Friday, March 27, 2020

Some Free Advice for Churches on Video Production, Authenticity and Staying in Your Lane in a Pandemic

Maybe I think about things too much, but here are a couple of ideas to consider as you plan an online worship service or something similar. 

One of the best pieces of advice I read suggests pastors should stay in their lanes. If you are suddenly videoing yourself, don’t act like you’ve got the full production studio working behind you. Just… be normal. Few things are worse to watch than somebody acting like they are pro when they are quite clearly not. You were not hired to be a reporter or newsreader or game show host. Be you.

Another free piece of advice, this one just from me, is this: Don’t make it too good. Read some Neil Postman before you shoot. Think about the effect of the medium itself. We committed to a no-rehearsal, no-edit version of a stripped down Sunday worship service for the first two weeks of the pandemic. This was intentional. I would argue that as production quality increases, authenticity diminishes. In fact, we shot the whole thing on one iPhone with zero edits. And, in my opinion, it was fine. Listen, I used to work a little in this field. The bad lighting, bad sound and one-shot filming did everything wrong in one sense, but everything as close to right in another. We were not filming this service to send out to the world. It was for our members. They know us, so they know fake. 

All of us understand this intuitively. Does anyone really believe reality television is real? What does your heart do when someone points a camera at you? I doubt you act all normal… or real. (If you want authentic reality television, sit at your window and watch people walk by. Or simply watch people in a crowded room when they think nobody is looking at them.) 

I get it. There is a sense in which I am different when I stand in front of my church family and lead a service. I am projecting my voice, so speaking differently. I am choosing suitable words for the occasion, so my vocabulary is more considered. I am standing in front of a whole bunch of people looking at me, so my self-awareness is different. That is what it is. I am simply suggesting that if you are going to do something online, be that guy. The guy you normally are on Sundays. 

One last thought for you. We taped all of our services on the Saturday before they were broadcast. This may sound like the opposite of what I was saying above and that we were somehow less authentic because we were not live. But I would argue the opposite was true. Once you do anything live, there is a whole other level of stressors to deal with that tend to distract from the one thing you need most in order to not be fake. That thing? You have to actually be worshiping God in your heart. You can do that on a Saturday and have it be just as real when it is posted on a Sunday. 

For what it is worth, we have decided (for other reasons) to move away from providing a weekly worship service. This has nothing to do with production or being real and everything to do with our understanding of what a church is. But, in order to serve our folks, we will record a weekly chapel service and we will hold to the principles above. May God give us all much wisdom.