Helping Your Small Church Embrace Positive Changes

To strengthen or revitalize a church, you often have to change how that church does certain things. Changes involve the adoption and implementation of new ideas. Ideas for potential changes in a church can come from anywhere: the pastor, a member of the church’s board or council, a long-time attendee, or even a first-time visitor.

Regardless of its source or its apparent merits, every new idea will be met with some resistance. That’s because most people, in general, are resistant to change. An idea will need a champion who can persuade the majority of the congregation that the church should support the new idea and the changes that it entails. The church’s governing body can and should endorse the initiative, but the champion must be an individual. It does not have to be the pastor, but often it is.

The job of the champion is to persuade the majority of the church members to support the idea and its implementation in the church. The challenge is to convert resistors – those who resist the idea, at least initially – to adopters.

The Adoption Bell Curve
Not everyone in your church will respond in the same way to a new idea. The response of an individual member of your church will fall into one of five categories, and can be visualized with the following bell curve:

Let’s look at the five categories of respondents:

  • These are the dreamers and visionaries in your church. They regularly talk about the future of the church rather than the past but are not generally acknowledged as leaders or policy makers. Many have the spiritual gift of faith (I Cor. 12:9).
  • Early Adopters. These members know a good idea when they see it. Their opinions are generally respected by others, and they are influential in moving the church forward in new directions. They often receive credit for ideas that really were not theirs. Many have the spiritual gift of wisdom (I Cor. 12:8).
  • Middle Adopters. These represent the majority of your congregation. They tend to react to the ideas of others rather than generate their own. While these people generally are reasonable in their analysis of a new idea, they are more inclined toward maintaining the status quo and more easily influenced by those opposing change than those supporting it.
  • Late Adopters. These are the last in a church to endorse a new idea. In congregational and committee meetings, these people often speak against and vote against proposed changes and new ideas. They may never verbally acknowledge acceptance of a new idea, but they will eventually go along if the majority agrees to support it.
  • Never Adopters. New ideas are seldom, if ever, accepted by this group. Their commitment is to the status quo or the past. They often sow discord after change is adopted, and they eventually will leave if they don’t get a following.

Implications of the Bell Curve
Based on the above bell curve, here are several things to remember when you introduce a new idea into your church:

  • Not everyone will be happy. Innovators are on a collision course with Never Adopters. Early Adopters are frustrated by the lack of vision of Late Adopters, and Middle Adopters may encourage this disagreement to buy time for an adequate consideration of both sides.
  • You should encourage discussion. Shortly after a new idea is introduced, you should allow the expression of differing opinions. If people are not allowed to express their opinions early, then you can be assured that they will express them later, at a less appropriate time
  • Some members will leave. Don’t think that avoiding controversy or even managing it will avoid the loss of disenchanted members. David DeSelm, in the video A Church for the 21st Century, observes that “you’re going to lose people even if you don’t change.” He’s right. If you introduce change, some folks from the right side of the bell curve will leave. If you don’t, some visionaries from the left side will leave. The question is: which dissatisfied members would you rather lose, the Never Adopters or the Innovators? If it is any consolation, neither group will drop out of church life when they leave your congregation. The visionaries go to more innovative churches, the stalwarts to more traditional ones. The question is, who would you rather keep?
  • The battle is for the Middle Adopters. You won’t need to work very hard (if at all) to convince your Innovators and Early Adopters of the value of the new idea, assuming it’s a good one. The Late Adopters will not be convinced before the new idea actually becomes successful. But if you can convince the majority of Middle Adopters to support the initiative, then you are on your way.
  • Middle Adopters are more easily swayed by Late Adopters than Early Adopters. Most Middle Adopters, while good and reasonable people, prefer the known to the unknown; the present certainty to the future’s uncertainty. This does not mean Middle Adopters are closed to reason, or cannot catch the excitement of a new vision. They’re just normal people, with normal fears of the unknown. As Aubrey Malphurs observes, the majority of these people “… tend to vote for the status quo unless they are given a good reason to change, or are assured that change will not result in a loss of quality. (Pouring New Wine Into Old Wineskins; Baker Books)

Facing the Challenge
The last two points are your challenge:

  • You need to win the majority of Middle Adopters.
  • These folks are more inclined to stay with the status quo than to embrace change.

So how do you win them over? You must make your Early Adopters more persuasive than your Late Adopters. Generally, Early Adopters are well respected in the church. The words are given serious consideration and their leadership often is followed. Here is the approach that I recommend:

  1. Make a list of your Early Adopters.
  2. Solicit their active support.
  3. Ask them to endorse the new idea not just in formal meetings but also, more importantly, in informal discussions. Explain that it is often conversations in the halls and on the telephone that influence other members (especially Middle Adopters) more than anything else.
  4. Make it clear that their support may make the difference between success and failure.

A new idea will not be adopted automatically on its merits. To maximize your chances for success with vital changes in your church, enlist the active support of your Early Adopters to counter the natural resistance that many of your members have to change.

Are Your Church Facilities an Obstacle to Growth?

Check out the interior of national chain stores (grocery, pharmacy, clothing, restaurants, etc.) in your community. On average, retail businesses remodel their facilities every 4-7 years, and with good reason. There’s something about “new”. New additives to toothpaste. New vitamin potency in cereal. New styles in cars. New versions of software. “New” attracts. By contrast, most churches renovate their facilities every 25-40 years; some go even longer without a significant makeover.

Facilities can have an effect on a church’s corporate self-esteem. The effect is similar to the way your house or apartment subtly influences your own self-esteem. If you live with junk in the backyard, unwashed dishes in the sink, dirty clothes on the floor, rooms in need of paint, etc., then these things affect your self-image, whether you know it or not.

The design and architecture of your church actually has a more important influence on your visitors than it does on your regular attendees. Why? The longer a person attends your church, the less he/she is able to see the building through the eyes of a newcomer. Long-time attendees don’t notice the rain marks in the ceiling, the chipped paint on the wall, the hole in the carpet. And, for long-time attendees, those things don’t really matter, anyway, because they are coming for the people, the relationships, the fellowship, the spiritual growth…not the facilities.

How visitors feel about your church, however, will be influenced heavily by their first impressions. As the old saying goes, you don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. And one of the first impressions visitors have of your church is its building; first the outside, then the inside. Visitors don’t need to be professional architects to sense that the ceiling is too low, the halls too narrow, the windows outdated, or the color schemes from a different generation. Marshal McLuhan once said, “the medium is the message.” Your building is the medium. If the medium is outdated, the message will appear outdated.

Think of it this way: When your home is messy, do you want company dropping in unannounced? Probably not. When you are expecting guests, you probably pick up your clothes, clean the kitchen, and put on your home’s best face. Why not have the same attitude about your church facility and the guests who are coming to visit God’s house?

While nice facilities won’t cause your church to grow, poor facilities can prevent it from growing. If your church building has not had a significant makeover in 15 years or more, then your building is probably a growth-restricting obstacle.

Seeing through an Outsider’s Eyes

An outsider’s perspective is quite valuable. Invite a friend or neighbor who has never been on your church campus to walk through the facility with you. The “visit” need not be on Sunday. First, drive by and around the church. Then park and walk toward, and eventually into, the building. Ask the person(s) to “free-flow” about their impressions, sharing what catches their attention, what they like, what they don’t like, what they aren’t sure about. Either take notes or use a recorder to document their comments. Tell them not to worry about hurt feelings—you want their honest first impressions.

Conduct this exercise at least three times with three different people. That way you won’t put all your “eggs” into one person’s “basket”. See if different people notice the same things. Finally, compile your notes into categories and review them. You don’t need to make every suggested change. But you do need to know how visitors and newcomers see your facilities.

A Christian architect recently told me that, the more an interior of a church (i.e., decor, restrooms, lights, paint, doors, classrooms) looks like the facilities people are in during the week, the more likely the facility will present a positive first impression. Conversely, the more out-of-date that facilities appear, the more negative are their first impressions. When a visitor enters a church building that is 50+ years old—and it looks it—he/she is subconsciously wondering: Is the message of this church as outdated as its building?

A Helpful Checklist

Here’s a starting checklist to evaluate your facilities. Grade each item on a 1-7 scale 
(1 = “poor”, 7 = “excellent”). Perhaps have different people share in this exercise and then compare notes; it’s a great conversation starter!

Building

  • Ease in finding the location
  • First impressions from the outside
  • First impressions of the inside upon entering
  • Impressions after walking around

Parking

  • Appearance
  • Adequacy of spaces
  • Proximity to entrance

Signs

  • Directions from parking area to appropriate building entrance
  • Where to get information
  • Directions to the sanctuary/worship center
  • Directions to the restrooms
  • Directions to the nursery

Nursery

  • First impressions upon entering
  • Confidence in security
  • Confidence in nursery staff
  • Impressions upon leaving nursery

Classrooms

  • First impressions upon entering
  • Adequate furniture for age level
  • Room décor

Sanctuary/Worship Center

  • First impressions upon entering
  • Visibility of platform
  • Sound/acoustics
  • Ease in finding a seat
  • Seat comfort
  • Lighting

Restrooms

  • First impressions upon entering
  • Adequate number to accommodate everyone in 15 minutes
  • Cleanliness

The story of the paraplegic who was brought to Jesus (see Mark 2:1-5) presents us with several pointed questions: “Are our facilities keeping people from Jesus?” And, if so, “Are we willing to tear up our roof (and, perhaps other parts of our building) in order to let them be healed?”

Rural Church Does Outreach through Children’s Ministry

What’s your congregation’s focus and form of outreach? As a small congregation – average weekly attendance of around 95 – in a rural setting (“at the intersection of beans and corn”), Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Hudson (Stroh), Indiana focuses its outreach efforts on the public elementary school in its community. Its form of outreach is KIDZ KLUB, a Tuesday after-school program for elementary-aged kids. In the fall 2016 session, Pastor Jim Elsner taught the fourth- and fifth-grade students about the life of Abraham. Through this lesson, the children learned about their identity with God, sex and abuse, and covenants.

Identity
In order to build a “team”, Elsner played a game with the kids. Each child took a turn to share his or her name and the hospital where he or she was born. To Elsner’s surprise, four of the eight kids did not know the name of the hospital, or even the community, where they were born. These same four kids live not with a parent but with another relative. It was a great opportunity to talk about Abram and how God knew him and called him to follow Him.

The second week, Elsner and the children read from Isaiah 43. Each child made a big poster, and the posters went up on the classroom wall. The message was this: “I have called you by name, [child’s name], and you are mine,” says the Lord.”

It was important for these kids to know that God knows them better than they know themselves. He knows where they were born. And He calls them to be His own dear child!

Sex and Abuse
If you read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-22, you can’t escape talking about sex and abuse! The words were right there in the Bibles that the students used, and the kids caught it quickly. They realized that, even though God called Abraham and made him His own, Abraham and Sarah made bad choices in life.

Elsner introduced the kids to the “canyon” diagram. On one side is God and on the other is us (people). In the “canyon” between God and us are Sin, Faults, and Errors. How do we get over them and to God?

Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Faith, believing, and trust are the bridge across the canyon. Despite the bad choices we each make, God restores us and forgives us because we believe. Elsner added the cross of Jesus as the bridge, explaining that Abraham didn’t know Jesus and His work as we do and that we believe and trust in Jesus.

Reading about Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 16) brought an interesting story from one of the kids. He told us his cousin was going to a church but she became pregnant, even though she wasn’t married. Her pastor was angry and kicked her out of the church. He told her that her baby was a mistake!

It was a touching moment followed by a tough discussion. All the kids were very tuned in! Elsner spoke about sin and grace, about God’s love and forgiveness for our bad choices when we trust in God. He encouraged the student to tell his cousin about Abraham and God’s love. For this group of kids who didn’t know where they came into this world, it was important to reaffirm God’s words from Isaiah 43: “I have called you by name… you are mine.” That baby isn’t a mistake. That baby is known by God and loved by God, and God calls that baby to be His!

As the class finished its discussion that day and began moving to its next activity, one of the girls who was pretty quiet came to Elsner and said, “Pastor Jim, I was abused. When I was in foster care, I was abused. My grandparents got me out of there. And that’s why I live with them.” And the boy who told us about his cousin turned to her and said, “I was abused, too!”

Covenant
One of the more dramatic moments in the story of Abraham is the covenant ceremony of Genesis 15. It’s kind of bloody, but the kids really understood that God laid his life on the line for Abraham! He made a promise and commitment to Abraham – a very serious one – a “cross my heart and hope to die” kind of one.

When Isaac was eight days old, he entered into that covenant with God, too. Circumcision it was called. (That took some smooth talking on Elsner’s part!) The point for the kids is that God put Himself on the line for us in Jesus. God sacrificed His Son so we could be in a covenant commitment, too! And today, God asks us to be baptized. That’s His covenant for us.

The last session covered baptism. None of those kids are baptized. Elsner’s prayer is that everyone on the “Green Team” (the group’s name) is baptized the same day. The seed has been planted; Elsner looks forward to seeing how it sprouts and grows in the next 8-weeks of KIDZ KLUB.

Growth and Blessings
During the fall 2016 session of KIDZ KLUB, Prince of Peace saw a 50% increase in enrollment and attendance – from 25 kids to 37. Why the growth? Part of the reason is that KIDZ KLUB is not the church’s only involvement with the local elementary school. Other involvement includes:

  • A deaconess, who directs the Children’s Ministry and KIDZ KLUB, spends one to two hours each week as a volunteer recess and lunch supervisor at the school. The kids love to see her! And it gives the opening to talk about KIDZ KLUB and answer questions about life issues, church, and God.
  • Every year, the church provides lunch for the faculty and staff during one of their in-service days. It’s the church’s way of saying thanks for their care for the kids of the community!
  • Several Prince of Peace members volunteer at the school as mentors. They read to the kids, listen to kids read, or help them with other studies and lessons.
  • Church members try to be visible at school events such as concerts and plays.

God has blessed the Prince of Peace outreach to the kids of the community and their families. The last evening of KIDZ KLUB included a Family Supper event, which followed a short program with kids singing, doing a skit, and receiving awards. Over 80 people – KIDZ KLUB students and staff, family members, and congregation members – attended. Two new KIDZ KLUB students are participating in the Christmas pageant this year, and their parents are beginning to worship at the church.

Outreach is challenging for a small congregation in a rural setting, but the need for the Gospel is just as great here as anywhere else. The personal issues and family tragedies one associates with the city are in rural America, too. The challenge is to shine the light of Christ’s love to those around us. By God’s grace and Spirit, Prince of Peace is able to be “a safe place and a grace place” where the seed of His Word – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is planted. Elsner and his congregation eagerly await the harvest!


Thanks to Terry Tieman for submitting this article, which was written by Pastor Jim Elsner.

Teaching Our Community to Care for Us

Ten years as an at-home mom prepared me in surprising ways to be a lead pastor. In both situations, I’ve learned that:

  • You’re part of the community but also responsible for building the community.
  • Most of the work you do is noticed only if it’s not done
    • At home, people expect dinner to appear on the table and socks to appear in their drawers.
    • At church, they expect the bulletin to be filled with important events and for a sermon to appear every Sunday morning.
  • You will have moments of resentment, and resentment is a sign that you need to share your heart.

It would be natural for my children to feel entitled, and for me to feel resentment, if I were treated as a full-time servant. One day, I decided that everyone would benefit if my kids learned to appreciate what I do for them. And so we have taught our children to say “thank you” not just because it’s nice to be thanked but also because it’s good for them to learn gratefulness.

In other words, if I were to put up with their entitlement for the 18 years they’re with me, I would end up with a lot of resentment in my own heart, and they would leave home as something less than whole and happy adults.

Now, of course, parishioners aren’t children, so I don’t want to overdo the metaphor. Still, it is important for parishioners to be grateful for their church and for their pastor. The responsibility for teaching them this often falls to the pastor when the church is small, there is little denominational oversight of these things, the congregation is young, or the community is very transitional. In my case, all four are true.

Let me share how I’m learning to navigate this.

Last year, I noticed I’d been on staff seven years and was due a sabbatical. We, like most smaller churches, don’t have a head of HR who keeps track of such things. I’m the closest thing we have to head of HR, and for any other member of staff I would say, “Time for a sabbatical!” But no one remembered this for me, so a part of me felt a little resentful.

I decided, as the head of HR, to inform everyone that the Lead Pastor was due a sabbatical. I did so partly because I believe that it’s good for a church if their Lead Pastor takes a sabbatical. In my submission to the good of the church, I raised the issue. Of course, they were happy to let me go. And the sabbatical was good both for me and the church.

I’m also navigating these questions this Christmas. The folks in my congregation are incredibly positive and encouraging. (If they weren’t, then I guess I would need to consider how to pastor them toward that.) Because we are by a university, many of them are young and always coming and going, so each Christmas it’s a different set of faces. As a result, those of us on staff don’t receive many Christmas cards or gifts.

It is important to note the following:

  • We don’t care about being lavished with expensive presents, but a heartfelt recognition of any way we have served folks is always meaningful.
  • Ultimately we find our affirmation in the Lord, but there are also healthy ways the Lord shows his affirmation through his people.
  • This is not about being treated in a special way – because pastors feel that they are above their people or lords to be spoiled – but about being part of the community.

In a very awkward moment, I raised with our elders that:

  • It’s good for the community to take a moment at Christmastime to celebrate good things.
  • It’s good also to remember the things that can be invisible, like a vibrant church community.
  • It’s my job to help them do that, even if it means teaching them to thank me.

In the past, the elders designated a member of the board to buy each staff member a gift and to sign a card on behalf of the church. It was nice, but it didn’t involve the congregation. This year, the elders are seeing that, as spiritual leaders of the congregation, part of their role is to teach people to take care of the pastors, just as we take care of the people. The elders have taken on the challenge with gusto and it’s beautiful, even if uncomfortable.

If we’re honest, it feels good to imagine we don’t have any needs. It feels very spiritual to say, “I won’t ask anything from them. I’m here for them, not the other way around.” There are certainly ways that we can’t burden our congregations with our needs, but how are we helpful if we’re not human? Won’t we serve them best by (wisely) letting them see our needs? As someone who needs words of encouragement, it is okay to let my congregation know that, not for the sake of my own ego but so that I can keep investing day after day, year after year in this place.

The scriptural metaphor of the ox treading the grain makes me think that God is okay with this approach. We have committed ourselves to our congregations. We’re taught to be servants, to sacrifice for this work. If our good and the good of the church are interwoven, perhaps there are times when we need to take care of our own good for the sake of the church.

The worker for the church community is to live off the fruits of the church community. The fruits of the orchards we tend are not limited to financial gifts. We are nurturing warmth and appreciation, spiritual maturity, and gratitude. The Lord wants us to share in those fruits, too.

Holidays Are Splendid…Except When You’re Blended

“If you think your life is hectic during the holidays, you ought to try coordinating schedules, dinner plans, and Christmas gifts with the parents of three households – most of whom don’t care for each other very much.” That’s how stepmother Sheree explained holiday stress to a family member.

As pastors and leaders of churches, whether small or large, it is very important that we take into account those in our church and community who are in blended families. It’s important in every season, but in particular during the holiday season. Author and speaker Ron Deal from FamilyLife Blended says that as many as 40% of those in our local churches are in blended families. Sometimes it is because a spouse has passed away, but more often it is the result of a divorce – in many cases, a divorce that one party didn’t ask for or want.

40%. Let that sink in for a moment. If you have 100 people in your church, as many as 40 of them could be part of blended families. If there are 10,000 people in the community that surrounds your local church, several thousand of those likely are in the same situation. While most of us don’t like divorce and we teach that God’s plan for marriage is “until death do us part”, the reality of our world today is that it is broken. The result is blended families.

Consider the ideal Christmastime in America. We have time off work, so we slow down and enjoy time with family. We celebrate family traditions, attend a special church service, and then open gifts around the tree. On Christmas Day, we have a big meal around the table with the whole family, perhaps including extended family members.

For most of us, the reality of Christmas is far from the ideal. Christmas is stressful and filled with too many obligations. And that’s without the complications of a blended family.

At Christmas and other holidays, children in blended families have to repeat the “family” process several times with different sets of parents, step-parents, grandparents, and step-grandparents. And divorced parents often celebrate a holiday, or at least part of it, at home alone because the other parent has the kids. Not so splendid, huh?

During the holidays, we should be sensitive to the needs and stress levels of those in our church and community who are parts of blended families. When planning holiday events and preparing and presenting holiday-related sermons, we should remember the added dynamics of these families.

In fact, we should do this not just around Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter, but year-round. The challenges that blended families face are 365 days a year. I hope that you will consider starting a blended family ministry in your church and/or community to offer support and hope to these families in the coming year. FamilyLife and Ron Deal have developed a great set of resources called “Smart Stepfamily” that, among other things, contains a small group video study that has eight sessions.

Feel free to connect with me (via the contact page) so we can talk more about how to provide help and encouragement to those in your church and community who are part of a blended family.

Music for a High School Choir

Recently I shared the story of our Celebration Singers, the singing group that came to be because three singers asked for it.  Here is a list of 15 songs they’ve especially enjoyed:

Christmas

Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
Come to the Manger Van Wormer Kjos 5877 SATB
Gloria! (recording) Stephens Alfred SVM01077 SATB
Hodie Christus Natus Est Bedford Choristers Guild CGA-490 SATB
Hodie Christus Natus Est Bedford Choristers Guild CGA-421 2 parts
Hodie Alleluia Lightfoot Heritage 15/1164 SATB

Lent/Holy Week

Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
In Remembrance (rec) Red/Larson Hope C5565 SATB

General

Title Composer Publisher/# Voices
Let There Be Peace on Earth Miller/Jackson, Ades Shawnee Press A0626 SATB
Shout to the Lord (rec) Zschech/Hayes Alfred 19952 SATB
Shout to the Lord Zschech/Hayes Alfred 19953 SAB
A Gospel Alleluia (rec) Gilpin Brilee Music BL439 3 parts
Weave Me, Lord Spencer Glory Sound A6332 SATB
Be Not Afraid (rec) Courtney Beckenhorst BP1388 SATB
Lean on Me Mathena/Kee Brentwood OT1003 (out of print) SATB
Psalm 139 Pote Choristers Guild CGA610 SATB
Shall We Gather at the River Lowry/Coates Glory Sound A6545 SATB

 

Happy singing! — Charles R. Snyder

Making the Most of Video in Your Church, Part 3

This is the third 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. For Part 2, click here.


Bolinger: I thought of a couple of other things, too, Shane, while you were talking.

Sooter: Yeah, hit me with them.

Bolinger: You mentioned testimonies. I think that’s a really good one. It’s tough to be put on the spot, especially at a baptism ceremony, when you’re about to get baptized. Some people are afraid of the water! They have to give their testimony in front of hundreds of people, and all they’re thinking about is that they’re going to get dunked backwards in water in just a couple of seconds. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s more pressure than public speaking in general. And they’re supposed to move people with their testimony. If you can film that in advance, like you said, and edit it for time, and leave out the areas where they stumbled, that’s a great, achievable use of video.

Here’s another one that I saw at our church. You mentioned music videos being easy to do because you don’t have to incorporate the audio portion; you just play a track, just play music. We had a video done where some of the youth of the church held up hand-painted signs on cardboard. On one side, it was something they had been struggling with, and the other side showed what happened when they let Jesus take control: “Now I’m at peace.” “Now I have reconciliation.” “Now I have forgiveness.” It was very, very powerful, and it was very easy to do.

Like you said, it’s all about creativity. When we get creative, we will have ideas that we can do even if we’re novices with filming and editing a video. It will be impactful. And the next time we do something, maybe we can do something a little more challenging or elaborate than what we tried in that first very moving video that we did.

Having a Creative Arts Director at a Small Church
Sooter: The point really is just the sheer creativity. It’s the giftedness to be able to do that sort of thing.

My first church was a really small town Baptist church and I just remember there was the pastor and there was the church secretary, and that was the church [staff]. There are a lot of churches like that. There was this kind of growing awareness that you needed to have somebody whose focus is youth, and there was the rise of the youth minister as a position in churches.

Worship at this church was led by a member of the congregation who got up and told people what page to turn to in the hymnal, and sort of waved his arms while a volunteer played the piano. And there was this growing understanding, this kind of movement in the church, that the worship minister is a position. It’s not really something that you can just fill with stand-ins. It’s a question of giftedness and, when you bring somebody with giftedness into that role, it transforms the life of the church.

I think that we are well into an age where people understand that there is another role in the church. It is called by many different names – the church media director, the producer, the creative arts director – but there’s a recognition that the ability to look at the message of the service and to be able to bring all manner of the arts to bear on the communication of that issue is a specific gifting. I understand that all churches are not going to be able to go out and hire a creative arts director, but I just want to put that on people’s radar.

You would never assume that you’re going to have a great youth ministry if you don’t have somebody who’s gifted in communicating with youth in that role. I’ve worked with a lot of creative pastors, and they come up with a lot of great ideas, but their core job is teaching and preaching. While they can come up with a lot of great ideas, it’s not quite the same as somebody who is essentially an artist whose job it is to bring the arts into church.

Bolinger: I agree 100%, but I’ll go back to the small or midsized church that I grew up in and that, until recently, we were still attending. A couple hundred people, maybe a few more, maybe a few less. In a church of that size, to have somebody who is gifted in the area of youth ministry, you may have to go with volunteers. It’s not a staff position because you really can’t afford one, so you have volunteers. But volunteers often can be gifted and talented and commissioned to work with youth.

I think that, in the same way, lay people (who are not on staff) may be gifted and talented in this area of being able to equip the people of the church through media. They may be creative, artistic folks. They may do this in in their jobs; they may be using this technology and using media in their jobs. So as long as the pastor is giving direction from a biblical standpoint, I think you can leverage these folks.

Another thing that I thought of is that a lot of these folks are going to be younger.

Sooter: There’s probably somebody in the youth ministry in any church who’s got a YouTube channel with 50,000 subscribers.

Taking Chances
I have one other point on this issue of how do we get into it, what can we do with a safe budget, what are the good ways to get started. We’ve listed a whole lot of great ways to get started, but my last point on the topic would be to get started with vision and get started boldly. Don’t be afraid to be ugly or to make mistakes.

I had some great tools when I first started this at Southeast Christian Church, but they were no better than the tools that any church in America can afford right now. I frequently show at conferences the very first video that I did. If you saw this video, you would never, ever guess that the person who wrote and directed this video went on to continue to work in that field and just produced a movie that opened in theaters nationwide a couple of weekends ago. You would never believe that. If you were feeling charitable, you would say, “Don’t quit your day job.”

Is your church going to be around in 10 years? Most people would like to believe that their church will be around in 10 years. Where can you go with this in 10 years? The journey for me over a decade was starting a video production ministry that now has created dozens and dozens of hours of content, probably close to a dozen different major projects, and has done feature films. It’s all because we started and we stuck with it, and we were willing to take risks, even though the results weren’t always pretty. Leadership was willing to give grace and to stick with the vision and great things have happened.

Making the Most of Video in Your Church, Part 2

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.

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.

RENOVATE!

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!

 tieman-renovation-photo

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 http://renovateconference.org/.

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)