Pastor John Girton on The Importance of a Multimedia Ministry

By: Pastor John E. Girton, Jr.

Oftentimes I am asked, “Pastor G, what exactly do you do?” It’s a simple enough question. But when I tell people that I oversee the global media efforts of my church, I notice a gazed look in their eyes. As they walk away, I can feel the questions running through their heads. Questions like, “What does that mean?” or “Does that mean that he makes the cassettes?”

Yes, the massmedia ministry is responsible for making tapes. But, it’s also much more than that. We also turn each Sunday message into CDs and encode the video on DVDs. We go even further by transcribing each message into a transcript and offering the slides to members for further study after the messages have been preached. Do we stop there? Of course not. We also upload the digital video files onto our Web site so that members who are traveling or who can’t attend services can still be a part by watching the services online.

I’ve been at this media thing a long time and have come to understand deeply where most churches are in terms of the various forms of media. Some are cutting edge and keeping up with the trends. But many lack more than an understanding of the growing uses of media within the context of church ministry and evangelism–they lack an understanding of what’s required to reach the future of a global-minded Christian and globalized church. Trust me, this is a subject that isn’t about “if” you will get involved with multimedia and technology. This is a subject about “when” you will decide to jump in. I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a basis for understanding and implementing a massmedia ministry model within even the smallest congregations.

What Is Massmedia?
The first place we want to start is by understanding exactly what the “mass” in massmedia stands for. It’s pretty simple. Massmedia is the combined use of text, graphics, audio, video, animation and interactivity to communicate one unified message. Today within the church, there are a growing number of congregants from the “information generation” of fast-moving pictures and sound bites. Their world isn’t black and white. It’s more like colors and sound and movement everywhere. In order to gain their attention and convey a single message, one must utilize more than just the printed text. You have to breathe life into the information in a way that allows people the opportunity to capture the essence of the information and interpret it in a way that anyone–young or old, blind or not, hearing impaired or dyslexic–can take in the material and walk away with the same message.

But multimedia doesn’t stop there. It’s great to have a wonderful video presentation during Sunday service, but it’s even better to make that same message available for review on audio cassettes and CDs to further drive home those lesson points. Taken a step further, information from the pulpit can be videotaped, encoded (digitized into a computer), and uploaded to a church’s Web site server and made available for the world to see.

It’s a Matter of Choice
The difference really is about preference and options more than it is the technology alone. Remember the eight-track tape. Well, back then, in order to listen to track 10, you had to push a button and wait for the tape to fast forward to that spot on the tape. The same was true of the cassette. If there was a particular song you wanted to hear over and over again, you had to fast forward the tape, play it, rewind it and play it over and over.

Today is totally different. We now have instant options. We now live in the CD/DVD world where you can stick digital media into a media player such as a computer, DVD player or CD player and tell the device exactly which track you wish to see. It provides instant access to what you want, when you want it.

Why does this matter? In terms of implementing massmedia, we must recognize the need for our churches to provide spiritual information in a form that our parishioners can access when they want it, where they want it and how they want it. Face it, most church life happens once or twice a week, while the rest of life is 24/7. While Matthew 19:26 was great on Sunday morning, what about on Monday afternoon when the copy machine breaks down just before you finish copying a report that is due in 10 minutes? What then? Wouldn’t it be great for your congregation members to receive that same spiritual fulfillment from an e-mail message, text message, Web banner, eCard, Podcast, CD, or streaming video just when they need it the most?

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “21% of Internet users (about 19 million to 20 million people) have used the Internet to seek spiritual and religious information. On a typical day online, more than two million people are getting such material.”

Multimedia as “Bad Guy”
In my view, there are few greater challenges to the church establishment than those that call churchgoers to a higher level of accountability involving both our time and financial resources. Today, we compete with vast and ever-growing numbers of personalities, images and social groupings that tug on our time and request our financial resources. As a thief in the night, the devil surveys our congregations for weak and wounded sheep. He searches the pews for thoughts and murmuring, constantly looking for those who have reduced the weekly assembly to a simple routine.

Almost begrudgingly, church leaders struggle to recognize the deceptive and cunning media moguls who prey on those who occupy our pews. It is the mentally vulnerable who become sensitive to almost any spiritual sound bite or visually pleasing image. They are betwixt as if straddling a fence that boarders not black and white, but black and grey, right and almost right, good and not so bad.

The media has mastered the art of manipulation and found a playground called the Internet. From the start of our day, we are bombarded with images whether we want them or not. Branded images assault us in the shower, on the television, in the newspaper, on the side of the road. Not only do we see and hear these brands, we wear them, drink them, sleep on them, pay to watch them, learn from them and try to be like them. One place we find solace from the barrage of marketing that shows up in our e-mails, on our cell phones and in the elevators is the church.

On one hand, clearly the mainstream media present a challenge. However, the greater challenge is many churches self-inflicted concept that the use of massmedia (LCD projectors, video cameras, the Internet, Podcasts, blogs, etc.) is bad. The religious community can find numerous excuses for why the media is a tool of the deceiver rather than a device for spreading the gospel. Most often I’ve noticed this gap between churches that will say they can or can’t afford the tools to build a tech-savvy ministry. This attitude is so pervasive that many within the church find any association with using technology expensive, unjustifiable and deplorable. So, as advances in technology and the broadening effect of radio, television, satellite communications, wireless networks, the Internet, and digital printing workflows promise greater connectivity and influence within society, many or our churches are on the outside looking in.

The truth is that those who promote negative images via the media haven’t won. Based on research findings within the Wired Churches, Wired Temples report from Pew Internet and American Life Project:

  • 83% of those responding to the survey say that their use of the Internet has helped congregational life – 25% say it has helped a great deal.
  • 81% say the use of e-mail by ministers, staffs and congregation members has helped the spiritual life of the congregation to some extent – 35% say it has helped a great deal.
  • 91% say e-mail has helped congregation members and members of the staff stay more in touch with each other – 51% say it has helped a great deal.
  • 63% say e-mail has helped the congregation connect at least a bit more to the surrounding community – 17% say it has helped a lot.

Everything that has been made, media included, is made of the stuff God created. Somehow, more churches must realize that we deserve to understand and use one of the most powerful modes of sharing information on the planet. We cannot hand the right to understand and use media and the technology to those whose desire it is to deceive.

Now Is the Time
If your church has ever thought about starting a massmedia ministry, now is the time. There is no methodology suggesting that you have to tackle all forms at one time. The barriers to entry used to be hardware and software costs, speed of Internet connections, information and training, and infrastructure. Today, you can start with as little as $2,000, and you’re up and running. Plug-and-play components and systems are available to make setting up and running video presentations a snap. You can even spend less than $500 on a miniDV camera, and, with the right desktop computer and pre-installed software, have your video ready to be uploaded to the Internet within a few hours after the message has been preached. There are even online services that allow you to archive your video footage on the Internet so that seekers and Web surfers can find your videos by entering certain information.

There’s no limit to what you can do today if you 1) dedicate the resources, 2) build a team, 3) set your goals and 4) stick to your goals by staying abreast of what’s available and never becoming comfortable.

Is building a massmedia ministry easy? I didn’t say that. Is it simple? I didn’t say that, either. Is implementing a massmedia ministry strategy essential? Yes. This is kingdom business, and we have to use what God has made available to do battle. Massmedia is such a tool, and we must begin to understand it now.

John E. Girton, Jr., is CEO of The Mass Media Group, Inc., and president of johngirton.me. He is also the pastor of thelovingchurch.org a virtual ministry planted in Nashville, Tennessee.