Amen Corner: Moving Beyond Sound
Posted Jul 1, 2008

From time to time, I get a chance to consult for one of my favorite types of clients: churches that want to move beyond their "tape libraries" and into streaming or broadcasting their services and conferences to the world. Many of those churches have already moved into putting their services online, via a podcast on iTunes. But in doing so, they’ve found that they don’t get the full impact of allowing viewers to join with them live. Just after the mid-April National Association of Broadcasters show, I had the chance to visit one of the churches I’m working with.

Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., up near Mount Shasta and the Oregon border, has a series of ministries that are typical of most churches—families, teens, seniors, college students—and a few that are above and beyond what the typical church would have: a school of supernatural ministry, a set of well-attended conferences, and a traveling youth rally called Jesus Culture.

When Bethel approached me, on the recommendation of another consultant, about helping them look at ways to get their content online, we started with an assessment of which of the ministries made sense to put online. The good news is that Bethel’s IT department and a conference coordination team had already managed to put up podcasts, video clips, and a series of DVDs that are for sale in its online store.

As is typical of most churches that started with a "tape library" ministry, though, the decisions for media delivery, including the website, had been based around the ideas of product creation, manufacturing, and fulfillment: record a sermon, duplicate it x number of times, and then ship it out to those who ordered by subscription or one-off purchases from the web store.

For Bethel to move into streaming requires more than just a set of hardware specs and a few new people to operate the cameras on Sunday or during conferences: It requires a reassessment of what the role of media is in the church, and whether the church can extend its live, real-time ministries beyond the physical constraints of the buildings it occupies.

This shift, while a radical departure from the homegrown tape library model, is one that provides a change in thinking that I think is necessary for the modern house of worship: Stop thinking about the key medium (tape, video, DVD, etc.) and start thinking about how to use all mediums (live streaming, on-demand, physical mediums) in the way that each one provides the best way to augment impactful content.

Fortunately, at the outset, it seems Bethel is ready to make this switch: The tape library is operating at capacity, and the conferences are often sold out, so the use of streaming to allow others to join virtually won’t cannibalize sales. In addition, I've learned from my past consulting work installing AV systems with large projection systems and digital signage that streaming can do double duty for campuswide media distribution.

"This will allow Bethel to enter an era where we are producing, collecting, and distributing inspiring content on the internet," said one of the team members I met with, in his initial report to the team that’s spearheading streaming. "Making this content available will accomplish two key needs for a growing church: Help us continue to disciple the nations and also reduce the need for senior leaders to travel as much."

In addition, given Bethel’s desire to play on an international level, the media services provided could also attract those who cannot attend multiple conferences in person, by way of a conference pass that would effectively be a subscription service for those who want the benefit of a bevy of yearly conferences.

Once underway with production capabilities in full swing, Bethel could also potentially become a resource for other churches, large or small, that want to put on-demand content on the web. Bethel wouldn’t own content created by other churches but would be, in essence, the service provider for getting that content on the web.

All in all, it’s an exciting start for a house of worship that is beginning to understand the need for media in today’s church. More information on this project can be found at www.timsiglin.com—check out the blog posts under Digital Media.

Tim Siglin (writer at braintrustdigital.com) writes and consults on digital media business models and "go to market" strategies. He is chairman of Braintrust Digital, a digital media production company, and co-founder of consulting firm Transitions, Inc.