This is the second 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.
For Part 1, click here.
Potential Starting Point: Testimonies
Another incredibly powerful thing that we discovered in our progression is testimonies. I think that storytelling is such an incredible tool and drama is such a compelling medium, but at the same time I think anyone who has heard a life-changing story of the work of God understands that you’re just not going to top something that God actually did in somebody’s life.
The problem is that doesn’t mean that the person who is the recipient of God’s work in his life can tell his story well. He almost certainly can’t get up in front of a congregation and tell his story well. I can’t remember the statistic, but public speaking is one of humankind’s top fears. Here’s what we recommend: Take somebody who may freeze up in front of the congregation, or as he’s telling his story he chases a million rabbit trails, and just not tell it well. Get him in front of a camera. Have him talk to another person. Have some conversation before the red button is pushed, so that he is relaxed and natural. He’ll forget there’s a camera there. He’ll tell his story in an intimate setting without the pressure of an audience viewing it. Then put that story, which may be an hour a half long, in the hands of an editor who cuts it down to three to five minutes. Then put music with it. And now you’re telling really just the heart of God’s work in a person’s life, and it’s truth. It doesn’t just feel true. It is true. It’s a real-life story, and that’s just really hard to beat.
That’s an incredible way that you can use media in a church of any size.
The Quality Question
Bolinger: When we look at the people whom we’re trying to reach, these are people who are accustomed to seeing multimedia. They get it on their phones and on their computers. We used to watch TV; now we’re watching more videos on our phones, especially if we’re young adults or youth. When I used to present in a business setting, I would joke about how I had a multimedia presentation when I used PowerPoint slides and added a flipchart, to draw pictures on the flipchart, because a multimedia experience is a more enriching way to learn.
And it’s arguably a better way to worship than just having a single style, a single presentation during the worship service.
Sooter: I feel like you’re preaching my sermon.
Bolinger (laughing): I’ve spent some time with you.
Let’s consider a church that hasn’t done a lot with video but is looking to get into it now, to do more than just record the sermons but to try to incorporate some video elements into the worship service and other church activities. They really don’t want to go out and get something they found on the Internet – although those can be powerful – they’d like to do something on their own using their people because it’s more impactful to do it that way. The bar is pretty high now. There’s a lot of high-quality stuff out there. So what are some things that the church that is just getting started can really focus their energies on as they’re kind of learning what they can and cannot do in the video realm.
Sooter: You say that the bar is really high. That’s true, in a sense. If you’re going to try to pull off some sort of high-concept video production or something that is a scripted piece of drama that requires really good performances and needs to be shot well and you need to be able to hear that audio well and you need to light it well so that it looks compelling. Once you start to play in that world, the comparisons that you invite are pretty brutal. You’ve got to be playing at a pretty high level.
But at the same time that our bar is so high, our bar has never been so low. With reality TV and, worse, just with YouTube, we as a people are accustomed to watching really finely crafted, beautiful art and junk in pretty much equal measures and enjoying it all. So I think that playing more to the reality TV or even to the YouTube side of the scale in the beginning is a great way to get started.
More Potential Starting Points
Things like “man on the street” interviews. If your pastor is going to look at a certain truth in Scripture, such as why God allows suffering, you send your team out on a busy street with a camera and ask 50 people that question, and you’ll get some really interesting answers. Some of them will be really insightful – most of them won’t be – and some will be funny. As you show that at the beginning of the worship service – not right before the sermon – it will get everybody’s mind thinking about that question. The video can end with, “There’s a lot of different answers to that question. We’re going to see what God has to say about that question.” During the worship service, the question is, hopefully, reinforced by the worship sets and everything up to the teaching.
There’s going to be no quality bar with that. People expect that to look like what in production we call “run and gun”. Just somebody out there with a camera and a microphone.
Something else that brings a level of relevance to specifically the preaching or teaching moment is if you can find a reason to take the sermon out of the sanctuary. One of the first times I saw this was when one of our pastors at Southeast Christian was giving an illustration that he could have just as easily given in in the worship service. It had to do with being in a boat and rowing in the boat and the different kinds of power it takes to move a boat. I think that it had something to do with the Holy Spirit. You can talk about that from the pulpit – what does it take to row a boat versus using the sails. Instead, they went out and they filmed that in a boat. Just seeing him out there giving the illustration physically, visually, rather than just in words brought a lot of relevance to it. It was great.
Bolinger: That would help somebody like me. I benefit a lot when I see something. A prop or a still photograph is good for me, but frankly a video is better. Some people would get it if he just talked about it, but I would prefer what you said, even if the filming is simple. Show him in the boat. Show him putting the sails up. Show him rowing. Show him getting the electric motor out. I would retain that better, even if it wasn’t particularly well done from a quality standpoint on the video.
Sooter: That’s something you can do very, very easily.
In Part 3, Shane discusses who at a church should be in charge of video production and how a church needs to take chances to be successful with video.