If you’re unfamiliar with the church world, the extent of video production used in megachurches’ weekly services might surprise you. The definition of a “megachurch” is any church with a weekly attendance of 2,000 or more. They come in various denominations. In the United States, they are mainly protestant and often non-denominational.
Many of these churches actually use two video teams. One team runs the “live production” for the weekly service. This generally includes multiple cameras, image magnification (IMAG), live switching, slides, and streaming the service online. Furthermore, megachurches often employ a smaller “film crew” to create elements such as bumpers that complement the week’s message, commonly known as a sermon.
We’ll take a closer look at how the video teams of these houses of worship function and some of the challenges they face.
Video is a key medium for megachurches
It’s reported that 66% of megachurches “always or often” have video segments as a part of their services. Video helps these churches communicate a consistent message to their communities. Some churches meet at a single location with multiple services, while other churches have adopted a multi-site approach to their ministries. In either case, a core creative team usually helps produce design and media (with the help of volunteers) for the entire organization.
The “Live Production” video team helps to produce the Sunday service. 75% of megachurches use IMAGE (image magnification) technology to help the crowd get a better look at the speakers and worship leaders. This involves a multi-cam setup that generally employs professional cameras, broadcast zoom lenses, and support such as jibs, gimbals, and beefy tripods.
Volunteers trained by the staff on the live production team frequently operate the cameras. This also offers an excellent opportunity for students and older teens to get some hands-on experience with gear. Even though I didn’t attend a megachurch, I remember as a teen learning to work a soundboard, lavs, recording gear (cassette tape! It was the 90s!), and projectors, and I’m still using those skills today (well, maybe not the cassette tape skills).
This actually produces a large amount of data that needs to be managed and referenced for special events, compilation videos, or social highlights. Increasingly, ministries have needed more robust digital asset management tools to help them disseminate these assets to their teams.
Many megachurches have adopted the multi-site model. In this model, there is a main campus and satellite campuses. Generally speaking, each satellite campus has its own set of volunteers and worship music leaders. The sermon may be live-streamed from the central location. Other times, the satellite locations use local pastors to deliver the message. There are multiple ways of executing this strategy and many times, the satellite locations grow into their own autonomous congregations.
Church film crew
In addition to the live production crew, megachurches often have a “film crew.” Typically, a smaller team focuses on producing pre-recorded material intended for playback during the service. In many ways, this parallels the setup of professional sports broadcasts or even “Saturday Night Live.” In both kinds of shows, there is a live presentation, and they also cut away to pre-recorded segments.
The teams that create these pre-recorded segments function as small film crews rather than broadcast teams. So they might use equipment such as cinema cameras, cinema lenses, and audio techniques more commonly found on a movie shoot.
The film crews could be volunteers or even contracted on an occasional basis. The sermon series “bumpers” could also incorporate motion graphics and 3D effects. The goal of these teams is to use the beauty of cinematography and the emotional impact of storytelling to touch their audience. These teams use aesthetics and story as an extension of the Sunday message. They try to find ways to visualize the text of scripture or the stories of their community.
Challenges of video production in a megachurch
Most of the time, church leaders aren’t media professionals. This leads to challenging situations around review and approval processes. All video professionals know that it takes a long time to do high-quality work. We also know that people outside of production have difficulty understanding the necessary timelines to deliver solid work. Sometimes, those mismatched expectations can lead to burnout. In the article, Life after Church, several filmmakers describe those challenges.
Communication is key to helping leadership teams and creative teams work together in healthy ways. Creative briefs, budgets, and time estimates can help align expectations regarding production.
When you enter post-production, the review and approval process can be tricky on any project. This is where tools like MediaSilo can come in and streamline the process. It makes it much easier to work together as a team.MediaSilo also makes it simple for teams to find and repurpose archival footage. This helps to keep the video team’s efforts valuable into the future so that you aren’t digging through hard drives looking for clips.
Streamlining review and approval
Church film crews (often just a couple) also cover things like international mission trips, fundraising videos, testimonials and more. When working on the road, it is common to need to “get something up so they can see something.”
However, WiFi networks can be slow and unreliable in the field. MediaSilo’s uploader is one of its best features. It gives you the percentage uploaded, the upload speed, and the estimated time for the upload to complete. If the upload is interrupted, MediaSilo will let you know. Then, it will continue where it left off once a connection has been re-established.
When you approach the end of a project, you can enter into a phase where you repeatedly upload versions and tweak a video. We all know how disappointing it is to attempt a large upload to a cloud provider and have it fail after partially completing the upload. You can waste hours trying alternative services, re-uploading, or changing formats.
MediaSilo features panels for Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve so that you can go right from your timeline into the cloud, and reviewers will be notified. This eliminates the frustration of a multi-step export, upload, checking the upload, and then sending out a review email/message. This automation can distinguish between getting home in time for dinner or getting stuck late in the edit bay on a Saturday night.
Churches and feature-length films
As filmmaking has become more accessible, churches have embarked on feature-length documentaries and even narrative films. The Kendrick brothers (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room) started their film career out of Sherwood Baptist Church. That experience helped them grow as filmmakers, and they eventually started their own production company, Kendrick Brothers.
Harvest Films, associated with pastor Greg Laurie, released Jesus Revolution and Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon. TD Jakes, pastor of the Potter’s House church, has grown into a prolific producer.
The church has a complicated and evolving relationship with Hollywood. The award-winning documentary Reel Redemption, directed by film critic Tyler Smith, goes into the history of how the church has engaged Hollywood. Smith covers it all from the Hayes-code to the international hit, Passion of the Christ, to schmaltzy faith-based films, to the latest entrants that have sought to improve on the craft of filmmaking. It’s an insight deep-dive into this little known chapter of Hollywood history.
All of these examples demonstrate how a church can be an incubator for filmmakers and help them refine their skills. The Christian Filmmakers Guild, ICVM, 168 Film, and the International Christian Film Festival provide networking opportunities for faith-based filmmakers to connect, share their projects, and grow their careers. These events connect distributors such as Vision Video, Bridgestone Media Group, Great American PureFlix, Sony Affirm, and Angel Studios with filmmakers.
This system has provided a network where young people can start as volunteers on a live production team on Sundays and move up to bigger projects with larger audiences while growing their careers as filmmakers.
According to NPR, there are over 1,800 megachurches in America. Many of these are amongst the fastest-growing churches in America. However, the pandemic did have a substantial impact on in-person church attendance. But with over 60% of the US population attending church at least once a month, we will continue to see the importance of video production grow in the faith-based space.
In the same way, as we are seeing the cross-pollination of disciplines between television broadcast tools and film production techniques, we’ll see collaboration between live production and film crews in churches.
It will be exciting to see this space continue to grow. And it will also be good to see it develop in its capacity to nurture artists while still faithfully sharing its message.
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