Overcoming Video Reluctance
© Philip L. Ransom vibrance.wordpress.com
Abstract: A growing number of churches are utilizing video technology in ministry. Familiarity and affordability are working together to bring tools within reach for more congregations than ever. But not everyone has the welcome mat out and dessert ready for this new technology. From one who’s been there, here are nine ways to ease the transition and overcome video reluctance in your congregation.
The committee has worked hard, done its research, obtained competitive bids, compared, prayed and decided on its recommendation. The congregation has listened, considered and voted, and the new projection system is in place. For some, the introduction of this “newfangled equipment” marks the beginning of a conflict-filled chapter. Are there ways to reduce the tensions in those early weeks? Yes.
While they’d never say it aloud (well, some might) those who don’t see the need or are opposed to it may be thinking (or saying) “Moses had a much larger congregation than ours and he didn’t need one, Jesus didn’t own a portable projector.
St. Paul’s crew didn’t wheel one of these in at load-in when he came to town. Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, The Wesleys and D.L.Moody all did just fine without one of these things, and we’ve gotten along quite nicely all these years without one as well. Why’s it so important we have a projection system? I’m a-gin’it!”
1. Be gracious, soft-spoken and intentional as you begin ministry transitions, especially with the reluctant and detractors. Here’s an effective perspective or response, I’ve put it to use more than once: “This is new to all of us, but the church leadership has pointed us in this direction and the congregation said ‘ok’. I value your perspective as we get started. Do you mind if I ask you how we’re doing from time to time in the next two or three months? I really want to do my best, and I want to know what you’re thinking. Would you mind if I asked you that a few times as we get started?“ These thoughts are nearly always disarming. When you follow through and actually ask a hesitant or reluctant church-goer if there are things you’re doing that get in the way of worship, you do two things. First, you introduce opportunity for them to say something before it spools and grows into something larger than life. (Blessed are the peacemakers!) Secondly, when you ask and things happen to have gone pretty well Sunday morning, you create an opportunity for them to realize it’s not too bad right now, or that the equipment is actually contributing to your church’s life and worship. Gracious. Soft-spoken. Intentional. Invaluable qualities in transitions of all sorts, especially when you pray for the video ministry as a ministry – which it is.
2. You don’t have to start with the sanctuary. A portable system used in classrooms, fellowship gatherings, youth events and children’s worship often helps build the need over time. When the congregation or leadership (hopefully both) sense the need to include projected images in corporate worship, everyone will have experienced the benefits in other ministry venues.
3. Identify distractions and eliminate them. You want always –only— to enhance the quality of worship you already enjoy. When technology distracts, you’ve a net loss instead of a net gain. A computer that seizes up in the middle of verse 2 and has to be rebooted before it will continue has become a distraction rather than an enhancement. Making sure the equipment you choose has “horsepower enough” to handle your requirements is worth the little extra it may cost. So is the extra time required for maintenance items like cleaning filters, changing bulbs, defragging and setting up easy to navigate directories. Similarly, not everything your software will do lends itself to every worship service. If it’s going to draw attention to itself, whatever it is, shelve it in favor of something that will point your worshipers God-ward.
4. Choose your imagery well. Well-chosen images can make a strong message stronger, a powerful song memorable, a special event noteworthy. Visuals inconsistent with who your people are, or images that cause confusion or distraction (there’s that word again) do just the opposite. For example, it was a great day when one of the churches I served made the transition from slides to video projector. Knowing our congregation and the dynamics of the workplace for many of our people brought me to an early decision; We’ll project nothing that reminds our people of work. That judgment call took quite a few background images out of our library, but I didn’t want anything on our screen in worship to remind someone of a meeting last week or a to-do list waiting for their attention. We directed their attention by NOT directing their attention in one direction anyway. In that church the screen was installed where three beautiful antique stained-glass windows had been. The windows were in need of restoration and church leaders opted to store them until they could be relocated indoors in the new building, instead of repairing and restoring them to withstand the elements. Their absence was going to affect the first-sight of beauty when our people walked into the worship center. In their place was going to be this huge white screen! Gotta do something about that! On a sunny afternoon not long before the fragile windows were rescued we took high-resolution pictures of them and for the first two or three months following, the image of those memorial-windows met our worshippers as they entered. It proved to be one of the wisest things we could have done in the transition.
One more word on background images. Image search engines on the internet are valuable resources (keep that family filter turned on!) but be careful not to violate copyright laws while you enhance your church’s worship or your pastor’s sermon. I remember coming across the perfect set of three images preparing a sermon on God’s Pruning Techniques (from John 15) one time. They belonged to a professional photographer in California. The time I spent obtaining her permission was worth the clear conscience. It was easy to agree not to print the images (project them only) and delete them from the computer’s files at the end of the day, especially since she didn’t charge the church anything to use them. We placed a credit line for the background images in our bulletin for those especially interested in the images we used that morning.
5. Subtle works. Minimalistic backgrounds can help you emphasize the content on the screen. Sometimes no background at all is the best choice. About the only place I know where more is better is at the all-you-can-eat buffet, and that not all the time. Once your service order is in place, page through it looking at the screens through the lenses of a church member not all that sold on this new venue. You’ll thank yourself for the adjustments you make before being told to. Let the weatherman use the impressive transitions – you’ll be better served by transitions that don’t call attention to themselves, like fades and dissolves. When the youth pastor preaches – forget I said that.
6. Listen to your people. Every church has a few supportive members also willing to be dirt-honest with you. Ask them periodically “Did anything we project get in the way today? What are you hearing? We want to be almost invisible in a way.” They’ll tell you. When someone comes to you with a complaint or objection remember these three words. “Tell me more.” While they provide the detail you need to fully understand their perspective you can count to ten and remind yourself not to react. Find the point where you can agree with them, re-articulate it, and graciously agree to carry their concern back to the team. Then do it. When people know their concerns are truly heard and discussed, it’s easier to move toward the middle ground, and skirmishes diminish.
7. Fade to Black (FTB) can help direct a congregation’s attention where it belongs. I remember the first time I saw this technique put to use. The dynamic music portion of the service had transitioned nicely into the message of the day. The pastor was just beginning to teach, and we had finished reading the Scripture of the morning, some from Bibles in our laps, some from the screens on either side. Just as he started into his introduction the screens went black. Oh-no! I thought. But being a visitor I thought it best not to run back to the booth to see if I could help. When he came to his first point, the screens came back to life, provided the information note-takers wanted and needed, and guess what? Twenty or thirty seconds later, they dimmed again. Interesting! Each time the images faded to black, my eyes found the speaker again. It’s a technique that works. Talk it over as a team. Ask the pastoral staff what they think about the idea. Try it out a time or two. If your team agrees it’s a useful way to help the congregation focus, make it a norm at your church.
8. Resist the urge to show off the equipment or software’s capabilities. The equipment is there to help the praise and worship life of your church – not show off. Years ago our high school Driver’s Ed teacher leaned over the lectern and looked at us hard, especially the guys in the room. “I know during the summer you guys will do just about anything to break those tires loose. Everybody does. I want to impress on you today that when it’s snow-packed or icy, a good driver will do just about anything to KEEP from breaking them loose.” Similarly, there’s a time each week when you want your projection system and the technician driving it to do precisely what you ask of it –nothing more, nothing less– in the presence of God and his people. Paul said it (not about video technology, but the principle applies) — All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. (1 Cor. 10.23-24)
9. Involve your people. Do you have photography enthusiasts in your church? Why not make them part of the team? I was thrilled to receive several photo albums one morning, along with permission to scan and use anything in them that struck my eye. Don has a wonderful eye with flower close-ups and we enjoyed having his images as backdrops. It was an act of worship for him also – giving back to God the photography skills God gave him. Ron did similarly, emailing in digital scenic shots and colorful local panoramas he would capture as he moved around town. We would crop and edit to suit, bringing local images into our praise and worship. I’ve smiled to myself more than once as I imagine leading a congregation in worship, knowing the pastor will be emphasizing Romans 10:15 in his message. If our backgrounds were all images of feet belonging to people in our congregation do you think anyone would forget that morning? I doubt it. “Those are MY feet!”
When we treat our people with care and understanding through transitions of this sort, not so we can get our way, but because people matter, God is honored and people sense their perspectives and concerns really are important. Do you remember the stained glass windows I mentioned earlier? I remember fondly the day a woman approached me after church one morning. She was a charter member of the church I served at the time. She had purchased those three stained glass windows in honor of her husband years earlier and given them to the church when it was being built. I remember her shaking my hand, smiling at me and saying something like “I think everyone can see now what you’re trying to do with the video technology here, and I think it’s wonderful. Thanks for putting those windows up there first thing each morning, but you don’t have to do that anymore.” Of all the people who could have held back, she certainly could have. But care, gentleness, intentionality and purposeful listening from those on the video team eased the transition.
You can enjoy a smooth transition in your church – use these considerations and others that come to mind, and you’ll enjoy the rewards of “being subject to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Eph 5.21).