Seeing, Hearing, Connecting: Multimedia in the Church

The lights fade in the sanctuary of Point of Grace Church, and the 12-by-9-foot video screen comes aflame with images from a high-powered projector affixed to the ceiling. The gathering watches as a pastor stands in a local park reading the often-quoted New Testament story of the Good Samaritan. 

A man appears nearby, jogging. Suddenly, he’s attacked by someone springing from the bushes. The victim stumbles toward the pastor, seeking help and relief. With a big grin, the pastor replies, “Brother, we’re trying to do a video shoot here“—and punches the man in the face, sending him sprawling to the ground! 

This brazen video clip was a “huge hit“ for both church members and visitors that Sunday, recalled Associate Pastor of Praise Tim Yates, and created quite a lasting buzz. Such creative use of video has become a staple for this West Des Moines, Iowa-based church, especially when it comes to promoting church events to members, visitors and the greater community. Rather than relying on traditional oral announcements or long, tedious paragraphs in thickening bulletins, Point of Grace has mastered the art of the 30-second video spot that runs before and during worship services. 

“We have found that more people respond to our ‘commercials’ than a flier or church program insert,“ Yates said. Point of Grace also uses multimedia to sometimes dramatize long Scripture segments during teaching sermons, turning them into mini-stories with voices, images that help move the story and appropriate music to bring it all together.

“This concept is better than a pastor standing and reading from the large screen with PowerPoint,“ said Yates. 

Across the country, more and more churches like Point of Grace are investing in video cameras and editing systems, high-powered projectors, libraries of pre-packaged clips and programming, as well as trained staff. 

According to Bob Rist, vice president of church resources for Integrity Music, 30 to 35 percent of the company’s clients are using multimedia in their services. And John C. LaRue Jr., vice president of Internet research and development at Christianity Today International, cited that more than six in 10 churches now own a video projection system, almost a four-fold increase since 1991. Four in 10 now use video each week during worship, and 43 percent own presentation software. 

WHY USE MULTIMEDIA?
The concept of using multimedia is all about connecting with today’s media-savvy culture—especially younger generations growing up in this digital culture—and ultimately creating transcendent encounters with Christ. 

“Why not take the timeless message of the Bible and use modern means to draw people to a biblical concept?“ said Jeff Coon, pastor of BrookView Community Church in Sterling Heights, Mich. “Multimedia connects the auditory to the creative or visual sides of the brain. Public speakers are well aware of the power of visual aids to help their listeners remember what they say for a longer period of time.“ 

During a recent Christmas season, the church offered a four-part series and each week used clips from the comedy “Christmas Vacation“ to introduce the message. “I will guarantee you every person who sees that movie will remember the points of those messages,“Coon asserted. 

John Crafton, worship leader at Mansfield Bible Church in Mansfield, Texas, also uses film clips, PowerPoint programs and video clips in church services. Crafton, who has added the occasional Beatles song into his worship services, noted that in addition to connecting with believers at a deep emotional level, worship also should be attractive to nonbelievers on an evangelistic level. 

“Our worship should give God our best, which includes honoring His command to reach the next generation. He deserves more than endless debate about whether or not to use a projector.“ ‘
Resources for connection 

In the past decade, several multimedia companies serving churches have sprung up, including San Francisco-based Highway Video, Digital Juice of Ocala, Fla., and Harbinger Communications near Chicago. 

“[Multimedia is] part of who we are [as humans],“ said Travis Reed, president of Highway Video. “We don’t dream in words; we dream in images. In the context of a church service, it’s another connection.“ 

Highway’s main product line, “Highway Video Volumes,“ includes person-on-the-street interviews; themed, documentary-type pieces; and narrative/interpretive videos. The company also markets “Vibe“ videos, eclectic images flashing on a big screen behind a worship band; and music videos tied to a story (such as breathtaking natural scenery set to the worshipful song “God of Wonders“). Highway’s “Flash“ videos are designed for use in software presentations and can also work on churches’ Web sites and e-mails to unchurched friends as an outreach tool. 

South Main Baptist Church in Houston uses Highway’s interpretive videos in its worship service called “The Main Thing.“ The idea, said David B. Wright, the church’s minister to adults, is to weave excellent worship music and evocative visuals to produce a unique presentation of the Gospel that can fit anywhere in the service—during the call to worship, at the beginning, middle or end of a band’s set, or in a pastoral prayer time. Wright noted, “We think it’s important to reinforce the Gospel message with video presentations that evoke a nod of recognition—not a wince because it’s so cheesy.“ 

Multimedia company Digital Juice offers video animations that churches “don’t have the time or expertise to create but that are reasonably priced so that a church can drop them into their productions, bringing their services to a whole new level,“ said President Jim Hebel.

Such products include the company’s “Jump Backs“ animated background volumes, a line offering symbolic and inspirational images. Major networks such as Fox and MTV have purchased Digital Juice products, Hebel said, which has enabled the company to market itself to both large and small clients. He noted that quality presentations don’t necessarily require mega-spending. “The little guy can create the same look as the big guy without the big budgets,“ Hebel explained. 

Harbinger Communications specializes in videos, stock photography, software and audio-visual equipment. For example, one of the company’s five-minute videos, “Autumn Splendor,“ is a “greeting card“ that gives thanks to God through Scripture superimposed on autumn images such as flowers, trees and water scenery. “Our company blends art and technology and helps churches negotiate that change for the betterment of the Gospel,“ said company President Phil Niemeyer.

SermonCentral(www.SermonCentral.com), the world’s largest sermon‘ resource Web site, offers downloads of individual high-quality PowerPoint backgrounds on virtually every major topic and Scripture category. “The images are designed to provide a visual reinforcement for each sermon, enhancing connection to unbelievers,“ said Brian Mavis, SermonCentral site manager. 

EQUIPPING FOR CONNECTION
Before launching multisensory worship through video, software and other visual arts, do your homework and invest wisely and strategically, experts say. Church growth expert Bill Easum offers a comprehensive study of the tools and financial costs of effective multimedia in worship at www.easum.com/FAQS/multimedia.htm. 

To get started, Pastor Jeff Coon said, BrookView Community Church began with this list of essentials:

  • A projection system (depending on the size of the worship space, since large TV monitors can work too)
  • A VCR or DVD player
  • A screen (dependent on room size)
  • A computer system with PowerPoint or a similar type of software for displaying a message outline and song/hymn lyrics.

“I believe this technology is reachable for small churches with limited budgets,“ Coon said, adding that BrookView raised $10,000 in six months to buy its video projector, motorized screen, computer, software and assorted enhancements. 

“It’s easy to see why churches are paying attention to how people are touched through various instruments and styles of communication,“ said Bruce Stephens, minister of music at multimedia-friendly First Baptist Church of Pineville, Ark. “Churches are taking a closer look at whether their worship services are speaking to people in a language they understand.“ Said Stephens, “We should not be scared of the tools, but learn to harness those things and use them for the glory of God’s kingdom.“   

by John M. DeMarco

Copyright © by Outreach magazine.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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