A great way to complement other things in a church service with video is by using it to provoke thought. I hope that if you’re part of a church then your church leaders are really keen for you as a community to engage with God’s word, the Bible. That’s one of the main reasons we meet together, isn’t it? As a community of God’s people, we hear God speak and so seek to live for him, spurring each other on. So how do you do that as a church? I hope at the minimum you read the Bible together. And I assume you probably have a talk on the Bible from your pastor. And I hope the aim of both of those is what I mentioned above. So how do you use video to complement these?
A short video can be effectively used earlier in the service to ‘warm people up’ such that when they hit the Bible reading and/or sermon they are in a better headspace for hearing the Word together. Your purpose of using the video is to get them thinking about what they’re going to be challenged about. It may be that you use it to raise questions, challenge assumptions, or even start dealing with roadblocks – you know that baggage that people bring to their reading of the Bible or applications that are made? A video can do this in a way that you can’t. It can give people the space to start those questions rolling and visuals that might raise things you can never articulate. Yet at the same time, because it’s a video designed to specifically provoke thought, it won’t be taken as the authoritative word. But rather, it should stimulate people’s minds so that they are better prepared to consider main points and applications of the Bible reading and sermon. Let me give you some examples of different styles of videos that are useful for provoking thought in different ways…
This is the video style where you use animated text to carry the video. You can use this style for lots of other purposes too – like Bible reading, teaching, or even to tell a story. I think a great way to use this style is to provoke thought. The most common example of this video style used for this purpose is by asking questions with the text, and then using animation and text to demonstrate or tease out these questions. “What’s God’s Will?” is a good example. They have used kinetic typography to cleverly provoke thought about what people might be asking about how to know God’s will.
This video style obviously has a very wide range of use. When used to provoke thought, you can put together something that gives a short grab of a person’s life and presents an idea about something. They’re often good for provoking thought because it’s easier to avoid preaching. You just raise an idea. I like the way “Blindness” does this. It’s short and visually stimulating, as well as intriguing – you’re waiting until the last shot to see what the blind man is painting. And then it simply leaves you with the question of what it means to really see. I’ve used this to lead into a talk on Ephesians 1, claiming we all need our eyes opened to who Jesus is, as well as a talk about what many people are like in the western world who though they are well off, they close their eyes to who God is.
I think if you’re going to use vox pop at all, use it to provoke thought. It’s often a bit lame for advertising and I hate it when it is used to build a straw man. But if you want to get people thinking about something, give them a range of people’s thoughts or questions on the topic to get them thinking. You also need to do it well though. “Lies” does both. It’s based around a simple idea (on a bus and using masks, both of which create an isolated yet confidential environment – you feel like you’re invited in to some of these people’s secrets. It also gives a good range, and offers some observation without making judgement. Good for provoking thought!
This is part of a series on using video well
One of my favourite way of using video with a talk is to illustrate a point. Generally, I don’t want the video do be doing exactly the same thing as what I am doing when I give a talk – I want it to complement me. I’ll come to using video to teach a point in a few posts time, but let me give a disclaimer about it now. I mainly have in mind those videos that feels like a glorified sermon – the video that focuses on a person preaching to the camera. My disclaimer: don’t use these videos with a talk if all you’re going to do is preach the same sermon. You’re just doing the same thing as the video, and you’ll probably be more boring than the video. Instead, use a video that will complement your talk. This is your purpose in using it (remember the principle?). So how do you do that? Back to using a video to illustrate a point…
I love using a video to illustrate a point because it does something that I can’t do. Don’t get me wrong – I think that most illustrations of points should still be told by the speaker, and there’s many good reasons behind that. But what a video can do is engage someone through a different medium. It can involve them in a story that is separate from me (the speaker) but still close to them. They can be swept up in the video, relate to the characters, understand the plot, contemplate the images. Then, as the speaker, I can direct that towards the point I want to make.
A friend of mine uses videos as illustration really well, so I’m going straight to his examples. He often uses simple short videos. The two examples I love from him are from his talks on Ecclesiastes, and he makes two points about what life is like. The first is a rollercoaster – so as he starts this, he shows a one-shot video from the perspective of someone riding a rollercoaster. It’s great fun (especially for youth) because the group can interact with the video, mimicking the screams on the big descents and leaning on the corners. My friend then talks of how life is like a rollercoaster – you get up, do as much as you can through the day, then you ‘get off’ at the end of the day and rest so that you can get back on again as quickly as possible. Here’s an example of what this might look like (you may only need a short segment of this).
The second video he uses to illustrate what life is like is a time-lapse of a banana rotting. It starts all yellow, but so quickly goes black and shrivels up. You feel how quickly it goes. And it resonates with my experience of bananas. And so I can then make the connection with life – it really is so quick, and the reality of the end of life is striking.
This is one of a bowl of fruit which you can download and use:
I like that both of these videos are short and tell small stories and engage our experience. And they make a striking point that helps complement the point my friend is trying to make.
Now there are also many ways you can go wrong with using a video to illustrate a point. Many of these are similar to warnings someone might give about spoken illustrations, but with video it will be even more pronounced because you’ve made a point of showing a video – remember, you don’t have to show it! So, the big warnings…
Using a video with a talk to illustrate a point fails when:
- The video distracts from the point – this often happens when you’re trying to make a point from a small part of the video that gets overshadowed by the big point of the video. Or if the big things that people remember from the video do not evoke the point you are illustrating. If the video is going to distract, leave it out.
- The video doesn’t match the value of the point – in the same way for a spoken illustration, this frequently happens when someone has a great video and they just really want to use it, so they use it at the first opportunity. But if the point it is illustrating is only a side point, or sub point that is only a very small part of the main idea, the video can be too good for the point it is illustrating, and makes too much of the point. Either the point it is illustrating gets lost, or it overtakes the main point, or the video is just seen as a cool video rather than complementing the talk. If it doesn’t match the value of the point, leave the video out.
- The video needs too much explanation – if you’re using the video to illustrate a point, it should do that. You should at the least understand the illustration. The speaker should then only need to connect the illustration to the point. If people couldn’t actually understand the video (or at the least the point that you think the video is making), then there’s no point in using it. Leave it out.
- The illustration from the video doesn’t illustrate the point you’re making – this is the same for a spoken illustration. Make sure it actually illustrates your point well. Make sure it does something. Don’t use the video just because you want to use the video. Know your purpose. If it doesn’t illustrate the point, leave it out.
I’d love to hear more examples of videos that you know of that helpfully illustrate points. Please comment with your favourites.
Doing a talk in church is hard. Not only are you trying to say something faithful to God’s word, but you’re trying to be faithful to the people listening. You want them to walk away changed. But we’ve all been in those awkward situations where there is an elderly minister speaking to a young crowd in the same way that he spoke to the retirees at the 7am service. From the start the young people are not engaged, for a large part because he hasn’t been faithful to them in seeking to engage them where they are at. But then there is also the younger minister who is really eager to engage the young people, and figures that in order to do so he has to use all the new types of media, like ‘cool videos’. He’s found some videos online that look great and are funny, and uses them alongside his talk. After the service though, all the young people are talking about the funny parts of the video, and it doesn’t seem like they engaged with the talk at all. Maybe you’ve even been one of those ministers.
I think they actually present two sides of the same problem, and that is that technology like video has become usable on a popular level – it’s available. The question then is what you do with it. It becomes a two sided problem because you can either ignore it’s there and not realise that it can be a helpful tool for engaging people in a way you couldn’t before, or you can use it simply because you can without actually considering whether or not your use is engaging people in the way you want. I hope that you want to avoid both of those. If you give talks, then the following posts should give you both some ideas and some boundaries for using video to aid your teaching. If you make videos, then the following should give you some categories for how to think about what your video is doing.
But before we get to the ideas, I want to give a simple principle for how to use video well. The ideas will all refer back to this. Here’s the principle: let your purpose dictate your use of video. The same goes for uses of other media. It’s an available tool, so treat it as such. You can use it if it helps you do your job better, but you don’t have to use it if it won’t. By way of analogy, say you’re a carpenter, and you’ve just found out that the circular saw has come on the market. Yay! A power tool! One carpenter, who mostly sizes wooden planks, might say “I’ve been using my hand-saw all my career and it works just fine”, then finds out that other chippies are starting to produce at a much faster rate. Another carpenter buys the circular saw because that’s what all the cool carpenters are doing, but then uses it for everything, including sharpening pencils. Do you catch my drift? A circular saw is a really helpful tool if used for appropriate purposes. It’s the same with video.
Why do you want to use video? Why do you refuse to use video? If your answer revolves around what will help see your purpose happen, then you’re on the right track. But I do have a disclaimer at the same time. If your natural tendency is to swing much more to one end of the spectrum (no use or over-use), then it is probably a good idea to ask yourself whether or not it’s just your preference coming into play. For most people giving talks, as we mentioned at the start, your purpose will be something to do with wanting to see people walk away changed. If that’s your purpose, then it’s not about you. Video might not help you if you were listening to yourself preach (that would be weird enough in itself), but it may well be the best thing for many of the people listening. Or it may be the most distracting thing ever. If your purpose is to see people changed, then let that dictate your use (or non-use) of video. And that means that you won’t just use any video for the sake of it. If using video will help your people, then you will pick a video that appropriately achieves what you want it to. It will complement your talk, not distract or take away from it.
I’m hoping the ideas that follow will give you some good ideas about how to use video to complement your talks. I’m also hoping that you might contribute some more ideas, as well as example videos that we can watch online. I’ll try to keep adding to the illustration project as I work through these ideas too. Hopefully we can help each other to get better at using video as a powerful tool rather than a gimmick or not-at-all.