Thursday, June 27, 2013

Your Church on the Web: Clear Message, or Private Joke?

There's more to getting your church on The Web than just techies and a little extra loose change.

We have all experienced the story of the 1950s broadcast clown at the end of the live show, who thought his microphone was shut off, making the offhand comment to the stage hands, “That ought to hold the little %@#&-ards  for a while.” See note*

Of course, after the phone calls started coming in, and the TV station manager got wind of what had just happened, it wasn’t long before Uncle Don or Bozo probably had a solid grasp on the concept of the difference between what can be said in front of a narrow audience of co-workers, and a broader audience of thousands of consumers.

The same lesson needs to be grasped by those organizations testing the waters of the Internet for the first time; for example, making their church services public by publishing them to the web via MP3 Audio, Archived Video, or Live Streaming.

A church can be like a small club; folks become comfortable with the handful of those founding the group. You’re close friends who share few secrets. In a few years the club is larger and things are done a little differently because with larger crowds comes more responsibility to propriety and information handling. The difference between private jokes and public information is vast, thus more decorum is needed.

After a while, the numbers can grow even more, therefore the responsibility grows to the level of a civic responsibility among neighbors and community leaders.

When the progression is in steps and gradual, these graduations are more natural. Learning different ways to handle information, imagery and punctuality comes as needed and at a measured pace as the crowd of the audience advances from single digits to dozens and then to hundreds and beyond.
But what happens when you release your church services to the world at large in one giant step; all at once? There are no graduating steps. There are no months of learning new procedures and finding the right individuals to write just the right words in the weekly bulletin, the newspaper ad and general announcements.

Going from ten to a thousand can happen overnight if the church is plugging into the local cable access channel or being invited to take over a large radio station’s prime Sunday time slot that was recently vacated. When this happens, those responsible for the church’s reputation will be very happy later on if The Message is crafted carefully and dressed in decorum and appropriateness.

When you click the start button on the software that turns on the live streaming camera and microphone, you are actually opening a magic window that lets into the very auditorium, people that you have been trying to invite for months and years. But you are also letting in everybody else as well. You are allowing in folks who may not understand everything that you and your group are about, and in this litigious society, it is not difficult to be caught unawares by forces bent on destroying your efforts at disseminating the gospel, as well as those who are simply disgruntled individuals with nothing better to do than make a point by “reporting” your words as they inferred them, regardless of your harmless implication.

So, remember not to be shocked by the first phone call or letter that comes from an unlooked for corner of your community with less than glowing candor. Better yet, prepare to avoid problems by narrowing down your public message to one that sticks closer to the authority that leads your decisions. For Bible preachers, this is a little simpler when they stick close to the message of The Gospel as it is presented in The good old fashioned Bible.

It is much simpler to explain a statement one makes publically when it comes directly from the pages of God’s Word.

And, the main content is not the only thing about which we should be concerned. Those young boyos back there running the sound booth are now in charge of the public’s perception of all that this church stands for. And without years of training and education, they have just graduated from the Assistant Pastor’s teenage nephew to the church’s in-reality video producer/director.

If you are now hosting a live streaming web service that runs simultaneously as your regular services, what words are they putting up over the screen while you’re talking? Even if the information is harmless, is it accurate?

Another thing; if your church web site is publishing a list of links from which the general public can download your recorded sermons, what exactly did you say about the President of These United states three Sundays ago?

Let me set some of my regular readers at ease at this point. I did not write this article from a personal need to make some point about any particular preacher I know; least of whom would be MY pastor in Longview, Washington. Pastor House is extremely circumspect in his public and private language and speaks clearly to everyone, but sharply to those he certainly intends to. (What exactly does that mean? Email me and I will elucidate for you.)
Bozo and Cookie. WBBM TV, Chicago

And, in our church, I am one of the sound guys that operates the live stream. I am 55 years of age and have a degree in Media from a recognized school back east. So, you see, I was NOT talking from personal need, but from career experience. So, take heed. Yes, especially you, Bunky.

From radio to TV, and from Live Stream to Archived, your message lives forever so make sure that you control those auxiliary outlets with the same care you prepare your sermon.

And, that clown on Chicago or New York TV and Radio would have been much better off sticking to
the format handed to him by the station manager.

Stu Marks works as a media consultant at large and is based in the Portland Oregon market.

*note: Snopes

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