From YouTube to OurTube

Movies are a collaborative art. Creating a short film can be a galvanizing experience for a church or youth group. It can begin with a discussion about issues and themes that have cropped up throughout the year. The project may be aspirational, reflecting the hopes for the coming season. A short film may serve as a summary of what has been covered in Bible studies. It could encapsulate a shared experience-from a short-term mission trip to a highlight reel of annual church activities.

Why not document the depth and diversity of the church’s programming with a video contest? Worship leaders can replace YouTube with OurTube, a channel for congregrational creativity. We may be surprised how many people in the community would volunteer their time to record or edit video. Think through the elements of your church service with video in mind-not as a replacement, but as a refresher.

Many Options

One of my students suggested they record an array of church members reciting the Apostles Creed-all kinds of faces (and languages!) expressing our common bond. Video offers endless possibilities and can connect our congregations to things that seem intangible. Imaging prayer requests for people or places could unspool like slideshows; we could see people in hospitals, in recovery, appreciating our prayers. Just carry a little pocket camera (like the Flip) or smart phone during pastoral calls or a deacon’s visit.

And what if our stewardship drives actually demonstrated what we often preach-that we are all ministers in our local context the other six days of the week. As we identify people to share their testimony, create a short video testament as well. Send a videographer to their office, to interview their coworkers, to ask how their faith has made a difference in the community. Let those outside the congregation talk about how powerful their testimony has been. And then invite those same folks to come see a video starring them, celebrating an esteemed member of the congregation. Turn videos into an ongoing outreach.

Hitting the Streets

Travis Reed of The Work of the perfected the art of the street interview when he was serving with Instead of opening a sermon with blanket statements like, “People today are asking questions,” or “The average person knows little or nothing about God, Jesus, or The Bible,” why not literally ask people in your community to answer a few questions. Tell them when you plan to show them onscreen. They may be embarrassed. Or they may feel honored. Video making is a form of active listening, dignifying peoples’ thoughts and opinions.

As well, churches can learn a few lessons from the democratizing ways of reality TV. How about passing along a camera from family to family for one month at a time? The affordability of high definition cameras (like the Flip) make such a ‘chain camera’ easy to pass across a Sunday School class, a youth group, or even amongst missionaries abroad. Pastors who anticipate sermon topics in advance could ask people to reflect on corresponding areas of their life. The congregation could record themselves reflecting on the core topics that the leadership team planned to cover. The people in front of (and behind) the camera would already be meditating on next month’s Scriptures, pondering them in their heart, giving God time to stir things up (and an editor plenty of time for post production).

One Word of Warning

Good filmmaking takes time. It is a process. Plenty of advance notice is needed to develop themes and drama. Even short films require lots of back and forth in the editing room. Those who commission the project (the producer or the pastor) will be asked, “Is this what you had in mind?” It gives both the pastor and the creative team more time to process, to listen to each other, to understand each others’ gifts. Filmmaking encourages mentoring and discipleship.

Best of all, movies are repeatable. They can be played over and over online. They are also portable-they can be posted, sent out as a link, forwarded to the far corners of the world. Videos are a great way to extend Sunday morning into the rest of the week. Not just, “Here is the sermon you missed, but here is the thematic connection, the humorous video, the stirring testimony or song you missed.” Thanks to the affordability of cameras and editing, worship leaders can turn YouTube into OurTube.

Apply It:

Try one of the suggestions in this article to make use of video in your service of worship:

Capture a diverse group of people reciting one of the Christian creeds

Take a video camera on a ministry trip or a pastoral visit

Shoot some “man on the street” video asking your congregation this question, “What is worship?”

Go outside your congregation and ask people “What do you think about church?”

Craig Detweiler trains aspiring filmmakers as director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University. His latest book, Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God, equips pastors and parents to understand games and gamers.