By Michelle Makariak as seen in Technology for Worship Magazine
Broadcasting, in the loosest sense, has traditionally been defined as transmitting information — whether through radio or television — to other people. Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory, famously stated in 1964 that “the medium is the message”, meaning that the form of medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. How then do houses of worship not only determine which medium to use when first looking to create a broadcast ministry, but also make sure that it doesn’t overshadow their message?
The Changing Face of Broadcast
Over the last few years, as more and more people turn to the Internet for entertainment and information, and mobile devices such as tablets, smart phones and media players continue to grow in popularity, there has been a significant shift in the way video is disseminated. We are no longer reliant on traditional (and very expensive) television broadcast as a way to reach the masses, nor is content required to fit network-determined program lengths. Not only that, we are no longer tied to specific days or times for viewing the content we want to see — the birth of YouTube, Vimeo, PVRs, Apple TV and on-demand viewing (to name just a few) has revolutionized the way we perceive and experience broadcasting. The very nature of video broadcast has changed significantly over the past few years, but what do these changes mean for Houses of Worship looking to initiate or expand their broadcast ministry?
Planning Your Broadcast Ministry
Before your House of Worship spends any money on setting up a broadcast ministry you need to determine the following:
Who are you trying to reach and what’s the most effective way to reach them?
How many people will you need to create and produce content, and what type of training and support will you be able to give them?
Jay Delp, owner, Jay Delp Productions, states, “One of the most important things a house of worship needs to determine when starting up a broadcast ministry (regard-less of how they define “broadcast ministry”) is who their audience is. Will content be targeted at existing members, or used as a means to attract new members? It’s important not to broadcast for the sake of broadcasting, but plan in advance the philosophy and scope of the broadcast ministry.”
John Chevalier, Trainer at HHS Digital Productions, agrees. “Churches are often exposed to doing broadcast through another ministry, but they don’t think about who ‘their’ audience is, or how they’re going to reach them and why they are doing what they are doing.”
Is TV still a broadcast player?
In the past, television was the only video broadcast option open to houses of worship. Whether via local cable access programs, cable, or network TV, the format was typically the same: 30 minutes to one hour in length, some singing, some prayer, the sermon, donation requests, some more prayer then fade to black. If your church is looking to reach an older demographic via broadcast, has the expertise and technology to produce high-quality programming and has sufficient financial backing, traditional television broadcasting may be a viable option.
In a blog piece titled “The Decline of Christian TV — The Future of Christian TV” (www.scottlinkblog.com) Scott Link, creator/producer of the TV show Peculiar, and owner of Pup Tent Media, indicates that “the audience for the traditional, sermon-based, teaching program is growing older with every year…with the donor base for the current model of Christian broadcasting shrinking as the audience is dying.”
That’s not to say that traditional TV broadcast is not an effective tool — it can be, especially if you create content that doesn’t try to fill the traditional role. Link states that ministry should look at developing sitcoms, dramas, episodic content and reality shows. Houses of Worship should be creating content that people want, instead of in the way that’s most convenient for them.
By redefining the traditional ministry broadcast to include fresh content, your House of Worship can help redefine the role TV broadcast has in ministry, while at the same time creating relevant outreach to attract new viewers and congregants and reach a younger demographic.
Why Internet Broadcast is more relevant than ever
Creating content for online viewing, either “live” or on-demand, is also a great way to reach a broad audience24/7 — not just on Sunday. It allows people to you’re your message on their own time, their own schedule, without tying them down to a specific date and time to watch, as TV broadcast requires.
A recent Pew report states that 4 out of 5 Americans use the Internet. While online, 71% visit YouTube, Vimeo or other similar sites to watch videos, 69% use social networking sites, and 32% are actively searching for religious materials. An additional 45% of American adults own a smartphone, and 25% have a tablet. Just think about that for a second — 81% of all Americans are active on the Internet using a variety of media devices.
Not only that, but according to recent Neilsen data, 131 million Americans watch video online every month, with an additional 13.4 million watching video via their smart phones.
So, how should your House of Worship access this vital and growing viewership? There are several options to choose from, and you’re media ministry is not limited to just one. A growing number of churches live-stream their services, which means that worship is being filmed, edited, encoded and sent out via a streaming network in real-time. And live-streaming does not have to be limited to just worship services. Houses of Worship can live-stream weddings, baptisms, youth events — pretty much anything that is happening at your church can be put on the web for immediate viewing.
Houses of Worship can also choose to make worship services available online in a video-on-demand (VOD) format. By offering VOD, Houses of Worship put the power in the hands of the viewer, allowing them to choose not only what content to watch, but also when to watch it. If your church decides to only create VOD content, your broadcast team can edit the service in a more professional and polished manner than what would normally be seen via a live-stream, which greatly improves production value and watchability. Plus, VOD provides a means to display and distribute the growing amount of pre-produced content your ministry is (hopefully) producing every month in the form of sermon introduction and illustration videos, interviews and testimonials, ministry event highlight clips, and promotional videos for upcoming events to name just a few of the possibilities. By creating a content area for VOD on your church website or via a streaming broadcast provider, you also create a powerful worship archive, and extend and expand the impact of the media & messages your ministry is producing.
Another option is to take segments of your worship service and make them available on your church website, YouTube and other similar sites as an outreach and marketing tool. Chevalier believes that, within the context of church broadcast, Houses of Worship often have a whole separate online audience.
“A younger crowd would probably not watch a full streamed service, instead preferring fast-paced, well edited video that is shorter and to the point, because the attention span for online viewing is way different than what it would be if you were actually sitting in the congregation during worship. There are typically certain points in a sermon that make great stand-alone lessons that don’t need to be shown within the context of the entire service. If the worship band really nailed a song, or if the pastor shared a particularly impactful lesson, then there’s the content you want to make available.”
Supporting a Broadcast Ministry
Once you’ve established what the purpose of your broadcast ministry is going to be and how you’re going to reach your audience, you need to determine whether or not you will be able to field a team capable of supporting your vision.
Here’s a rapid-fire list of questions you need to answer for any size and scope of broadcast ministry — and these don’t even factor in questions about gear:
How many cameras are you going to use and who is going to operate them? Who is going to produce your live-stream broadcast? Who is going to edit it? If you are going to create a VOD section, who is going to archive and maintain your content? If you are going to create trailers, smaller features, or man-on-the-street style video, who will your video team be that does this? Who is going to be responsible for scheduling and training your team? Will you storyboard your video pre-productions and, if so, who will do that? Where will you find music tracks needed for producing your own videos? Who will maintain your streaming infrastructure and make sure it can support your media content? Have you visited and researched another church or ministry who has already taken similar steps into broadcast ministry which you are considering? How many hours a week will your team need for creating content?
This list of questions is not meant to intimidate or deter you from pursuing a broadcast ministry but to simply alert you to the many aspects you need to consider before spending your valuable time, energy and money on setting up a broadcast ministry.
Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many dedicated people to create exciting and viewable content that brings your media vision to life. The larger your broadcast ministry is, the more people you will need to maintain it. You need to make sure that your team is on the same page, focused on the same goal, and able to contribute to the creative process.
The Medium is not your Message
Creating a broadcast ministry for your House of Worship can be an excellent way to strengthen your worship community and attract new members, while at the same time, sharing your vision with the world. However, it’s important to recognize that creating a broadcast ministry just because other churches are doing it isn’t a good reason for moving forward. In order to maximize your potential, you need to have a clear plan in place for content creation and distribution. It’s important to ensure the medium it’s delivered on isn’t overshadowing your vision; and that your message remains the most important aspect of your ministry.