Subject to Change

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One Pastor’s Story of Adding Digital Media to Worship at two Different Churches

“I don’t come to church to watch TV!” snapped a board member the night Bill made a short presentation on the use of digital media in worship to his church leadership.

In every story of introducing Change in worship, “change” usually seems to come with a capital C – there are going to be some challenges. For some local churches, change is more difficult than for others. For Bill, the challenge was in developing like-minded lay leadership. He knew it was vital to having any success with implementing digital media in worship. To achieve this goal, he also knew that the perceptions of choice and ownership were crucial.

His strategy that night was to sidestep the issue of Change by avoiding the word altogether. In a presentation, he told his neighborhood congregation that if they “wanted to maintain their visibility in a changing culture, they would need to add video projection capabilities to the sanctuary.” While many tend to resist change, he says, most are open to adding something.

After his initial presentation, Bill didn’t bring up the matter again. Four months went by. Then, one night in a board meeting, someone said, “Bill, we think we need to start talking about adding video projection to worship.”

Again, he responded with choice and ownership, quickly outlining a proposal with three elements, (at a total cost of $18,000) and left the decision to them.

The church accepted all three.

The Rev. William Myers, a United Methodist pastor in Michigan, knows a little about introducing change. He has taken two churches outside the usual contemporary model and brought them into the digital age through a deft combination of political, technical and creative skill. Some people experience difficulty getting one “contemporary” church to use digital media effectively. Bill has done it at two “traditional” churches, both of which would be considered a challenge to most. In the process, he is destroying the old perception that it takes a large, wealthy, suburban church to “do media.”

The three-part system Bill proposed:

A single 1500 ANSI lumen projector accepts an XGA signal from a Macintosh G4 computer. The projection screen is motorized and is always retracted when not in use. The Macintosh uses Grass Roots Software’s SundayPlus in the dual-monitor mode with two 17″ CRTs monitors in the booth.

For production concerns, Formac Studio’s $300 TVR converts analog video to DV streams, which are then captured using either iMovie or Final Cut Pro, for use in SundayPlus.

A Sony pan-tilt-zoom remotely-controlled camera, placed on a beam about 10 feet in front of the chancel, projects events within the service that are difficult for some members of the congregation to see, such as the children’s message, baptisms, solos, etc.

The video and audio are run through an RF modulator ($20) so a TV signal can be sent to the nursery.

A small mixer sends audio from the computer/DVD/VCR setup to the sanctuary’s main audio mixer board.

The total cost of this system, at $15,000, came in well under Bill’s proposal.

Even though he’s a self-proclaimed “techie masquerading as a pastor,” Bill doesn’t lead his churches into digital media out of his own passions and hobbies. He does it out of a passion to proclaim the Gospel.

He says, “Gone are the days when people received their information, or participated in worship, primarily through the written word. Not only is the visual medium becoming primary for many people, it also allows for more versatility and creativity. The concept Midnight Oil teaches about ‘redeeming the culture’ is key to this point.”

By referencing Midnight Oil, Bill is referring to the equipping part of our ministry. Bill hosted our one-day seminar Digital Storytellers at his current pastoral appointment. The seminar, which emphasizes using digital media to connect people to the Gospel story in ways that make sense for our present digital culture, affirmed for Bill many of the things he was already doing.

“We have it figured out where the screen goes!” whispered a trustee in his ear the night Rev. Bill Myers was introduced to his second congregation. After accepting a new charge, Bill was relieved to find his new lay leadership to be more like-minded. However, he soon discovered that the second church had its own set of challenges. The problems now weren’t with vision, but with money.

The congregation, which was founded in 1833, worships in a structure built in 1907 located in downtown Battle Creek, Michigan. The roof needed repairs, the telephone lines were decrepit, the sprinkler system wasn’t functioning, the fire marshal had just instructed the church to add more emergency lighting, and the congregation wanted A/C in the sanctuary. Not to mention his parsonage needed work.

Into this environment Bill wanted to spend money on digital media in worship. To make matters more difficult, because of the sanctuary’s oval shape and recent restoration, care was needed to create not one but two screens, and to integrate the technology so that it was not obtrusive to the classic architecture.

His solution: To kick off a $100,000 capital finds campaign 6 weeks into his tenure, with $25,000 earmarked for video projection. The media proposal:

Two 3000 ANSI lumen projectors hide behind pre-existing PA speakers and project onto retractable screens. One 2000 ANSI lumen projector shoots directly onto the back wall and functions as a stage monitor.

An added video booth at the balcony level houses a Macintosh G4 with dual 17″ CRT monitors and SundayPlus presentation software. An Extron scan converter converts the Macintosh’s RGB signal to S-video, which is mixed along with the VCR/DVD player into a Panasonic video switcher ($1200).

Two Canon GL2 cameras on basic tripods project live worship activity to the screens.

As with the first proposal, the video and audio are run through an RF modulator ($20) so a TV signal can be sent to the nursery and throughout the building. Formac Studio’s $300 TVR converts analog video to DV streams for editing and a small mixer sends audio from the computer/DVD/VCR setup to the sanctuary’s main audio mixer board.

Bill used S-video in the second installation because it is cheaper on long signal paths than a computer signal. He explains, “The four input switcher allows us to have immediate access to computer video, video cameras, DVD and VCR and to send these signals to the projectors without any synchronization problems.” The output of the switcher runs into two special S-Video distribution amplifiers, custom built by Fowler Productions. This amplified signal runs to the two main (front) projectors and the rear-facing projector.

“This system was designed so that the rear-facing projector can be ‘split off’ from the main signal. We use it in this mode when we are doing a musical or drama so that it can be used as a teleprompter. Of course, using it this way means that a second computer needs to be added to the system to drive the rear projector. This feature has allowed us to improve the quality of our productions while at the same time reducing the number of rehearsals.”

The total cost of this system was $34,000, with under $1000 spent on the control booth.
Bill’s background is what you might expect for a “techie pastor.” He got a ham radio license before he got a driver’s license. In seminary, he used his radio to communicate with missionaries in jungle outposts. As he began to minister in a local church, he found himself helping other churches with their PA system problems, recycling old parts with the help of church volunteers to prevent clueless pastors from getting taken by dealers.

Eventually, someone suggested to Bill that he had a nice voice for narration. He wasn’t your typical talent, though. Instead of reading the script and leaving the studio, he would hang around and observe. This led him into the world of image and video editing.

Bill acknowledges that it’s unusual to be gifted in technical stuff while at the same time grasping the necessary elements of pastoral care. None of that in his view, though, makes his story special. He questions the difference between the challenges he’s faced in pastoring century-old, mainline churches and what churches of any style face today. “I believe the challenges that churches experience today have little to do with geography or denomination. What touches each church is the changing American culture. Most specifically I believe that the way people assimilate information is a key.” The most urban, innovative church faces the same challenges as the most rural and traditional.

Myers believes that anyone, given the proper advice and guidance, can install a system on their own. All of us are in “challenging” situations. Such is the nature of ministry in our digital age. The two most commonly used rationales for avoiding this challenge are lack of church vision and lack of money. Bill has demonstrated in two successive pastoral appointments that neither are truly obstacles for those that have the passion and desire to communicate the Gospel.

Jason Moore and Len Wilson are Midnight Oil Productions, a ministry designed to help churches tell the story in a new light through worship resources and training. They may be reached at