Spreading the Love using Video
True confession: video makes me nervous.
In just about every blog I preach the gospel of visual storytelling, which includes both still images and video, but when it comes to content creation, I admit that I default to taking pictures. I’m comfortable with photography. I get how it works – the composition, the lighting, the elements of story. But video? I’m still trying to figure out that process. The composition, the lighting… PLUS the movement, the sound – it seems much more complicated than taking simple photographs! And don’t even get me started on the editing process. For that matter, where do I even get started on the editing process?!
Fortunately, instruction and inspiration is at hand.
Instruction comes by way of Forma Films, an initiative sponsored by Forma and hosted by Alex Haralson. In a series of brief video tutorials and monthly challenges, Alex invites everyone to pick up their phone or camera and start taking video. Although Alex is a professional filmmaker, his directions are clear, logical, and easy-to-follow. He’s an encouraging teacher and a wealth of great information. If you’ve ever been tempted to use video to support your ministry, Forma Films might inspire you to get started!
But forget about the challenges of making a video for a moment, the real question is – WHY create and use video content? Digital ministry should never be a stand-alone initiative – it should always be a way of enriching or extending your existing ministries. So how can video support the work you are already doing? This is where most of us need a little inspiration – and fortunately there is lots to be found!
Colette Potts, the Director of Children’s Ministry at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Falmouth, Massachusetts needed a way for her congregation to understand the philosophy of the children’s ministry program so she produced a two-minute video to share at the annual meeting. The video perfectly captures family ministry at St. Barnabas, which can be summarized as “Love Self, Love Neighbor, Love God.” The approach is simple yet profoundly meaningful and one that clearly resonates with families. As a professional family therapist, Colette realized that families felt that something was missing in their busy lives, but hadn’t quite realized that church could fill in the missing pieces. Her promise to the families in her congregation? To provide what is meaningful, something that they need in their lives, and something they cannot find elsewhere. Every time they enter the church, they know that the message will be about love, love, love, and that it will be an opportunity for their kids to join together to do real ministry that matters. The video beautifully illustrates this philosophy with a series of well-chosen photographs that capture cute kids doing meaningful work! (So even if you don’t shoot actual video footage, you can still create video from still images! It’s a great way to start!)
Brad Gough, Minister for Families at The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Cincinnati, realized that his families weren’t reading his weekly emails and were disconnected from what was happening on Sunday mornings. As a way to capture their attention, he began creating brief weekly videos that use white-board animation to outline the schedule and themes for each Sunday. At first Brad narrated the videos with a voice-over but then learned that a majority of Facebook videos are viewed with the sound muted. He modified his process to make sure that each segment communicates its message in an entirely visual way. Brad has taken a modular approach – he spent a lot of time creating reoccurring segments, such as the introduction and the invitation to Godly Play. He searched for royalty-free stock video clips – such as the flipping clock. Then, he drew (literally!) on his background as a fine arts major to create his original content – hand-drawn cartoons on a whiteboard. Although he draws slowly, he uses iMovie to speed up the video. He assembles the videos from his reoccurring content library supplanted with new drawings to reflect the week’s lessons or special events. He posts the videos weekly on the church’s website and Facebook page. Families look forward to the weekly videos – and by extension are more excited about the programs Brad plans for Sunday!
What do these videos have in common?
- Both emphasize engaging visual imagery. The sound, in the form of background music, enhances the video (particularly in the case of Love Self, Love Neighbor, Love God) but you can watch both videos with the sound muted and still get the message.
- Both videos have a narrative structure comprised of a series of segments. Love Self, Love Neighbor, Love God establishes the overall theme (Love!) and then moves through a series of segments giving examples of how the children live into the theme, each segment like a chapter in a book. Each chapter supports the overall narrative. The overall “love” theme is re-emphasized to wrap up the video at the end. Sunday Happenings also follows a narrative, structured as a linear progression, showing what is happening over the course of a given morning. Repeated images of a clock provide both information – a time schedule – and a visual cue that initiates the start of each video segment.
- Both videos use text overlays and creative visual text to convey their message. In addition to the traditional text overlay (sometimes referred to as a “lower third” because of its screen placement), text is worked into the videos in creative ways. In Love Self, Love Neighbor, Love God, pictures of written posters, cards, and signage supplement the visual images and text overlays. In Sunday Happenings, many of the whiteboard animations include word doodles as well as cartoon drawings.
- Both videos are brief! Colette sums up a year’s worth of programming in two minutes; Brad covers an entire Sunday morning schedule in one minute! The best thing you can do with your videos is to make them shorter! Edit ruthlessly and focus on the essential information only!
- Both videos were produced with technology at hand: an iPhone, digital photographs, a whiteboard, supplemental free music and video clips. Other than a tri-pod like Brad uses to position his camera to record him as he draws, you probably have access to all of these resources!
What do these ministries have in common?
I expected that Brad and Colette followed a similar thought process in the creation of their videos. What surprised me was how similarly they approached their ministries as well!
- Whether designing programming or creating videos, both focus on what’s important and try to find a simple but effective ways to connect with people. Both try hard not to get sidetracked by business or other distractions!
- Both Colette and Brad draw on their educational and professional backgrounds to enhance their respective ministries. They both see their skills – Colette as a family therapist and Brad as an artist – as gifts God has given them to use in their present capacity as formation professionals.
- Both decided to use video to solve an internal need… but are now looking for ways to use video to reach those outside the church. Love Self, Love Neighbor, Love God has been viewed over 3,500 times – which far exceeds the number of views by church members alone. Colette’s children’s ministry is growing, not just seeing increased participation from existing families, but her congregation has welcomed new families who were captivated by the message of the video. Brad is also thinking about ways to use video to spread love, and to let people know that they are loved. He is researching ways to make his videos more search-friendly, so that people outside the church might discover them – and discover the love of God through them.
So what are you waiting for? As Alex Haralson of Forma Films says, the best camera is the one in your hand. Pick up your phone and start recording. Search through your digital pictures and find ones of happy people doing real ministry. Search on royalty free music and pick a song that makes your toes tap. Put it all together and help to spread the love!
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.