Read the series.
(Technologies for outreach, continued)
2. Audio and Video Media
Nowadays, a good church website will have more than good graphics and helpful written information. Since the advent of digital media, many churches have begun to make their sermons available in audio format. If the church has its own server or pays for a hosting service, it can archive its audio messages and make them available on its own website.12 For churches that can’t host their own audio archives, there are ministries like Sermonaudio.com, which can provide both the hosting and also a worldwide venue of listenership for a reasonable price.13 Such services often provide monthly reports not only of how many people are listening to or downloading your sermons but also of where these people are in the world. You can also acquire these kinds of statistics by using Google Analytics to monitor your website traffic.
In addition to posting audio media on your website, you may want to consider using video as a medium for outreach. Many churches (especially larger ones) will have something like a “welcome” video where the pastor or someone else on staff provides the visitor to your website with a concise (2 to 5 minutes) introduction and invitation to your church. If the video is well done, it provides the visitor with a more warm and personal welcome than he would get if he simply read a text on your website or on a church promotional brochure.14
In addition to the basic welcome video, you may want to include somewhere on your website other video media that address and expound other topics that are important to your church and that really define your church’s core beliefs, values, and/or mission. Moreover, if you have the personnel to help in this area, you can have your sermons recorded in video format and made available through live streaming and/or uploaded to a dedicated server (with sufficient bandwidth) or host services like Livestream, Vimeo or Viddler.15 Higher Internet speeds and lower hosting costs have made the option of podcasting your sermons in video format more feasible. Furthermore, some churches create well-edited excerpts from sermons, give them a catchy title, and feature them as “teasers.” Videos featuring the personal testimonies of certain members may also be an attractive way of introducing potential visitors to the kind of people who make up your church and, more importantly, to the power of the gospel in the life of individuals.
In addition to posting these kinds of videos on your church website, you may want to consider creating a church Facebook page where you can feature these videos. Your members can post these videos on their own Facebook pages and use them not only to introduce their family and friends to your church ministry but also as an evangelistic tool. Using social media networks to post your church audios and videos can be a useful and effective means of communicating the gospel to outsiders. And if you have the money to invest, a nicely designed smartphone or tablet app can be yet another attractive venue to make your audio and video media available to the public.16
Of course, audio and video media require the equipment and the personnel to capture, edit, and upload it. You’ll need quality microphones, mixer boards, computers, editing software, HD cameras, good lighting (for video) and so forth. You’ll need someone with some basic experience with audio and/or video equipment to record the audio or video. You’ll need someone with more experience to do the editing. And you probably should have a professional or at least a semi-professional help you select the right equipment, set it up, and oversee the capture and (especially) the editing process. This is more the case with video media than with audio.
If you already possess or want to invest in video equipment in order to create something like a welcome video or other ministry related videos, I recommend you look into procuring a video teleprompter. With the advent of portable tablets like the iPad, you can now purchase affordable teleprompter kits17 that enable you to look right at the camera as you’re reading the scrolling text of your presentation reflected off of a “beam splitter” glass (which works like a one-way mirror). If done well, this can give your presentation more precision and polish.
Certainly, acquiring and employing audio and video technologies for church ministry requires financial investment. Moreover, most pastors, including myself, do not have the expertise in audio/video technology to discern what equipment to buy or what level of competence is needed to operate that equipment. At this point, I’ll lean on the wisdom of a personal friend. Ryan Hobson is a video producer and consultant. He also served as the Technical Director at Heritage Baptist Church, Owensboro, Kentucky. Here’s what Ryan has to say about selecting the right equipment that won’t go out-of-date too soon (“future proofing”) and training the right personnel for your audio and (especially) video media:
A qualified consultant, especially one who specializes in helping churches, can often be more cost effective in the long run than the “do-it-yourself” approach. A church should not only consider its present needs. It needs to look five to ten years ahead. A well-defined “upgrade path” can save $1,000s or $10,000s down the road. Better to wait and purchase the quality equipment than to get cheap or “adequate” equipment, which may require more effort and money to upgrade it later on.
Proper training is important for A/V volunteers. Being left on their own to “make it work” is the fastest way to lose them. This is because the only time they’re usually noticed is when something goes wrong and they get blamed. Since the A/V personnel at most churches are volunteers, providing them with quality training and support is essential for the success and effectiveness of their ministry.18
So if you don’t have members in your church with the knowledge and proficiency to set up and operate the equipment, you may need to invest some money to hire a professional to help you choose the right equipment, set it up, and provide those in your church with a basic knowledge of audio and video technology, some coaching and technical support.19
Personally, I believe an investment in quality audio and video media is worthwhile in light of the fact that such digital media is widely used by people in our culture as well as people in other cultures around the world. I don’t think audio and video media will replace good written media. But as a means to introduce your church to outsiders and to communicate to them your basic identity, as well as your core beliefs, values, and mission, I believe audio and video technologies are a lawful and effective medium of gospel communication.20
One need not feel constrained to endorse Mark Driscoll’s ministry model in every detail in order to appreciate a valid observation he makes concerning the use of technology for outreach:
Technology is a tool for the church to connect with people and provide them with gospel content about Jesus. Now more than ever, churches that want to reach out effectively to lost people, particularly young people, don’t necessarily need to love technology but must learn to use it to connect with people they love. Any church that is willing to use technology well is demonstrating love by approaching lost people in a way they are accustomed to. This technological hospitality is the practical outpouring of Jesus’ love for our neighbor.21
(Next: Technologies for discipleship.)
12 Your church can also open an iTunes account and make your sermons available as downloadable podcasts.
13 Sermon Audio offers an app for the iPhone and iPad and Android devices.
14 Many churches have and continue to use “Welcome” packets. These usually consist of a nicely designed folio with the church’s name and the word “Welcome” on the outside, as well as pockets on the inside filled with small pamphlets that tell people more about the church. These are still useful. But the “Welcome” video on your website will enable you to reach out to potential visitors without requiring them to visit your church first.
15 Viddler also provides a built in iTunes podcast feature. YouTube offers free video hosting. The downside is that you’ll have unwanted ads prefacing your videos. Moreover, you can’t control what videos it presents at the end, some of which may have offensive content. Also the EULA states that they have rights to your video to use how they deem.
16 Some companies that specialize in creating iPhone and/or Android apps for churches and ministries include The Church App (designed by Subsplash), Church App Solutions, and Mobilesalt.
17 The Prompter People offer three models of iPad teleprompters ranging from their basic $600 model to their $1,400 Proline series. This does not include the cost of the iPad itself. One can find various teleprompter apps for the iPad. “Teleprompter+” is among the apps with the best ratings. If you can’t afford to purchase a teleprompter, you can rent one.
18 Ryan provided me with this input at my request. His company is EF Media Solutions. Ryan not only provides quality video production, but he also offers professional consultation concerning audio/video technologies for church ministry. For more information on developing and training a media personnel team, see also the helpful chapters on “Building a Champion Crew” in The Wired Church 2.0, 85-118.
19 In my experience, you’ll need personnel with more experience than someone who may know how to use an iPod or play video games on an Xbox 360. And while voluntary help is appropriate and often necessary, the quality of the media you produce will usually not rise any higher than the skill and proficiency of the personnel who capture and edit the media. Not surprisingly, many churches today are including on their staff at least one person proficient in audio and video technologies. If you can’t afford to bring an IT expert on staff, pray that God bring to your church people with the skill sets, the heart, and time to minister in this way.
20 For a list of helpful principles for quality video production, see Len Wilson, The Wired Church 2.0, 67-69.
21 Vintage Church, 281.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.