Category Archives: Communication

The toys that make the webcast work

I’m listing the specific models we use. But there are many other choices on the market. If you want to know why we chose these specific devices, give me a call or an email and I’ll be happy to tell you about our decisions.

My good friends Bill and Alex Martin at Digital Video Group were invaluable in helping us put all these toys together.

For the worship service, we have an HD production system built around five Sony HDC-1400 cameras and a Panasonic AV-HS450N production switcher. We record the worship services and edit them to air on WRIC-TV8 on a one-week delayed basis.

We send the “line cut” from the production switcher and the live mixed audio (from a Yamaha DM2000 digital mixer) to an Ensemble Designs Brighteye BE71 Embedder. That device “muxes” the audio and video and spits out an HD-SDI signal, which goes to a simple 4×1 switcher.

That switcher, a Kramer 6241HDxl, is used to select which “feed” we’re sending out to the webcast: either the main feed for the worship service, or the studio feed for the WebClass.

In the WebClass studio, we have a separate, self-contained production system.

The heart of the system is a Panasonic AG-HMX100 production switcher. This is where all the video and audio signals come together. It also combines the audio and video signals. The output of this device goes to one of the inputs of the Kramer switcher mentioned above.

We have two cameras, both of them from Panasonic. But there are lots of choices on the market.

For the playback of the video clips, we use a Panasonic P2 deck: the AG-HPG10P. But there are options. The video switcher has HDMI, DVI, SDI and composite inputs, so you have a wide range of choices. Be aware that there are legal as well as technical restrictions on the use of copyrighted material. And some devices have a built-in firewall in the form of High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

We use a lavalier mic for the teacher and four shotgun mics mounted in the ceiling to cover the onsite participants. The audio technician mixes these sources, along with the output of the P2 deck, using an 8-channel Mackie mixer. The output of this mixer goes to the aux input of the Panasonic switcher.

The teacher uses an iPad for visual support. The iPad connects wirelessly via Airplay to an Apple TV box. The HDMI output of the Apple TV box goes to an HDMI distribution amplifier. That device sends the display to both the in-class TV monitor and to the Panasonic switcher.

Now, back to that Kramer switcher I mentioned earlier…

The output of the Kramer switcher goes to a Viewcast Osprey 700e-HD capture card mounted in one of the PCI slots of a computer. On that computer, we run the free Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder which creates a flash movie in real time. Actually, we create two movies – a high-bandwidth version for computer users and a lower bandwidth version for those who connect via mobile devices. Those movies are streamed out via our Comcast Business Class internet connection to our live streaming host – Truthcasting.com. Truthcasting works some magic to produce live streams that can be viewed on every kind of device, from computers to iPhones.

Pretty simple, huh?

Let’s run the church like a business, part 2

In part one of this two-part series, I tried to show how the plea to “run the church like a business” often misses the point. The church is not a business. But, there are some great lessons we can learn from the business world. Here are four of them.

Under promise and over deliver

ProductsI keep an 18oz. jar of Smucker’s jelly in my office. It reminds me of a great lesson from that wonderful company. There’s a legend that they put a little extra jam in each jar. If the label says 18oz., you can count on there being a little more than 18oz. of jelly in there. They deliver on their promise, plus some. And the product tastes pretty good, too.

As church communicators, we can learn from Smucker, both in our personal lives and in church life. Personally, we can carefully assess our capabilities and make sure we can do what we say. And as we think of the words and images we use to represent our congregation, we can strive to tell it like it is rather than as we wish it would be.

Carefully manage your resources

I once worked with minister who routinely overspent his budget. And he didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t embezzling, or spending it on frivolous things. He just couldn’t seem to exercise restraint. If he saw something that would help his ministry, he’d buy it. At the end of the year, the Finance Committee would slap his hand and tell him to be more careful next year. You can probably predict what happened the next year… and the next.

But the time came when this minister needed some money for replacement of some expensive equipment. Since he had not earned the trust of the finance people in the church, they nitpicked the request for months. They brought in an outside expert to evaluate the request and review the proposal. When they finally approved the money, they appointed someone else to manage the project. And I don’t blame them. Jesus addressed this issue in one of his parables – A master gave his servants some of his treasure to manage in his absence. When the master returned, he said to the servants who managed it well, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Count the cost

As human beings, we live with limits. There are only 24 hours in a day. There’s only so much money in the budget. How can we best deploy the resources God has given us? That’s one of the challenges we face in ministry.

Jesus was talking about the cost of following him as a disciple when he used the illustration: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) But don’t you think it’s great advice for everything else we do in the church?

I worked with a new pastor some years ago who came to the church sensing a call from the congregation to fix some longstanding problems in the physical plant. He set to work right away. Addressing those issues was his passion. Unfortunately, he didn’t count the cost of focusing all his attention on the building at the expense of pastoring the people. Everybody agreed the building needed fixing. But the inexperienced pastor didn’t accurately count the cost of spending time on those issues before building a solid relationship with his congregation. It became increasingly difficult for him to work with the committees, deacons and other church leaders, whose support and counsel he needed.

The story has a happy ending. The pastor eventually rearranged his priorities. They got the building fixed and he became one of the most beloved pastors in the church’s history. How much more effective those first five years of his pastorate would have been if he’d counted the cost before launching the building program.

Give people opportunities to grow and advance

Helping-MentorGood business managers hire great people, encourage them, give them opportunities to learn and grow, and promote them to positions of greater responsibility. Those of us who work with volunteers in the church can do the same. We can seek out and recruit people who have a lot of potential. We can encourage them, help them see the big picture, give them opportunities to try their wings and learn from their mistakes, and then release the ministry to them.

I remember a woman in a church I served many years ago. As a member of the Woman’s Missionary Union, she wrote up a little promotional announcement for one of their ministries. She did a better than average job with it. So I encouraged her to continue writing. A few years later, she published her first book: a great little volume on how to do ministry to international families. She gave me a copy and wrote inside, “For David Powers – the first person who gave me the encouragement to write. Had you not said such kind things about my first efforts, I might never have had the courage to try.”

Let’s run this church like a business, part 1

Part 1 of a 2-part series.

small-church-with-customer-parking-sign“The church should be run like a business!”

I’ve heard it many times. And each time, it grates on my ears. I’ve done both. And I’m convinced there are very few similarities between running a business and, if you will pardon the phrase, “running a church.”

My dad owned and operated a grocery store. He was a Christian and ran the business on Christian principles. He treated his customers, employees and suppliers with integrity. I helped run that business for a couple of years, and worked there most of my growing-up years.

It seems to me that the lessons I learned in church applied more effectively to the business than did the lessons I learned at the store applied to the church.

I read an interview with Ted Engstrom in “Christianity Today” a few years ago. Engstrom, who died in 2006, was editorial director and general manager of Zondervan Publishing House, a pretty big, profitable business. He left there to become president of Youth for Christ International and later World Vision International. Interestingly, his Wikipedia entry notes that, “he was known in part for instructing churches, parachurch ministries and other non-profit organizations how to apply business concepts.”

ted engstromIn the interview, he says,

A profit-making organization is the easiest to run. It’s a business with a narrow measuring stick for success: profit. The next easiest to run is a nonprofit organization like ours, World Vision. We pay our people, we can hire, we can release. There are more problems than with a profit company, but we still have a strong measure of control. Running a volunteer organization like the church is the hardest. The church accepts everyone, warts and all. It’s made up of the walking wounded—”anybody can come if you’re a friend of the Boss.” Yet you’re challenging these people to difficult ministry—without pay. (Read the full interview.)

I usually encounter the “Let’s run the church like a business” line in church finance, budget and personnel committee meetings. It is usually couched in an argument for more accountability, tighter budget/spending controls, and measurable standards for staff performance and compensation.

Unfortunately, such discussions barely scratch the surface of all that’s involved in doing and being church. And it is hard for some business people to fully grasp the issues by sitting in the pew and attending committee meetings.

I think you only begin to understand the uniqueness of “running the church” after you deal on a day-to-day basis with…

• the constant struggle to remember that it is God’s call that we follow, and the way of Jesus that we model,
• the transient nature of volunteer labor,
• the criticisms that accompany speaking a prophetic word,
• the pain of counseling grieving parents and troubled souls,
• the fulfillment of seeing spiritual enlightenment happen, and
• the joy of leading a group of people to do and be what Jesus called us to do and be.

There are very few parallels in the business world. The way decision-making process, the motivations, and the measures of success are entirely different in the church.

But there are many things we can learn from the business model that will help us do church. I’ll address those in part two of this series.