Tag Archives: Baptist

Storytelling – the future of church communication

communicationThe future of communication in the church is all about storytelling, not technology.

That’s what I’m telling the folks who are looking ahead and thinking about the Ministry of Communication at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. They’re laying the groundwork for what kind of person they want to lead the ministry after I retire in September.

When I first joined the FBC staff in 1993, my job title was Media Minister. The focus of my work was using the various media at our disposal: television, printed newsletters & brochures, and public announcements. There was no website, no digital signage, and no online magazine.  If we wanted to get the word out to the community about something, we notified the radio & TV stations and the daily newspaper. There were no online community calendars, no social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

SurinameI used to jokingly tell people that I was the “Minister of Machines.” That was not far from the truth. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run a full-blown print shop, as I had done in a previous church. We farmed out the printing, and it cost a small fortune. But I did spend a lot of time keeping the television equipment running. There were dedicated boxes all along the signal path, each one performing some specialized function. There were tape machines and big, heavy, energy-hungry, heat-producing video monitors everywhere.

A television engineer friend used to quip, “Television is so complex, with so many interrelated connections and finicky sub-systems, that when every little piece works perfectly, the whole system just barely works.” When I started in television in the late 60’s, it took an army of technicians to keep all those little pieces working and playing well together. I had a full head of hair back then!

powers_editingI still spend a lot of time wrangling technology and scratching my bald head when something doesn’t work. But these days, there are no tape machines. Everything’s recorded in 1’s and 0’s on hard drives. The cathode ray tubes are gone and sleek, thin LED monitors sit in their place.

The lone computer in the FBC TV control room when I arrived 20 years ago has been replaced many times over with ever-more-sophisticated and powerful processors. Most of those specialized black boxes are gone. There are half dozen more computers. They allow us to create visual and audio effects that only high-end Hollywood studios could do just a few years ago.

These days I’m the “Associate Pastor, Communication.” And I focus more on who, what, when, where, why, and how, than on the hardware used to carry the message.

yay-4455770It’s all about telling stories and connecting with people.

One size does not fit all. Truth be told, it never did.

There are so many communication channels, so much “noise” and competition for our attention, the biggest challenge is discovering and tracking how and where people get their information and what factors exert influence as they make decisions.

We deal in spiritual matters. So results are rarely quantifiable using simple math. You can’t count heads in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and get an accurate measure of spiritual maturity.  You can’t gauge the effectiveness of our efforts to communicate the Gospel by adding up what’s dropped in the offering plate. The measure of success, I’ve been learning, is in the stories of life change… of transformation. Telling and listening to those stories is the “stuff” of the church’s communication ministry.

So here’s to the storytellers of the next generation. And don’t count me out of the game quite yet, either. I’ve still got a few yarns to spin.

Thinking about religious freedom

I’ve been working on a little video project for my friends at the Baptist World Alliance.

Back in 1988-89, I spent 10 weeks traveling in Europe and Israel, conducting interviews and videotaping sites and artifacts of significance in Baptist history. Now, we’re digitizing that footage to produce some little vignettes for the BWA website.

Baptists in many parts of the world do not enjoy the religious liberties that we in the United States often take for granted. We have the freedom to assemble and worship freely. Our disagreements about the meaning and details of baptism sometimes result in people getting upset and leaving a certain congregation. But I haven’t heard of anybody in the U.S. being martyred for his or her beliefs about baptism in the last couple hundred years.

That’s not the case for Christians in some parts of the world today.

And it wasn’t the case for the Christians in Europe in the 16th century. I was reminded of that while reviewing some of the footage we shot in Switzerland.

We spent a pleasant fall day hiking up the side of a mountain to “Die Tauferhohle” not far from Zürich. The lush, peaceful cave belies it’s history as a hideout for outlawed Christians in 1525.

In that year, the first Anabaptist group was formed in Zürich by Felix Manz and two other reformers. They considered the baptism of infants as practiced by the Catholic Church and the early reformers to be unbiblical. They had themselves re-baptized and their opponents began calling them “Anabaptists.”

Manz associated with and was influenced by the reformer Ulrich Zwingli. But Manz was advocating a more literal reading of the Bible, and a more radical break with the Church than Zwingli could support. The Zürich city council sided with Zwingli and prohibited re-baptism. That made Manz and his followers outlaws. They hid from authorities in Die Tauferhohle and other places. But Manz was eventually caught and, on January 5, 1527, he was punished by drowning in the Limmat River. He died singing.

Zürich-Schipfe quarter : Memorial plate for th...
Zürich-Schipfe quarter : Memorial plate for the Anabaptists, murdered in early 16th century by the Zürich city government: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Makes me grateful to live in a country where freedom of religion is guaranteed. And it leads me to think about those martyrs who gave their lives for what they believed.

Which of my religious beliefs would I be willing to die for?

Makes me think.

Live Webcast Confession

I’m going to offer some ideas about how to promote your live webcast. But first, a confession.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned.

At Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we’ve been streaming our Sunday morning worship services live for a couple of years. For the most part, it has gone well. In fact, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve switched to the Wowza server at Amazon Web Services for our streaming host, it has been rock-solid reliable.

So we figured, “OK, it’s time to ramp up promotion a bit.” So on a Sunday morning, we placed this item in our Sunday bulletin:

Invite someone to worship with you … right
now! While you’re waiting for the service to begin,
send a text message, a tweet, or a Facebook post
from your smartphone and invite a friend… or all
your friends… to join you for worship via the live
webcast. Invite them to go to Live.FBCRichmond.org
and join us for the next hour.

Great idea, right?

Just to give it a little extra push, we asked our Associate Pastor for Invitation, Ralph Starling, to mention it at the beginning of the worship service. He did a great job. He pulled out his smartphone and asked everyone in the room to do the same. He asked everyone to send an email, tweet or update their Facebook status to invite their friends to worship with them through the webcast. He took the time do send an email himself. It appeared many others did so, too.

And the, wouldn’t you know it? Right then and there, at 11:03 Sunday morning… the webcast crashed! I was watching in horror as it happened. At first 30 or 40 participants were connected. And then a few more. And then – crash – down to 0.

We went into crisis management mode and began the troubleshooting. Could it be that so many people responded that it overloaded the server? Not likely.

Automatic Updates 'Restart Required' in Window...
Automatic Updates ‘Restart Required’ in Windows XP SP1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It didn’t take long to find the problem. The Windows computer we were using to encode and stream the service decided that it was time for an update. And when its time for a Windows Update, everything else takes a back seat… including our webcast.

Two-plus years without any problem. And then, at the moment we step up publicity on it, the webcast crashes. How embarrassing.

Well, obviously we have corrected the problem (which, of course, we should have done two years ago. It is a wonder it hadn’t happened before.).

There are several lessons in this. Let me mention just three.

First, disable all unnecessary programs running on the computer you’re using for encoding.

Second, have a well-thought-out troubleshooting protocol worked out in advance, so if (no, make it “when”) there’s a problem during the webcast, you know where to start and what to do.

And third, most importantly, maintain your sense of humor.

More promotional ideas and technical tips to come. Stay tuned…