Making the Most of Video in Your Church, Part 1

This is the first part of a three-part interview with Shane Sooter, the founder of City on a Hill Productions. The complete interview, which took place in late 2014, is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Bolinger: Shane, please provide us with a little background on yourself and the projects on which you’ve worked in the past decade or so.

Sooter: I started working in a church setting. I then moved on to a parachurch organization, and now I’m independent, but my learning occurred in that weekly pressure cooker of “Sunday’s always coming”. I feel that I can relate to folks who “do church”, week in and week out.

…[Today,] there are so many…churches whose whole worship service is supported by media if not directly interactive through media:

  • You may start the service with a short video.
  • When you’re singing worship songs, you’re watching the lyrics for the songs on the screen, but there are not just the lyrics there but also motion backgrounds.
  • There could be a Scripture animation that comes up for communion meditation.
  • [A portion of the sermon, or the entire sermon,] may be on video.
  • Other elements of the service also incorporate video.

Media use is woven into the fabric of the service. You’d have to entirely reimagine what the service would be to remove it.

Getting Creative with Video
Bolinger: I would venture to guess that a lot of our smaller and even midsized churches really haven’t reached that point yet. Can you talk about how they might get there? Let’s start with equipment.

Sooter: One of the most exciting things that’s happened in all of church life is the democratization of production. Just about anybody can get into what really only churches like Southeast Christian could have done 10 years ago. I mean, when I was starting in video production, we were using $40,000 cameras and they weren’t even HD. Just the production facilities that were required to just edit a video…I mean, nobody edited a video on a laptop. I remember when I got my first laptop and edited a video on it, people around the church came to look because they couldn’t believe that could be done. I mean, that was done on big computers with big arrays of hard drives. It seems so archaic, but that was really not that long ago.

Now your basic laptop has all the power that you need to edit videos and to run multimedia for a service. The cost of projectors has certainly gone down.

How does a small church get into it? It really comes down to creativity: seeing what the needs are in their congregation, the challenges that they have in communicating the Scriptures in a compelling way, and being able to see ways that the arts could help.

Bolinger: Why would I incorporate video into the worship service at a small or midsized church? I’m not trying to reach people at a different campus. What are some reasons why I would want to make a major change to how we do worship to incorporate video?

Sooter: Almost any church already has a need to begin using media, whether they realize it or not. I was visiting my childhood church in Lebanon, Kentucky, a couple of weeks ago. It’s a really small church. There’s not a bad seat in the house. And still every single person in the church watches a screen all day. It’s their phone. There’s not a town so small that people don’t have iPads and computers and aren’t being conditioned in this day and age to expect to be able to watch whatever they want to watch whenever they want to watch it on whatever device they want to watch it on. Therein lies a tremendous opportunity to continue to get the message out there.

This little church uses video cameras not to record the preacher to send it to a satellite location or to put him on a big screen so that people can see him, but just to put the sermons online, because people watch them, whether they’re not able to attend or they want to share with somebody. The need to make the teaching of the Word of God in these houses of God accessible to people in the way in which they are most used to taking in information these days is universal and growing. If you’re going to recognize and address that need, then it creates a tremendous opportunity for you because you’ve already got the majority of the tools you need to start to get creative.

Potential Starting Point: Music Videos
[At Southeast Christian, we] started with doing music videos. We’re always trying to craft these very specific worship moments. Something at Southeast that I’m sure a lot of churches strive for is not just to pick up a handful of contemporary worship songs and a handful of classical songs and worship to them and then hear a sermon, but to make the entire worship experience about the message of the sermon. So the worship songs are relevant to the content of the sermon and are trying to prepare people to hear a message on that subject. And when you start getting that kind of specificity, after you choose a worship song you may say, “If we told a story with a music video for this song, then we could really engage people.”

Or it could be simpler than that. You’ve got the lyrics for your worship music up on the screen. Sometimes people have a motion background for that, and they’re fairly generic kind of eye candy for the most part. What if instead of that you look at the lyrics of that song and you consider some worshipful images that can go behind that? Maybe you shoot some footage of somebody praying or some people who are serving together. It’s hard to give examples because those examples will come out of specifically what you are trying to achieve that weekend.

The big point is realizing that, no matter what you’re trying to achieve that weekend, it’s not so much video but really the creativity of coming up with ideas that support that. Video just happens to be one of the most versatile tools you can use to create those moments and to give life to those particular ideas.

So we started with music videos because, quite frankly, sound takes a lot of work. It’s crazy! People think that it’s probably hard to shoot video, but actually capturing of an image and editing it together is almost simple compared to what it takes to carry off things like dialogue or good sound. With music videos we just didn’t have to worry about that.

Every once in a while we would do dramas at Southeast Christian Church, and those were incredibly impactful. You can probably remember a story that your pastor told a couple of weeks ago more than you can remember the three main points of the sermon. Whenever we would do a drama, it was the same thing. If there is a compelling issue that’s being explored in the sermon, and you can find a way to bring that to life in something that feels like truth in real people having real kinds of conversations, then that drama can be really powerful and effective. We know that.

But what if it’s a husband and wife having a fight? What if it’s in a living room? What if you’ve got three different characters having three different issues? What if, by using video, you jump to those three different worlds? You’ve got so many other tools that you can bring to bear on bringing that to life.

In a drama [production held in the sanctuary during the service], the audience has to work to get involved in it because, yes, it’s a husband and wife having a fight, but there are two people whom they know go to their congregation and they’re sitting in chairs up on the worship stage with the pulpit in front of them and the piano behind them. If you gift wrap that in what feels like the real life of the situation, then I think it’s a lot easier to get engaged and a lot easier to identify with, really, which is the point. You’re trying to get people to identify with the issues that are being explored. Where we might do a drama, we started considering doing it on video.

In Part 2, Shane looks at more potential starting points and discusses the type of quality that is required of videos produced by a church.


When I was in college and seminary, I paid my tuition by working in construction. Many of the projects we worked on involved tearing down something old and replacing it with something new. The idea was to retain the integrity and charm of the original room or building, while also making it more functional, beautiful, and inviting. Some people call that renovation!


In much the same way, there are many churches in need of missional renovation today. The old, tired, and worn out attitudes, strategies, and (in some cases) values need to be replaced by a new spirit of vitality, passion for the lost, and desire to connect with new, unreached people. The key to doing that is to retain the spirit and integrity of God’s people in mission without blowing the place up!

You can learn some very practical and proven ways to do that by joining me and 1,500 fellow church revitalizers at the annual RENOVATE National Church Revitalization Conference in the Orlando area November 1-3. The conference site is the Aloma Church at 1815 N. Semoran Blvd. in Winter Park, Florida.

Main speakers include Ed Stetzer, Bill Easum, Bob Whitesell, and Tom Cheney (the founder of the conference). There will be 70 church revitalization workshops with 35 nationally recognized speakers. For more information, go to

Here is your personal invitation from Tom Cheyney:

“We have this year a tremendous group of individuals that have a message that must be heard and are willing to partner together with us to raise the level of discussion and equipping in this vital area. With more than 340,000 churches averaging less than 100 in worship today and the American church in decline, the need for an annual event focused on Church Revitalization has never been greater! Our team consists of 49 brothers and sister in the Lord who will be sharing in these three intensive days of revitalization and renewal.

“We are praying for our speakers, praying for the churches in America in need of revitalization, and we are praying for our Lord God to do a great miracle in these churches as we gather together for RENOVATE 2016!”

I will be leading two breakout sessions on how to Open Doors to Your Community. If I don’t see you in one of those sessions or on the conference floor, please stop by and see me at my booth in the Exhibit Hall.

I hope to see you in Orlando!


 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

Reaching Teens through Video Production: Part 3

This three-part series is a set of (lightly edited) excerpts from the book Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.
Part 1
Part 2

The Importance of Collaboration and Co-Creation
In a follow-up article, Fuller Youth Institute asked two questions:

  1. Why is co-creating media “the core of authenticity” for young people?
  2. What are some ways that leaders can use collaborative media projects?

Let’s start with the importance of having youth co-create media.

Many young people want to do more than just watch media. They want to interact with media. They want to produce their own content. Teens use things they enjoy as a jumping-off point from which they create and share media like fan-fiction, music videos, animated .gif memes, and so on.

Teens in a youth group or, really, any group often are more eager to talk about their groups than about their own personal beliefs. Many teens also are more comfortable with showing, rather than telling, adults what their groups are like.

Many teens also like the process of creating something with a group of teens. “Creative” meetings often include fascinating conversations among teens as they wrestle with why something is meaningful and how to present it to an audience. Media-making projects in a youth group or other church setting encourage young people to think about their relationship with the church, and experiences with youth group, as part of their own individual identities. Youth and youth leaders can discuss sharing a collective identity—which is an important part of what church is all about.

How should a church co-create with youth? Here are some ideas:

  1. Encourage or challenge groups of youth to tell a story that they share.
  2. Produce fun promotional videos for upcoming youth group events and projects (for youth to invite their friends) and for church-wide events and projects.
  3. Teach classes for older members on how to stay connected using digital technology and social media—including things like sharing photos, video chats, a Facebook “How To,” and explaining some of the most popular apps.
  4. Co-create a series of audio or video podcasts in which pastors answer young peoples’ questions about Christianity.
  5. Collaborate on presentations for holidays and church anniversaries in which young people interview older members about their experiences, and assist with digitally preserving archival materials like old bulletins, photos, and so on.
  6. Curate multimedia content such as videos, graphics, and playlists to accompany other content like sermons, lessons, and devotionals.
  7. Generate ideas for new ways to share prayer requests digitally.

One other thing to which the article alludes is that some youth, after they are involved in producing videos, will “rise to the top” in terms of talents and passion in the area of video production. When that happens, it is very important for the church to give those teens further opportunities to explore their giftedness. One approach is to give the talented youth a leadership role in promoting church events on social media, including raising awareness (and funds) for service projects and missions.

Here are some other ideas for youth-created videos:

  • Showcase the talents of some of the youth, including:
    • Video-related talents such as script-writing, acting, directing, and editing
    • Other talents, such as performing music
  • Have a contest where groups of youth compete with each other for fabulous prizes or just for bragging rights, until the next contest
  • Present opinions and start discussions on just about any topic, including deep subjects such as what Christians believe and some of the challenges of being a Christian as a teen

Tapping into Gifts and Passions
Some youth are especially gifted and talented in the area of video production. Some of them may know it already, but others discover their gifts and talents because they have been able to produce videos as a part of youth group meetings and events or in other areas of church life. The more your church encourages youth to express themselves through video, the more the gifted youth will discover those gifts and, most importantly, the more those youth will want to use their gifts for the Kingdom.

In 2014, the website, which strives to help students find their passion, announced its first scholarship competition. To compete, a student had to submit a response to this question: If you could earn a living doing what you love most, what would it be, and how would it change the world? Describe the specific goals you would set to make that dream a reality.

Here is the short essay that Nicole from Hastings, Michigan wrote in response:

I love Jesus Christ most in my life. I love studying Him and His word, sitting down for a cup of coffee with someone to talk about Jesus. I love singing to Him, and talking to Him.

I already know preaching is not my calling. However, I do have a gift with technology, specifically video production. My favorite video projects are for the church, either the youth group or the main service.

I would love to produce videos about Jesus. A big, distant dream for me is to travel the world and make videos for an organization such as World Vision or Compassion International. Maybe someday God will call me to that line of work.

For now, I am still doing what I love by living with and for Jesus, talking about Him with others and helping them grow in Christ, and producing videos for the church. Each video I have made for the church has helped at least one person come closer to Jesus, or at least raise some questions and/or encouragement.

All I want to do is point people to Jesus. I can do that from behind the scenes but still capture their attention with the message of Christ. If I can never make money using my gift of video production, I will still be serving the church by producing videos in my free time because that is what I love. I love it too much to let the lack of financial compensation get in the way.

Reaching Teens through Video Production: Part 2

This three-part series is a set of (lightly edited) excerpts from the book Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Results of Research
After that conversation [with Shane Sooter — see Part 1], I did research on how churches are using video production to reach youth. What I found is that:

  • Reaching youth through video production is something that any church of any size in any location can do.
  • It’s an approach that works well for many of today’s youth, including those who have little or no interest in participating in a youth group.
  • It gives many teens an easy way to invite their friends to participate in an activity that those friends already are doing, many of them on an almost daily basis. The only difference is that, this time, the activity happens to be at a church with a church youth group.

Let’s take a look at the role of social media in the lives of today’s youth and why it is so important for churches to engage youth through media, specifically by enabling and encouraging youth to produce media, especially videos, as a part of the life of the church.

Teens and Social Media
I gleaned a lot of information on teens and social media from the February 2014 article “Social Media 101”.

According to the May 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Report on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy”, nearly 80% of teens use some form of social media, and over half of all teens visit social sites at least daily.

While nearly all teen social media users say they have a Facebook profile, and four out of five say that Facebook is the social site they use most often, it appears that Facebook’s teen appeal is fading, in part because there are too many adults on the site.

Twitter use is picking up among teens, with one in four now using Twitter, as compared to only one in six adults. Teens like the Twitter limit of 140 characters per post because it allows for less “drama” than Facebook, with its long posts and endless comments.

Teens with iPods and smartphones often use those devices to take pictures and record short videos, so those teens are attracted to social media sites where they can share their pics and videos with friends, see what their friends have posted, and interact. Facebook and Twitter support the posting of pictures and videos, but teens increasingly are turning to social media sites that specialize in visual media, such as the older YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr and the newer Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine.

Teens enjoy social media because it is entertaining, allows them to express their creativity and ideas, and enables them to connect and interact with other teens. Because many teens are visually oriented, pictures and videos allow for creative expression that words alone cannot.

The Fuller Youth Institute interviewed Danah Boyd, author of the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft, a Professor at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Fortune magazine calls her “the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet.” Here are some excerpts from that interview, where “DB:” prefaces a quote from Danah Boyd, and “FYI:” prefaces a quote from the Fuller Youth Institute.

DB: Teens turn to technology because it’s the one way that they have to connect with their friends in a culture in which we’ve placed heavy restrictions on teens’ mobility and social opportunities.

It is important to put technology into perspective. We used to be afraid of novels because we were worried that youth would disappear into fantasy worlds and be unable to connect. We feared radio, television, comic books. Each new media is feared, but the fears themselves aren’t that different. The key is to appreciate how hard it is for young people to navigate this world and appreciate their commitment to figuring it out. New technologies are part of that…I’d like us to step away from fretting over technology and focus on the love and attention that teens need from us.

Tips for Youth Leaders and Churches

DB: Youth leaders should not focus on technology but should help young people work through the struggles that are shaped by their age, status, and position in society. Adult youth leaders should enter teens’ networked lives when they’re invited to do so and be respectful of what they find. Technology is not the center of teens’ lives. It’s simply that which mirrors and magnifies everyday life. The church can and often does provide teens with a critical support structure, and this is very important.

FYI: A lot of churches and ministries have been trying to integrate social media into both their marketing and outreach, and their teaching curriculum materials for young people. Are there any best practices you might recommend with regards to using it more effectively in either of those respects? Any common pitfalls leaders should avoid?

DB: I get why folks want to use social media to market to youth, but youth want social media to be their own. Valuable marketing occurs when youth pull on something that’s created by ministries and make it their own, not when it’s simply broadcast out. Thus, my advice would be to focus on creating media that teens can appropriate, remix, or otherwise engage in and see what clicks based on what they choose to share. But above all else, don’t try to be “cool” by directly targeting youth. Work with youth to co-create this stuff. That is the core of authenticity for them.

In Part 3, we take a closer look at the benefits of having teens collaborate on media creation.

Reaching Teens through Video Production: Part 1

This three-part series is a set of (lightly edited) excerpts from the book Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

According to a 2004 Barna Group study, nearly two-thirds of U.S. Christians accept Jesus before reaching the age of 18. Winning students to Christ is great for the Kingdom, and it also can lead to the parents of youth getting involved, or more involved, in the life of a church. When parents and youth are active in a church, that church attracts other families.

Working with teens can be rewarding, but it is widely regarded as the most challenging of all church ministries. Today’s youth are, for the most part, extraordinarily busy. A typical school day consists of seven hours of academics followed by several hours of an after-school activity such as sports, music, drama, a club, or an after-school job. Dinner, homework, and family activities round out the day. Weekends often are equally busy, especially for youth who are involved in club sports, which often involve weekend tournaments nearly year-round.

When they aren’t involved in an activity, most of today’s youth are on their smartphones. They interact electronically with dozens or even hundreds of online “friends”, some but not all of whom are true friends in real life. They watch countless videos and share even more photos and videos, some of which they have taken or created. They are entertained, amused, and informed on a six-inch screen.

To engage with youth and win them to Christ, a church needs at least a few adults – the more, the better – who are committed to youth work. Ideally, these adults should have spiritual maturity, a heart for youth, a great deal of patience, a commitment of at least several years, and the ability to relate to youth. That’s a tall order! Younger adults often can relate well to youth but may lack spiritual maturity, whereas older adults may lack the patience required or be viewed by youth as “out of touch”.

A Brief Exchange with Shane Sooter
When I spoke with Shane Sooter, the founder of City on a Hill Productions in Louisville, Kentucky, about how churches can use media, our conversation turned to how to reach youth through media.

Bolinger: Back in the day, when I was a little younger and you were a little younger, often we would look to the youth. “Hey! We’re going to do a drama! We’re going to do a play!” Who do you get to do it? You get the youth, right? First of all, the youth are probably bored. But you’re going to have some talented youth who say, “Sure, I’ll get up and do that. I enjoy doing that.” You may have to strong-arm some of the others, but usually you can find enough who are talented and willing to do it, and they’d feel really good about it. On those rare occasions where you did it, the congregation was wowed because they got the Gospel presented in a completely different way. Everybody patted the youth on the back and then, a year later, you did it again.

Now, these kids are doing this all the time. At my kids’ school, they actually have video production classes that they can take. There are clubs in different schools and, a lot of times, even without any structure, kids are getting together and doing it themselves. One of my kids, my son, what did he want for Christmas last year? He wanted a green screen. What kid asks for a green screen?

Actually, my kid is not unique. These kids are everywhere these days, because this is their world. They are seeing this all the time. Their friends are producing videos. Why can’t I do that, too? Hey, I can do that on my iPad, or my iPod.

I think that this is something that churches can tap into. This is the way to bring more youth into the church. I’m not suggesting that they’re going to find Christ through video, but this is a common interest. Some of the younger folks in the church already enjoy this, and they are much more willing to invite their friends to make a video than to have a worship service.

I think this is something that can get momentum in a church and, as long as it’s given direction, the outcome of this can be used in worship services. It can be used in youth group. It can be used across the board. It can be put on the church’s website.

Sooter: And there are so many good things that does. It brings young people into the life of the church. It reminds the older generation of the value of youth. It empowers them and makes them feel like part of the life of the church rather than these loud people that we keep over in a separate room or a separate building.

I do think that the kids can use it as evangelism because there so many kids who are interested in that sort of thing. “Come to my church. We’re making a movie tonight.” That’s great. I agree totally.

In Part 2, we look at the impact of social media on teens and why church youth leaders should try to co-create media with teens.

Casting Our Cares on the Next Generation

Leading a university church puts me in an unusual situation, since few of my folks grew up in this congregation and few will stay. As I meet with young adults, many of them college students, one-on-one and hear their stories, it’s surprising how often their spiritual struggles stem from painful experiences at previous churches. I spend a surprising amount of time helping them imagine themselves in the church of the future.

It’s made me wonder: what stories will these young folks tell when they graduate and move on to other congregations? What will our congregation contribute to their spiritual story? Will they tell of ways we added to their burden or gave them wings?

Let me share with you a few of the stories I’m hearing:

  • Yesterday I met with a young man who is now estranged from his Christian family and friends because he confessed he had doubts and needed help figuring out how his faith relates to his life.
  • This week I met with a young woman who had been let go from a ministry because her personality wasn’t enough like the personality of the ministry’s founder.
  • Last week I met with a young couple whose church plant was suddenly defunded because their way of doing ministry in the inner city didn’t look exactly like the way the supporting church does ministry in the suburbs.
  • Two weeks ago I met with a young woman who has been excluded from her home church because she is asking questions about politics and wondering if there is only one way to vote as a follower of Jesus.

It’s good for us to acknowledge that we are in a time of upheaval, both in the broader culture and in the church. Those in their teens and twenties are wrestling with questions we never had to face at their age. How will we help them navigate this phase with their faith intact?

It may begin with a little soul-searching. What if we gathered our congregational leaders and took some time to talk through these questions?

  1. What has changed in the church and culture since we were in our teens and twenties?
  2. Are we anxious about the future? If so, how? How are we anxious about the future of our own congregation? Of the faith around the country or the world?
  3. How can we pray about those anxieties we’re feeling? Do we trust that ultimately the Lord is at work in the world, even in all the upheaval? How has he allowed the Gospel to go forward in times of upheaval in the past? What is his part in guiding his Church? What is the part he calls us to do? How can we partner with him in leading his Church through these changes?
  4. Is there any way that we burden our young folks with our anxieties about the future? Do we take it personally when their faith doesn’t look like ours?
  5. How can we create a safe place for them to wrestle and explore? How can we ask open-ended questions? For example, instead of giving tests of faith like “Do you believe (x doctrine)?” or “If you believe (x), then you can’t be a Christian”, ask questions like, “What is it like to be a Christian in your generation?” and “How can we be a support to you?”

The turning from childhood to adulthood is hard at any time. But when everything around you is also changing, it’s an even greater challenge. In times of great change young people need the older generation to be a stable, comforting presence in their lives. How can we be that for them for the sake of their own development and for the sake of the future church?

Hosting an Event that Improves Marriages…for $100

True or False?

  • I have people in my church who are married.
  • At least some of these people could work on making their marriages stronger.
  • At least some of these people are struggling in their marriages.
  • I am currently counseling or meeting with at least one couple who are having marital issues.

If you answered True to at least one of these questions, then you should consider hosting a marriage conference to help:

  • The people in your church who are married
  • The married friends and relatives of people in your church

Struggling couples will benefit greatly from this conference. But not all struggling couples want to admit that they are struggling. The good news is that you don’t have to position the event as something just for struggling couples, because all married couples will benefit from it. By calling the event a “marriage strengthening conference”, you’ll attract a wider audience, including folks who are struggling but don’t want to labelled as such.

In my last article, I mentioned that it is possible to host a first-class marriage event at your church for as little as $100. Here are the highlights of the event:

  • It runs on Friday evening and all day Saturday
  • It offers proven, world-class instruction and exercises that will strengthen the marriages of all who attend
  • No one at your church has to do any of the teaching

It’s an Art of Marriage event, with all of the instruction on video through FamilyLife. By purchasing the video leader kit for $99 – or even borrowing it if you know someone who already has it – your church can host a marriage conference that everyone who attends will love and will be talking about for months and years to come!

There are a total of six sessions, where dozens of top-notch speakers present the Biblical principles of marriage. It is engaging, comical, and challenging, all at the same time. During the course of the weekend, couples also complete three projects. No other marriage resource enables you to host such a high-quality marriage event so easily and for such a small cost.

But wait…there’s more! I am also one of 14 trained ministry advisors who works for FamilyLife, and I would love to come alongside of you to offer free coaching, encouragement, and prayer, as you plan and facilitate this event at your church.

Please feel free to reach out (via the contact page) so we can connect and talk more. I would love to help you to be the next small church that makes a big impact on marriages in your church and community.