Television Ministry- The First Steps

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Are you dreaming about getting into a television ministry, but think it is a pie-in-the-sky pipedream? Do you think that it will cost way too much money? If you think “televangelism” is only for mega-churches, then here are a few thoughts that might change your mind and get you started.

There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
Walk into any church video production area -be it a television production suite, IMAG video booth or simply a PowerPoint “presentation station” – and every one of them will be different. It’s like my Dad used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” And when it comes to how a church (or a TV Station for that matter) puts together a television program, well, there’s just no one, right way. We all have our preferences, our budgets, our politics, and our dreams to sort through. But for those wondering:

I am the Media Director at Community Congregational Church in Naples, Florida. Community is not by any means a mega-church (yet); the sanctuary only seats 700 people. However, some of the folks “in our congregation” never set foot inside the building; they join us each Sunday by way of television.

Part of what I do at Community is produce a one hour (actually 58:30 minutes) television program called The Hour of Hope. The 58 Minute and 30 Seconds of Hope ain’t exactly a catchy title.

It is edited on Monday and/or Tuesday following the Sunday service and broadcast on the Christian Television Network (CTN) affiliate WRXY out of Ft. Myers the following Sunday (i.e., tape delayed).

How Do We Do It?
So what does that mean? How do we do it? How’d we get started? What equipment do we use? All good questions.

Well, we have our own way of “skinning the cat”, so to speak. Most of the equipment (the switcher, cameras and decks) is Panasonic or JVC. Our shoot involves from three to four cameras, plus a feed from the Presentation Station (PS). The PS feeds media to the sanctuary screen (PowerPoint, SongShow Plus, VHS and DVD decks), but the suite receives their feed in case we want to use it.

Two of our cameras are stationary (one a fixed long shot of the stage, the other a fixed over-the-shoulder shot of the pastor facing the congregation). The two other cameras have operators. We have a separate (from the house) audio engineer and a switch operator/director (usually me). The mix is recorded to tape (as a back-up) and dumped to a computer simultaneously to be edited on a PC in Adobe Premiere.

While we are still using an analog system, for the most part we are improving and upgrading as we go (more about that later). Needless to say our system wasn’t always as nice as it is today. The Hour of Hope was first broadcast in 1988. I wasn’t around then and I don’t know exactly what equipment was used except that it involved Umatic cassette tapes (there are a lot of those in archive, with no deck to play them on) and the final product was edited using either a JVC Editing Recorder CR-85OU or a Sony Editing Control Unit PVE-500 (both of which are still around).

Today, we use DVCPRO tape. (I sure wish we could go to DVD; the savings would be tremendous!) We now own our first DV camcorder (purchased in 2002), but it is used in the field or studio and not for live production. (It is a good idea to use like cameras so the image quality doesn’t change from shot to shot.)

The production suite consists of three main areas: The editing/control suite with a green screen; my office (decorated Disney), of which half is a studio with green screen; and then there’s the PS. All sit in enclosed rooms behind the sanctuary with two additional tech support rooms (storage and workbench).

Some production work proceeds Sunday worship; stuff like Man On the Street (MOS) video, taped sketches and interviews, etc. These are recorded either in the field (mini DV) or in the studio (dumped directly to PC) with our JVC GY-DV500U camcorder. Those produced in the studio are “composited” utilizing our green screen with virtual sets in either Visual Communicator or Ultra (by Serious Magic). The PC is a Pentium 4 (separate from the PIII used for editing).

Anything created in the studio is recorded to DVD and physically transported to the editing computer. This material may also be played from the PS in live worship, but is added to the television program in post-production.

The Gear
Our sanctuary cameras are JVC KY-20’s. The two cameras with operators each have JVC viewfinders and focus/control handles. They sit on Quickset tripods. The camera control units are JVC RM-P200s. There is a Leader vectorscope and a Leader waveform monitor, five B/W 9 inch JVC video monitors (three for cameras, one switchable to any camera or the PS feed via a Videotek RS-10A, and one serving as the Preview monitor). [The Preview monitor shows what camera shot is up next (selected) on the switcher.]

The Program monitor is a 19 inch color Panasonic. [Program displays what is actually going to tape.] The record deck is a Panasonic AJ-D250 DVC Pro cassette recorder. Our switcher is a Panasonic Digital AV Mixer WJ-MX50. As mentioned we record the service on tape as a back-up and also dump it live into a Pentium III PC. The PC has a 60 gig hard drive and a 120 gig hard drive (HD). The program is edited on the 60 gig HD and the 120 gig HD is for managing/storing program files and raw footage. Sound is mixed via a Mackie 32/8 console. We use a Telex com system between all stations.

In addition to the software and equipment mentioned we also use elements from the Digital Juice Editor’s Toolkit (music beds, graphics, video clips, etc.) as needed in pre- or post-production. We also have a portable Lowell lighting kit and two wired lavalier mics for use in the studio or in the field.

Following the Sunday service, on Monday and/or Tuesday I shoot a “wrap-around” (where pastor comes into the studio for a short re-cap and support plea), do the editing, add any bugs, lower thirds, graphics, titles, credits, etc., and re-record the program back to tape in real time. I then ship the tape by UPS to our station for broadcast the following Sunday. It costs us about $450 per week to air The Hour of Hope on the Christian Television Affiliate (CTN) in our area on cable channel 10.

As mentioned the finished product must be exactly 58 minutes and 30 seconds long (58:30). This can be a challenge as our services typical run 1:07:00+. As yet I haven’t had to cut the sermon, but the choices are often difficult none-the-less.

Our Own Dreams for the Ministry
We are in the process of raising funds for a remodel/upgrade of our suite. Most of the $14,000 cost will be used to purchase the NewTek Video Toaster 3. The rest is cosmetic: a new editing desk, paint, carpet and decor. We all dream of new digital cameras – some time in the (hopefully near) future.

NewTeks Video Toaster 3 (T3), by the way, is a PC-based “production suite in a box” so to speak. The system will take up less than a third of the space now required for equipment by doing away with all the monitors and a lot of rack equipment. The scopes, monitors and playback decks are all (virtual) in the computer and can be displayed on the main PC monitor(s). (There’s also a CRT Program monitor.) In addition T3 contains a 3D titler, a graphics program, all effects, tranistions and much more: all software-based. Everything can be done live, in real time to tape and/or PC. Of course we will still need to trim in post-production for time once the service is over.

Some of you are curious as to what the new suite will look like, so I’ll fill you in. One wall will remain as a green screen and the others will be charcoal grey; black carpet on the floor with black furnishings (the desk and the existing office chair and leather couch); the walls festooned with favorite classic movie posters (i.e., Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.) in classy burgundy frames.

What Does This Mean for You?
So, there you have it – that’s how we “skin the cat.” Cool beans! There are certainly fancier and better systems in other churches, and there are also more meager efforts. The point is that everyone who gets into broadcast TV starts somewhere. Be it with two pro-sumer camcorders and a simple switcher (maybe $7,000) or T3 and two professional cameras ($25,000) or even more.

The point is that it doesn’t take as much money as you might think to get started. What it does take is a dedicated team of people gung-ho on making it happen week after week. We at Community are certainly grateful for our volunteers and that’s really where it all begins: with people of vision (a tele-vision). So if you have the vision and can help others catch it, you are well on your way. Go ahead, knock yourself out!

Note: My favorite place to buy is B&H Video because the prices are competitive and the service is great. Check them out online if you’re in the market. Also consider used equipment, but be careful. For more ideas, inspiration and resources check out an Inspiration Technology ( conference, the National Religious Broadcaster’s ( convention, and/or the MediaWorship conference