may be times when you would rather "speak" in your own voice, and there may be a time when that is appropriate. But when you represent the pastor with your work, when you are speaking for him or her, you must do that in a way that's authentic to the pastor. * Own the pastor's God-given vision. Your pastor is the chief vision caster of your church. That is a critical role. You play an important part in that. So you must understand that vision and carry it in your heart. You should be able to articulate it as clearly as the pastor does—in fact, that's probably part of your job. Your pastor should be passionate and sold out to God's call for your church, and so should you.
Excerpted from Wiring Your Church for Worship Copyright © 2007 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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