Whether because of the trickle-down effect or the commoditization of technology—or just dreams of growth-many smaller houses of worship are choosing the media-centric path, forged by mega-churches and followed by medium-sized houses of worship, of adding video, graphics, and enhanced sound capabilities. But the two primary questions in these smaller churches, mosques, and synagogues, whose budgets often only cover the ministerial staff and mortgage costs, still remain: First, do we need video? And, if we do, can we afford it?
There are numerous answers to both questions. In many cases, honestly, video for video's sake is actually part of a larger misguided aspiration to grow into something that may not be practical or desirable ("forgetting your place" and "getting above your raising" are two quotes often used in my adopted hometown for those who try to become bigger than they should). Yet a few key areas where video augments small houses of worship should be considered, and we'll try to cover these areas briefly in this column.
Remote speakers. Many small churches can't afford to fly a key spiritual leader into their communities, since travel costs alone might exceed the annual budget for an outreach program. Rather than settling for no speaker at all, however, some synagogues and mosques are setting the technological pace, moving beyond taped presentations to remote video feeds generated by a high-quality camera and supported by sufficient bandwidth. Another key group of remote speakers is missionaries, who often can't meet while home on furlough with every church that supports them, but who do have access to web cameras, instant messaging, and-if in places like India or Europe, as I found out this summer-much higher-speed connections than the average U.S. business or church.
Some churches are also tying these video feeds into a video and graphics mixer, then projecting the combined images onto a large screen. Don't forget to record these presentations (if the remote speaker allows recording), since the content is often of interest to other small churches.
Streaming to congregants. On the other end of the spectrum, streaming has become a cost-effective way to reach current congregants who are unable to attend a service in person and former congregants who have moved www.eventdv.net elsewhere but miss the camaraderie of the house of worship they'd once attended. With products such as NewTek's TriCaster Pro, which I reviewed last month, streaming is an added feature of a cost-effective video-production-studio-in-a-box that can be used for live broadcasting of a worship service and for making recordings to later post on the church's website. Many churches will continue to make video or audio tapes of a weekly worship service, since their older or poorer congregants may not have web access, but this should not prevent a house of worship from making some investment in streaming or video encoding technologies.
Streaming to potential visitors. Posting a streaming video of a typical worship service on a website can serve as a sampling of a church's congregational and ministerial style, which in turn helps potential visitors better understand the church before attending. Don't just put the sermon online-show the whole worship service; it will help your potential visitors, who otherwise come in "cold" and are uncertain about what they'll find. These visitors often know instinctively within the first 5-10 minutes, well before the sermon, whether a church is "their type," and streaming allows the church to showcase its true personality to potential visitors, lessening surprises for visitors while maintaining loyalty to the congregation's traditions and mores.
Special events. One way in which a house of worship can leverage its investment in video equipment, while at the same time capturing a record of events that have historic or sentimental value to the congregation at large, is to use the equipment to capture special events and then sell the videos for a small fee that helps offset initial equipment costs. This is especially true if a church, synagogue, or mosque has a school as part of its ministry; parents often don't mind paying $15-20 for a copy of a tape or DVD that shows their children in a play, choir concert, or other such activity. But be forewarned that parents are becoming production savvy as well-they know that they can capture their own nominal quality video of little Sally in the Christmas pageant. Since most houses of worship aren't going to enact a ban on recording children's performances, the production quality of the church's video and audio capturing and editing must be high enough that the parental purchase is justified.
Some small churches have also been able to barter video production services for a visiting speaker in return for an offset in speaking engagement fees. In much the same way that secular motivational speakers go through a cycle of offering audio recordings, video recordings, and then books, evangelism teams are often in need of good promotional materials that will help them sustain their ministries. The intent is not to get something for free but to exchange needed production services for presentation services. Even if the house of worship can afford the speaker's fees, such offers are often met by the speaker with enthusiastic acceptance, gratitude, and long-standing goodwill.