You see them every day: those full-page, sometimes garish ads beckoning you to join the crowd that has moved beyond mere television to video. Everything from giant screens to 14-day programmable machines to portable camera/recorder/playback units to laser disc players—all seem to be shouting for your attention, begging to become a part of your life. Even pay-as-you-watch cable TV prides itself on being a part of the current video explosion.

Last April CHRISTIANITY TODAY suggested in a brief overview that as a part of this burgeoning industry, video—specifically, prerecorded videocassette programming—could become the church’s “now and future” audio-visual tool (CT, April 18, 1980). And indeed, in the months since that quick peek at the potential of this medium for the church, much has been happening, and many new options have come to our attention. Thus, a small update would seem to be in order.

A number of churches and denommations, and some parachurch ministries, are now committing themselves to harnessing this medium of communication, which has clamped such a stranglehold on our culture. Harnessing is, after all, better than wringing one’s hands over video’s excesses and abuses. And there is inherent in this medium a versatility that most other AV media lack.

Equipped with just a videocassette recorder/playback unit and a common, ordinary TV set, churches and individuals have a whole new world of teaching and inspirational materials available (those pioneering resources that have come to our attention are described separately).

While newer, lighter, portable VCR units are becoming increasingly available (remember those ads?), even carting an older machine to the home of a shut-in, plugging it into the TV, and turning on, say, John Stott, would add a new dimension to home visitation. If you start thinking about the possibilities that exist when you possess your own VCR camera, the sky is suddenly the limit. Now you can take last Sunday morning’s service or the Sunday school Christmas program to that shut-in. Or, add a five-foot projection screen to the TV set at church: John Stott or Chuck Colson or John Mac Arthur or Oswald C. J. Hoffmann or a host of others can teach your congregation—almost in person—for a relatively small tape rental fee.

Consider some of the many other creative ideas that are emerging, as numerous companies and organizations develop video materials that can be useful to the church:

• Build new enthusiasm for youth programs. For example, viewing A Man for All Seasons, the film story of Thomas More’s life and the hard decisions he had to make, could spark an interesting and profitable discussion. Or, with your own camera, try producing a TV program (props and all) to show to the congregation or others. Remember, videotape isn’t like film—it’s erasable and reusable. And then there’s the problem of what to do when Sound of Music or Jaws is running again on network TV on Sunday night and you know almost all the kids will stay home to watch. Consider showing the tape instead at a youth night or social later in the week—and then talk about it together.

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• Develop a new dimension in home Bible studies. With your own camera you could create a course geared to the peculiar needs of your people and let all of the groups discuss around this planned curriculum. Or use “outside” speakers or courses.

• Capture the dynamic of guest musicians or guest speakers for later and extended use (with their permission, of course).

• Consider offering courses for credit. Home study videotape programs are available.

• Find out how you might use public access or even cable channels. Trinity Church (Episcopal) in New York City broadcasts a weekly liturgy for shut-ins over cable TV.

• Use controversial television offerings as discussion starters. Rent a film, or when necessary, tape from network or local telecasts, and make these work for you and your congregation as you explore the rights and wrongs of given issues.

• Allow the video camera to show the strengths and weaknesses of individual ministries. Preachers, choir directors, and others can see and hear themselves as others see and hear them—and then improve techniques.

These are but a few of the almost limitless uses of this new thing called video. Community rental libraries, programs to teach hygiene or skills to members of the community are among other possibilities. And teaching children, with the teacher using (turning off) the medium to reinforce instruction and learning is a whole new field begging to be invaded.

Remember, of course, that video should not take the place of live programming and ministries. It should never be regarded as a crutch or a baby sitter or discourage live dialogue. But used rightly, as a new and extremely versatile tool, it can add a new plus to many areas of local church programming and outreach.

Video Materials Available For Churches

Several organizations and companies are already immersed in the production of video materials for the church. Most prerecorded programming is available in all three formats: ½-inch Beta and VHS (the two standard ones used in those machines you see advertised), and the older, ¾-inch U-Matic, standard in industry, education, and cable TV. These tapes are available for rental; some may be purchased. None may be duplicated, and permission is always necessary to use any of them for transmission over cable.

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Some groups offer advice about equipment purchase, and a few are even able to sell equipment at less-than-discount prices. For example, the Seventh-day Adventist Church magazine, Ministry, offers its pastors package deals of both equipment and prerecorded cassettes at considerably less than the discounted price an individual might find since the church is able to obtain mass-purchase price breaks on cassettes and equipment.

Following are descriptions of several groups now producing video materials specifically for church use. For further information or catalogues, write these organizations directly.

Covenant Video, 3200 W. Foster Ave., Chicago. Illinois 60625, (312) 478-4676. This subsidiary of the Department of Publications of the Evangelical Covenant Church of America has been involved in church video since 1975. Some 90 Covenant churches own their own equipment, and Covenant Video’s catalog has grown to 24 pages listing some 125 programs grouped by subject (Bible study; evangelism and church growth; Christian heritage; believing and belonging; leadership training—Christian education, music, pastor and staff; the spoken Word; health care). Rentals range from $12.50 to $120 for some several-part series. Covenant’s tapes include such speakers as John R. W. Stott on expository preaching; Win Arn, Donald McGavran, and Peter Wagner on church growth; Paul Rees on stewardship; Charles Colson giving his personal testimony in a 1978 Covenant convention address. Church musicians would be interested in tapes on choral technique, conducting, and an organ workshop on service playing.

While Covenant has produced several individual tapes for children, its most ambitious project in production is a planned 13-week series for use at fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade levels. Ted Ericson, manager, expresses optimism about the project, noting that it will be in a form that “from the beginning assumes the teacher is in control of the visual media. We are not comfortable with the idea of a series that expects people—or children—to simply sit and absorb and go home edified.”

Ericson has met with leaders of other denominations and the United Methodists’ Cokesbury is asking about distributing Covenant tapes. He says, “It is about time the church turns the miracle of television to something more than selling soap.”

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Greater Chicago Sunday School Association, 202 Chicago Ave., Oak Park. Illinois 60302, (312) 383–7550. GCSSA makes its television series, “Adventures in Learning,” available in four 13-program segments at a rental price of $175 for a one-week rental (additional weeks add $25 per week). Subjects are “Teaching Techniques” taught by Charles Sell; “Knowing Your Student,” by Mark and Ruth Senter; “Panorama of the Bible” and “Creative Teaching” by Terry Hall.

The Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Ave., New York, New York 10017. The Episcopal church has just produced its Video Resource Guide, free to Episcopal communicators, and for $35 to others; contact Sonia Francis. Divided into two sections, one contains program listings in 13 categories, and one deals with equipment, production, distribution, and new technologies. Besides Episcopal-related and produced programs, there is a wide range of programming from universities, other denominations, and secular sources.

Ted Baehr, executive director since January 1 of the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation in Atlanta, is an early developer of video for the church; he prepared material for the equipment/production section of the Guide. Believing strongly in the ability of the new telecommunications technologies to “teach the gospel and evangelize,” he has been involved in the Episcopal church’s Communicate Workshops, where participants learn how to use video/television. He notes that “television is not to be worshiped but to be used in coordination with an active personal witness in presenting the whole gospel in a Christ-centered program of Christian education.”

Argus Communications, 7440 Natchez Ave., Niles, Illinois 60648, (312) 647–7800. Materials prepared by Jesuit John Powell are available for purchase in video format, including “Free to Be Me” and “Families.” Argus also offers a novel mime production by the Mummenschanz consisting of 14 brief scenarios that explore actions that either unite or divide people. All of these come with accompanying study guides.

National Institute of Biblical Studies, 4001 N. Dixie Hwy., #204, Pompano Beach, Florida 33064, (305) 781–4650. NIBS is in reality a video Bible school and has prepared and distributed video materials to churches for over two years. Two plans are available; one is “designed for serious students,” and requires at least 30 students for its recommended four-year Bible school curriculum; cost is $1.10 per student per lecture hour. A second plan is outright rental at $42 (one-time use) per 50-minute lecture, with student outlines and quizzes available for a few cents more. This plan is designed for church-wide training in Sunday school classes, Sunday or Wednesday evenings.

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A sampling of offerings includes “Romans” by Ray Stedman (24 lectures); “The Spirit-Controlled Life” by Earl Radmacher (5 lectures); “Keys to Spiritual Growth” by John MacArthur (6 lectures). T. M. Moore, president of NIBS, believes strongly in the “viability of video for developing church leadership.” He describes his program as “bringing together the finest in Christian teaching on high-quality video tape … helping to meet the need for education and equipping the church sorely needs.”

Grace Graduate School, 3625 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, California 90807, (213) 595–5679. Grace is an educational institution first of all, but has developed a videotape course in conjunction with its “Short Summer Residency” degree program. A typical first course costs $280, which includes registration, tape deposit, mailing costs, and tuition of $10 per tape hour; additional courses cost $198. Last summer’s featured “Short Summers” guest was Jay Adams; the videotape course produced was “Introduction to Biblical Counseling.”

Grace makes available a list of courses it offers; its primary concern is to help individuals continue their education toward a graduate degree.

Video Communications, 6555 E. Skelly Dr., Tulsa, Oklahoma 74145; phone toll free (1-800) 331-4077. Calling itself “the world’s largest independent distributor of prerecorded home video cassettes,” Video Communications introduced its new 11-part series, “Greatest Heroes of the Bible,” last fall. Its catalogue includes several additional religious titles and four, including a two-part “Old Testament Series,” are classified separately as Christian education.

The National Video Clearinghouse, 100 Lafayette Dr., Syosset, New York 11791 (516) 364-3686. Cataloguers, not producers, the Clearinghouse’s Video Source Book is probably the most comprehensive listing anywhere of video materials, mostly secular and commercial ($59.95 soft cover). A second edition containing 30,000 program titles is just out. Clearinghouse marketing director Richard Lorber likens his source book to the record industry’s Schwann Catalog and publishers’ Books in Print. Well, almost: not all of the religious entries mentioned above are included. But you can find almost every other category, and a recent adaptation of the basic book—three Video Tape/Disc Guides—provides information in three separate categories: children’s programs, sports and recreation, and movies and entertainment.

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