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Can This Work In A Small Church
Craig Forrest: And I am going on 65 years of age and I will never know it all. And once you realize that, come to grips with the fact that you will never know it all, that there's always something to learn. Then you're always trying to learn. Like, because digital just change.s Today is a Tuesday and on Friday there'll be something new that I need to learn. And that's really, really cool.
Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl, and I'm a small church pastor. My podcast guest today is Craig Forrest. Craig has spent decades shooting and editing film and video for both ministries and network TV at home and around the world. We'll be talking about doing better video ministry using the devices you already own.
One thing I love about the way Craig approaches this is that he doesn't use techno-speak. His interest is not in the technology and the toys, but in helping people communicate the message of Jesus in a compelling way, because of that the tips he offers can be helpful in any size church on the limited or even non-existent media budget.
Craig and I have been friends for a while. So when we joined the interview, it's in the middle of our conversation after he had brought up two points that I knew would be of interest to you. And don't forget to stick around after the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question “can this work in a small church?”
What we didn’t have 20 years ago, if a church wanted to do any kind of video that was going to be seen anywhere, they had to buy a whole bunch of equipment that they didn't already have. Today, we've already got one of these [smartphone], which is generations ahead of the best video cameras that could have video and film cameras that could have been bought just a few decades ago. First of all, technically, am I correct in saying that?
Craig Forrest: Yes. And I would also say this. Here is my Apple 11. It's not a 12 because we bought it when the only thing available was the 11. This cellphone which is a year old or so has a better camera than my $42,500 Sony betacam from 1989. Better than my $42,500 Sony betacam from 1989. It takes better pictures. You use what's available to you. You brought up two things, Karl. If a small church pastor wants to do something good and compelling, I like the word compelling.
Karl Vaters: That's a great word.
Craig Forrest: Interesting, you gravitate towards it, it’s attractive, it grabs my attention. There's a couple of ways to go. One is, you probably have a young person in your church that can help you do it. And they're just looking for a reason and a cause to pull out their camera and to take videos.
Karl Vaters: perhaps a young person in your family.
Craig Forrest: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Could even be a 13 year old. It could be a 10 year old. If you want to get ideas, look at YouTube, look on Facebook, look at something that you really like and say, “you know what? I want to shoot something like that,” whatever that is, as long as it's done with inspiration.
If you want to go beyond that and to something deeper, like short films and music performances, it could well be you have a community college or a high school or a small college near you that has a video or media department. And why not go talk to one of the professors and say, “who's pretty good in this class? I'd like to give them some pocket change to come shoot a video on Tuesday or on a Saturday when they have a day off. And here's what I want to do in a day and they can edit it and I have coffee money, Starbucks money, the textbook money for them to do it.”
And I almost guarantee you, if the professor points you to somebody that's probably sharp, you're going to come away with something that didn't cost you very much that gets the job. And you didn't have to go spend thousands upon thousands of dollars. That's if you want to go to the next level, I always say start small and make your mistakes on the small stuff.
Karl Vaters: Okay. So, because what you're talking about is absolutely reasonable. We've done that at our congregation. I know there are some small church pastors who are listening, who are going, “I’m way out in the boonies. I got nobody around me or I've tried and it's failed,” whatever. There's a lot of different reasons for that. So as you said, that's the next step.
Let's start with the phone that's already in our pockets. Let's start with the negative. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see small churches—churches of any size, but particularly small churches often because of limited access to material . . . Here's the bottom line: in a large church, you've got enough people and you can have a large tech team. And so the pastor decides, “Hey, I want to shoot the service in this way,” or “I want to put out a message on Facebook.” And you call the tech team and they come through and you just stand in front of them and they do it and then they put it up.
In a small church, it's the pastor, maybe by themselves or the pastor and their spouse, or, you know, like you said, maybe a couple of kids who have some interest in it. It's a very, very, very limited pool of people with very limited expertise. Let's start with that idea: when that's what you've got, what are some of the things that even in a small congregation with a very limited number of people, what are some of the things that we need to know up front? What would be two or three of the top things you’d say, “be careful to do this or not to do this?”
Craig Forrest: You have to ask yourself a couple of questions as a pastor, whether it's a big church or a small church. Size isn't important to me. Am I going to create videos that are for the church that are shot inside the church? Or do I want to also shoot videos outside the church that are going to reach people that don't come to my church?
Karl Vaters: Okay. By inside the church/outside the church, you don't mean filming in the building or not. You mean, who are we reaching? People inside the church or people outside the church.
Craig Forrest: Inside the church i, your congregation. People that already come to church, they're probably committed, dedicated people. You want to inspire them. Okay. That's one.
Outside the church, you're trying to reach people that are never going to darken the doors of your building, whether you've got 50 people or 5,000. How do you reach those people? You have to be creative. Karl, we could go for hours on this and we won't. How you reach people inside is different than how you reach people outside. And I would say over and over again, think beyond just preaching, beyond prayer, music, worship, which is wonderful. I love good worship music, any Christian would, and a good message and think, how do I reach people outside the church? And that means going out into the highways and byways, standing at a river or a bridge or in front of a large building or in the town square and doing short videos and clips. And using those locations as illustrations, as points of interests to talk about the gospel.
I'll give you an example. Many years ago, Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho of the largest church. Now, don’t get all big on me on the largest church part, okay?.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. That’s just who Cho is.
Craig Forrest: Yeah. Cho. Okay. I never forgot. I saw his TV show once and he was standing in front of the, at that time, the Berlin wall back in the eighties and wearing a trench coat, talking to the camera. And he started talking about that there was a wall that separates man from God, and he used the Berlin wall behind him. This separates freedom from restriction. This wall separates. This is the boundary and there's no way to get past that wall. And I still remember this 30-some years later.
And you say, “oh, a little church. I don't have the Berlin wall.” Okay. I got it. But you might have a wonderful lake and you could do little sermonettes and devotions about Jesus preaching from the sea of Galilee, or you could stand in a square or a big city and use that to bring an illustration or devotion that's maybe two or three minutes long.
One of the most important things, Karl, that churches need to understand is short attention span. The average person watching and consuming media today, which is usually seven or eight hours a day of consuming of media, have short attention spans. They're not going to go more than 90 seconds. So you’ve got to grab them right up front. And give them a beginning, a middle and an end that is no more than a minute or two minutes long. They won't last. Unless you’re great. Some people are great. Some people can do it. They've got it. But they're not going to go past two or three minutes,
Karl Vaters: But even if you are great, there's a lot of people that will look at the timestamp and pass over because they see the timestamp and go, I'm just not going to do something
Craig Forrest: Some people are born with the ability to communicate so you hang on every body. But a lot of people have to learn to do that.
Karl Vaters: Right? So you're talking about like the two to three minute video that would be then put up onto something like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram that tells a short message. So it's not just simply live streaming a service for people who maybe already are in the church but can't come right now or for people who are looking for a new church and are trying to see what your service is. We'll get into that in a moment.
We're talking about the videos that every one of us watches on a regular basis where you're scrolling through Facebook, or you're going through YouTube, and you see a face and there's a little title that catches your interest and you spend just 90 seconds to two minutes watching something that the value of that, of shooting that outside the building is significantly higher than shooting it inside the building behind the pulpit, because of the nature of that type of media, is that what you’re saying?
Craig Forrest: As soon as someone that doesn't know the Lord sees that you're shooting at a pulpit or in a church, they're going to turn it off immediately because they don't want anything to do with a church or a pulpit. But if you're standing . . . you want to grab their attention. What did Jesus do? Told stories that grabbed people's attention and they couldn't wait for the end to the parable.
And a lot of times he sent them away still thinking, even his disciples didn't understand many of the parables that he told.
Karl Vaters: So some of those stories might be, so the pastor you're preaching on Sunday and in the middle of your preaching, you've got a little story you tell out of your life, or a little example from a book you read or from history. And you look at that and you go, hey, that took me about two and a half minutes to tell in the sermon. What if I went outside and stood in front of the town square on main street in our small town and I told that story or whatever context works for that story.
So, you tell the same story. You've already done the research. You've already told the story. You know how to tell the story. And now what you've got is somebody else in the church—a 13 year old who just loves doing video—and you stand there and you tell that story to them in front of a place that gives it a sense of, for lack of a better word, not being churchy, because you're trying to reach the person who's not in a church.
So the person who's scrolling through Facebook in your town sees you in front of the town square in their town and goes, oh, what's that person doing in my town, in front of the town square? And they watch you for 90 seconds. Then they hear a redemptive story that brings them one step closer to potentially saying yes to Jesus.
Craig Forrest: A pastor, no matter large church or small, is going to do video dumps. Move your locations around. You have enough to send those out over the course of four months. Let's say the first Tuesday, every month you do one of them. Two in the morning are the first two months, the two in the afternoon are the next two months.
So in the course of three days a year, you have a media ministry. Even if you just have a cell phone, do you understand what I'm saying? You produce it all in one day then come back three or four months later with another four messages that you're ready to do. Two in the morning, two in the afternoon, and then you stagger the release of those so that you just spread it out. You've got yourself a media ministry, and all you had to do was buy lunch.
Karl Vaters: So as a small church pastor, here's what I'm hearing you tell me if I'm getting it right or wrong or what I'm missing. So I'm preaching every Sunday anyway. So as I'm preaching Sunday to Sunday, I ask a spouse or somebody in the congregation to pay attention, to say, if I've got, you know, a little story, two or three minutes, or just pay attention to myself.
Take note of that and say, hey, that would be a good standalone two to three minute story to tell. After I've collected four of those, then I take a day. Even if I'm by vocational, and Saturday's my day off. I can take one Saturday a month, oh, I mean every four months, and I'm going to spend that day—in the morning, I'm going to shoot two of these two to three minute videos. It may take me four or five shots at it, but that's okay because you just use the one that's good.
I bring along four shirts, so that each time I'm doing it with a different shirt and in a different location. So one of them's on main street. One of them's in a coffee shop, one of them's out in a field, one of them's by the lake. And each place I tell a different two to three minute story and, and you can do it front to back and then get very simple, free video software that allows you to cut the front and back off. In fact, you can do that directly on YouTube, if I understand that correctly. And then I put it up to YouTube, to the church's YouTube channel and on YouTube, they let me type in on the bottom right-hand corner or whatever, the church's website, so that it just sits there during the entire thing.
And I release one per month.
Craig Forrest: And you have a media ministry.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. So using a phone I already posses, using sermons I've already preached . . .
Craig Forrest: Or illustrations.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. Illustrations from sermons I've already preached, and taking one day every four months, I've got a new video every single month that my church can release outside the building
Craig Forrest: And it was only three days of work out of 365. And the other thing is if you have a Facebook page, put it there as well.
Karl Vaters: In fact, my thought is you would put it primarily there because you're not going to have, you're only going to have your own members go to your website typically, but you're going to have non-members scrolling through Facebook.
And then, and then you tell your congregation members, watch the video and tag it and tag your friends on it so that they see it on their timeline. And all of this is free. Nothing that I've, that you've mentioned, or I've summarized here, costs a single penny.
Craig Forrest: Exactly. You can put it on your personal Facebook page and make sure that it's available for public so that it's shareable because what you want is for people that have stopped by your page and also see it there, the Karl Vater's Facebook page, and they can share it because the more shares you get the larger the audience gets.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. So you engage the congregation and say, “we're putting this video up on Monday. We're gonna, we're going to email you to remind you to go to the church's Facebook page, or even put it on your personal page and tag it and share it from there.” And then they are participating in an evangelism process that is as easy and as little threatening as evangelism could possibly be because you're just tagging a like and a share from your pastor's video and people who scroll through on Facebook, who won't pause when they see a preacher behind a pulpit, are more likely to pause when they see somebody standing in a field, by lake, and especially your local folks, if you're trying to get them into your church, if it's, oh, that's my that's that's my, my friend's backyard if you’re in a small town. So the visual is making a connection to them in the fast paced world of Facebook and Instagram.
Craig Forrest: And don't shoot your camera or place your camera so far away. When in doubt, do a medium shot from the waist up.
Karl Vaters: And for audio as well, right?
Craig Forrest: Yep, and for just a little bit of money, you can get yourself a lavalier mic that is right here on your collar or on the buttons or a sweater or whatever it is. That's this far away from your mouth and your audio. That's one of the great tragedies of videos is poor audio.
Karl Vaters: Yeah.
And now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need it the most. Our Patreon link is in the show notes.
Let’s do one more thing, and that is the actual live streaming of services. I know because you and I have had these conversations, that there are a handful of pet peeves that you and I both have about how livestreams are often done. And again, what we're going to talk about isn't going to cost any money. And, two, if you're making these mistakes, we're not laughing at you or mad at you. Until an expert like Craig shows up and points out, hey, you can do this better. And it works better. You don't know. So, there are a handful of pet peeves. One of them you already mentioned a little bit is distance.
Let's talk about: where should the camera be physically in the room during a livestream service?
Craig Forrest: It depends on the size of your sanctuary, but I would say this. If you are in a state or in a country across the world, a state in America or a province in Canada or across the world, and you're not allowed to have a live audience, er, congregation under your roof right now, bring your camera up close, get rid of the pulpit. Have some nice comfortable chairs. Have it so that the worship team is right close by and bring the camera closer and almost make it like you're having you’re service from a den. As if it's a home church.
Karl Vaters: We did that for several weeks when we weren't allowed to have anybody in the room. And people who tuned in . . . it was a church service, but it looked more like a conversation at a coffee shop.
Craig Forrest: Right. Make it intimate, make it comfortable. Don't give people the exact . . . be creative with it. Make it comfortable. Bring up a nice couple of chairs. And, also when the pastor begins to speak, make sure that you zoom into the pastors, that medium shot, but give them some room for their hands so they can hold their Bible and let them, if there's no congregation, speak to the camera. And it's okay to look down every now and then, or catch your breath or get your idea, grab your thoughts and look back. But make it important. Make it as if you're speaking only to one person on the other end of that camera. That's so important. Look in that camera. There's one person that I'm talking to. Is that you?
Karl Vaters: Okay. So that's, if we're in a shutdown situation, can’t have people in the room. What about the typical church on a typical Sunday, when you have people in the room. How important is it to take at least a moment to acknowledge those who are watching online and what are some tips about how to do that?
Craig Forrest: Okay. First of all, if you possibly can try to explain to your congregation that you want to bring the camera up closer. Because where the camera is, is where the viewer is. And when you put the camera at the back of the auditorium and you do it because you don't want it to get in the way of the service and the ministry, and you want it close to the audio control board because the audio engineer told you to put the camera back there, bring it up closer. And if you have to pull a couple of chairs aside, do it and explain to the congregation before livestream, we're doing this because we want our guests to get closer. It makes a better viewing experience. If you need to move around the camera a little bit to other chairs, please forgive us. We're trying to make this special for our group.
So how else to do it?
This is so vital when you start the service, “Hey, if you're watching by livestream today, welcome to our service. Welcome. You are part of our service today. We want to make this special. We have a person in the chat room that can answer any of your questions. You can do that by streaming, by texting, et cetera.” And, by the way of the offering, say, “if you go to this church, we would love for you to continue your gift of tithes and offerings. Here's how you can do it. Please feel free to give. If you're a visitor, this is our gift to you today. Do not feel any hesitation that you have to give. Don't worry about that. This is our gift to you. But if this is what you, where you call your church home, we would love for you to continue with your ties and offerings. And we're going to tell you how to do it.”
However that is, it's probably digital or online or whatever, ‘cause they're not there.
Karl Vaters: So bring the camera closer. Make it personal. Involve the congregation in an understanding of what you're doing and why you're doing it, because that then includes them in the process as well. And let them know, “hey, at some point when you're sick, you're going to appreciate . . . this is going to benefit you in the long run too. Or, you have kids that are gone to college and we want to make sure that they see this too.
Craig Forrest: Or you moved away and you still enjoy Pastor Karl's message, and even though you may even go to your own church locally, you still want to catch the 10 o'clock service from Pastor Karl.
Karl Vaters: Yeah. So all of that brings people in. Plus, here's the last thing that we'll do on the live stream. And it’s this: the average person, in fact, I'm going to say almost everybody who walks into a church building for the first time has watched it online already, right?
Craig Forrest: Many times, yes. Especially if they're younger. A huge percentage of—Pew or Barna did research that there are more and more millennials and young people that will try out a church online before they go to a church—physically drive to that location park and walk through the foyer and show up. Like, why should I go to the effort? I can try out four churches this morning and just dial across by live stream. So, your livestream needs to be an extension of the personality of your church.
Karl Vaters: That's a great way to phrase it. I love it. So here, here's what I'm putting together. You take the sermons you're doing already. You take four illustrations out of them. You take one day to shoot those in exterior locations because the average person scrolling on Instagram or Facebook will more likely watch it if you're standing outside than if you're standing behind a pulpit. On that video that you put on YouTube, you put your church’s website so that after they've watched a couple, they go, hey, I might want to attend that church.
They'll go to your website. They're likely to watch the live stream first. And if you have been able to attract them with a simple redemptive story by a 90-second video by a lake, and then you're doing a live stream of your service, that is personal, that is up close, that is accessible, that shows the personality of you and of your congregation, you have opened up a much more likely avenue for them to actually, physically walk through and come into your service. And once you've got them in the building and hopefully—that's another podcast or another time, is first impressions, which at this point are second or third impressions by the time they're walking physically into the door. Then at that point you have an even greater opportunity to minister the redemptive life of Christ to them, and to see them come into a relationship with Jesus.
Craig Forrest: Amen. I would also say that, which is like the culmination of what you said, Karl, is, tell good stories. People love an interesting story, even if it's an illustration from your message, which always is good. Tell an interesting story and you will captivate people.
Karl Vaters: Well, and this is what you've described to us. It puts the story out front in that exterior shot that they're going to see scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. The story is out front. It's what draws people in, in an appealing way. And everything we've described can be done with no money. If you want to up your audio because of an outdoor recording, especially, by a simple lavalier mic that you plug in or even at bare minimum, use your earbuds that came with your phone and do a really nice tight shot to your face with that, you want to make sure that the audio—you want to be heard as well as seen. All of these great ideas. I think a lot of small church pastors are going to get a bunch out of it.
I want to close though, our podcasts with the four lightning round questions for you. Are you ready, Craig, for the lightning round.
Craig Forrest: I'll take, Alex, number 40.
Karl Vaters: You obviously have not watched that show enough.
All right, lightning round question number one. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your field of ministry in the last few years and how have you adapted?
Craig Forrest: Oh, my goodness. For me personally? Professionally?
Karl Vaters: Yeah,, or you can say, how have churches adapted in your field of ministry, a media ministry, what are the biggest changes you've seen and how have you adapted to it or how are you seeing churches adapt to it?
Craig Forrest: The greatest change that I have seen in the last 10 years, our young people in churches that want to tell redemptive stories and pastors that ignore them.
Karl Vaters: Wow. There we go. That's a thunder and lightning round answer. But I agree.
Craig Forrest: The flip side of that, especially across the world, is please teach me to be a famous filmmaker for free without anyone doing the work. It's like, I want to win a world record at the Olympics, but I don't want to train. Can I just go to the Olympics and get the gold medal? Nah, ya gotta work for it..
Karl Vaters: Gotcha. All right. Second question. Is there a free resource, an app, a website or something that has helped you lately that you would recommend to help those in small church ministry?
Craig Forrest: Ooh, for small church ministries, I, you know what, my best answer to that is to continue to look at tutorials on YouTube or Vimeo— V I M E O. In fact, there is Vimeo film school—V I M E O dot com. Get a Vimeo account. It's free and they have a film school with all kinds of ways to do lighting and audio and the camera techniques and maybe just do one little tutorial a week or a month, and that will up your game to do more excellent videos
Karl Vaters: I will check that out myself. One of the things that we are going to be working on in this ministry, and will probably be out by the time this podcast airs, is we're going to start producing how-to videos for small church pastors on some very practical things. So, yeah, that's a great one. What is the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?
Craig Forrest: Be humble and I will give you the desires of your heart.
Karl Vaters: I think I know who that came from too. I think we all do. And then the final one, what's the funniest or weirdest thing you ever saw in church?
Craig Forrest: I consulted a church up in Northern California once and it also had a TV station. They got a local TV station and none of the crew members, that were all family or friends, had one clue about him doing multi-camera and they would just keep calling each other by their names. Okay, “little Sally, you need to get closer. Big Sally, you need…”
Karl Vaters: On the air?!
Craig Forrest: Well, in the control room. And I said, “no, it's camera one, camera two.” “Oh, is that how you do it?” “Yeah. Big Sally is camera one. Don’t call her Big Sally call her camera three.” “Oh, you do it by numbers?”
And they had a TV station! I thought, one week's worth of teaching and you're going to up your game by 90%.
Karl Vaters: [00:32:15] Amazing. When I was a teenager and a couple of friends of mine, we sang in church occasionally. So the local TV station, Christian TV station said, “Hey, why don't you come on and sing a song for us?”
So, okay, fine. So we show up at the studio, they throw from the host over at what they call homebase—the desk where they do the interview—they throw to us. It goes to the camera. We sing our song. And as we finish our song, we look over and the host has been enjoying the song so much that he's off of homebase. He's just standing there, looking at us and smiling. We finished the song. We're done. There's nobody at the desk. So instead of switching to the camera to show an empty desk, the camera that was on us slowly pans over. It took about 30 seconds for the camera to slowly pan off of us onto the backdrop, the grip standing there wondering what they were doing until finally the host figured out, oh, I should probably be in that seat.
Craig Forrest: That's called public access television.
Karl Vaters: Yeah, it was pretty much that. That was a long time ago. Thankfully, we've learned a few things since then.
So, can this work in a small church? The answer is yes, you can do better video ministry using the devices you already own, But it's a yes if—f you follow the three points that Craig talked about that I thought were so helpful, so let's summarize them real quick.
All right. First of all, you need to tell an engaging story. Thankfully, as Christians, we're part of the most engaging story ever, the redemption of all creation through Christ. And when we tell our little part of that, it's really engaging. It pulls people in. Secondly, put that story out front on social media. This is maybe the most helpful, practical part for me of the entire interview. The idea of taking a portion, maybe of a sermon illustration that you did reshooting it outside, or at least out from the pulpit and putting that on social media.
So it captures people’s attention in a short three to five minute story. That then draws them to your website where they can watch a sermon or two, and then that then draws them to your church. I love that idea of putting the story part out front on social media.
And then thirdly, make sure that you're easy to see and hear. I know that almost sounds ridiculous to say. Of course you want to be seen. Of course you want to be heard. The problem is we've all seen videos where those mistakes are made where you can’t see it clearly, or you can't hear it clearly. In fact, this is so important that what I've done is I've actually put together a how-to video based on this interview with Craig and the how-to video is simply called “eight simple steps to create short smartphone ministry videos.”
And in it, I walked through eight mistakes that I see made regularly and how to fix them, so that the video that you shoot actually has a more compelling look to it. It's something that you can see and hear really, really clearly. So, I hope that helps you. Those are the three things that we talked about today.
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