Going Big-Time on a Small Scale

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Every time you pick up the latest edition of Technologies for Worship Magazine, there it is, staring you in the face. Another gargantuan church has installed the latest technological break-through, leaving the appearance of your ministry in the “that’s so last week” category. Of course, most of these plus-sized ministries grow in popularity because of their ability to continuously think outside the box and offer the latest, greatest worship experience. The desire to create a similar experience is usually the reason your church’s technical director is reading this magazine today.

However, the most common roadblock to the smaller church’s creativity is typically the lack of funds to see it through. Wouldn’t it be great if the common layperson could imitate the look and feel of a mega-ministry without spending more than they are now?

In many smaller churches, media ministry directors often run across this little thing called a budget. It outlines exactly where every penny is going to go once it is dropped into the offering plate on Sunday. Sadly, most of these budgets don’t allow for a technology savings fund or a media ministry fund. So, if you’re going to build your technology and media ministry, start with a little box that says, “Donations” on your media ministry table (or wherever you sell CD’s and cassettes). Of course, it might be a policy not to sell CD’s at your church, but most pastors will see both the necessity and overall benefit of such a contribution point.

The importance of this little box is far greater than any reverb or compressor that you can buy for the church’s sound system. This little box actually makes the contributions to the media ministry grow in a sense. When a parishioner deposits their dollar into this particular offering plate, you can bet that 100% of those funds are being deposited directly into the media and technology fund. Had they placed their dollar into the offering plate during the service, it would’ve been divided amongst a dozen different ministries that may or may not have included the technology fund. What’s even more beautiful is the fact that these dollars are coming from the people who see the true value of the media ministry in the church and actually use media products, like CDs and visitor packs.

The next step is to take what you know about the mega-media ministries and start applying those concepts within your church’s budgetary constraints. Try to identify what the benchmarked ministries are doing that you can implement without any significant investments.

Focus on your church’s corporate identity. Take a step back and see how your church appears to the outside world. Then, sit down with your pastor or decision makers to see if it is in line with their vision. Once you have come to a consensus, gather any additional creative minds within the church and write down your findings as a policy. Your church’s new corporate identity should contain your church logo(s), images of the various church ministries, font preferences and basic color schemes. All of this can then be referenced by the people who design your websites, outdoor signs, letterhead, etc.

Regardless of how a potential visitor finds your church, with this in place, your logo and colors will make a consistent impression that easily identifies your church’s vision.

Don’t do it yourself. Smaller ministries don’t often have the luxury of employing a full-time graphic designer. They inevitably have the token computer guys who claim to have experience designing graphics in Microsoft Word. That’s exactly why small churches LOOK like small churches on their print materials. Whenever possible, collateral items like visitor packets, bulletins, and CD/DVD faces should be designed by professionals, then customized by your volunteers. If you followed the previous point and have a corporate identity, a graphic designer will be able to translate those items into a more palatable presentation. This presentation adds credibility to your overall ministry goals.

Any hesitation with using a graphic designer usually stems from the idea that they will incur additional costs. However, over the years, many print and advertising companies have found graphic design to be a value-added service that allows them to sell more of their product. That means that small churches can now have free use of a professional designer any time that there is printing or advertising costs involved. Try negotiating graphic design services the next time you order church bulletins, a yellow page ad, or a set of pre-printed CD’s.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. When it comes to stepping up your technology A-game, there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. All of the successful churches with admirable media ministries have spent years coming up with their methods. Don’t be afraid to use their methods, but on your church’s scale. While that may sound easy enough, everyone has hesitations as to the feasibility of this scale.

Take a look at some mega-ministry traits and how you can emulate them on a budget:

In the sanctuary of the mega-church, they will often use multiple screens of video to supplement the worship environment. The worship leader and the praise band are zoomed in and out from several different camera angles along with rotating gobos and backgrounds. While the freedom and creativity of such a system is impressive, the cost associated with video cameras and switchers is prohibitive on a smaller scale.

Try combining colored up-lighting with an overhead projector system. Their universal availability makes consumer projector systems within reach of even the smallest budgets. However, don’t stop at the projection system. What you project onto the screen is far more important than the projector itself. Begin by utilizing an inexpensive motion video projection software, like Easy Worship®. Then, instead of using static backgrounds with text, incorporate the free moving backgrounds that are bundled with the software. Some websites like WingClips.com will even allow you to download free clips of current movies to use as sermon illustrations. Still others offer motion video at a small monthly fee. Just remember to keep something on your screen in subtle motion throughout the worship service. This keeps the eyes of the audience focused on the topic and appeases their short attention span.

During the worship service, on the church bulletins, and even on the doors of their classrooms, mega-ministries know how to use worshipful imagery to convey a message. They know that current generations are enamored with visual stimulation. That’s why some mega-ministries employ artists and professional photographers to maintain a fresh flow of images on their websites and video presentations.

One way to tackle this task for the small church is to utilize stock photography websites when creating video presentations and support materials. The old days of everyone having the same clipart images as the next person are long gone. Today’s stock photography sites are filled with millions of images from top professionals in the design and photography world. Plus, images can be found by using keyword searches related to this week’s sermon title. Sites like stock.xchng® (www.sxc.hu) and iStockphoto® even offer free downloads on many of their images. Just keep in mind that some stock photo sites do not filter questionable content.

Once their visually-stimulating service is complete, some mega-churches offer the luxury of an in-house bookstore. In the bookstore, you’ll find a beautifully printed CD and DVD version of today’s service alongside several selections from messages past. These CD’s and DVD’s are produced en masse immediately following the service using one or more thermal resin printers and duplication towers. At the tune of $10,000 or more per printer, a full-color CD or DVD publisher hardly seems feasible for the smaller church.

Instead, contact a disc replication factory, and tell them you are looking for customizable, pre-printed CD-R’s or DVD-R’s. They can typically offer 1-to-6 color printing on the surface of the disc for about the same price as you might pay for a blank disc and an inkjet label. For best results, remember to negotiate their graphic design services into the cost of the disc. Their designers can lay out a “white space” on the disc design that will allow you to customize your discs each week, using an inexpensive CD title printer, like the Casio CW-K85 ($75).

Making the Change…

One of the biggest mistakes designers and technicians make is the overuse of new equipment. For instance, you can usually tell when a theater buys a new effects unit – such as a hazer. Every show uses it – and to excess. Moving lights are another example of this – scenes that don’t need moving lights get them anyway. This practice actually takes away from the production versus adding to it.

This is a common situation that churches find themselves in when looking at distribution choices. Many churches jump headlong into converting over to CD or DVD distribution because it’s the newest thing. But it’s important to stop and ask yourself, “Do we really need to do this?” What is our motivation behind making the change? Have we done our research?

One church that I worked with changed over to CD’s because it was new. However, the average age of their congregation was 65. These people didn’t have CD players! After spending money on the conversion, this fact was brought to light. Their solution – buy everyone a CD player! This is an example of when it doesn’t make sense to ‘upgrade’. Just because technology is available doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice.

Finally, standards are settling down and DVD-R media is playable in most units, likewise, CD-R’s are readable in most CD players, so the issue of compatibility is quickly being put to rest – now, it’s just a matter of common sense and good budget sense.

Ask yourself – “Are we ready for the change?” and “Is this a change that we 1.) – Need to make, and 2.) – Will this change improve our ministry and our ability to reach people”. If the answer to either of these questions is no – don’t fix a system that’s not broken just because it’s something new.

Brad Herring produces training videos, seminars, and worship tools for modern-day Houses of Worship. www.ChurchProductionResources.com

The best resource for any church is the leadership’s ability to network with other churches. Take a few moments to research ideas on the web, or even submit a request to a church resource forum like Wirelessmicrophones.com or Prosoundweb.com/studyhall. Regardless of the size of your ministry, be creative with the tools that you have. A strong plan and willingness to work are all you need to give your mini-ministry a mega-appeal.