Sunlight streams into the church. The vicar interrupts his sermon to announce a film clip. The congregation sits up and looks towards the bare white wall where, after some delay, grey shadows of figures are projected. It is unclear quite what is happening. The sudden explosion of noise when the machine was turned on, has become an angry buzzing and then silence. There is an agonising wait until the clip finally comes to an abrupt end and the vicar is left to explain a blow-by-blow account of his favourite battle scene from The Lord of the Rings. He hoped it would give light relief to his preaching from Nehemiah.

Same church, same leader: two years later. The building is dimly lit, the chairs drawn into an arc at the front ready for the small evening gathering.

After a time of worship the leader announces the reading of a Psalm and nods to the technician in the gallery. The large screen, in front of the congregation, is slowly filled with beautiful, vivid scenes. Music plays unobtrusively and a clear, melodious voice articulates the words which are scrolling across the screen in bold, attractive fonts. The presentation concludes and there is a time of quiet contemplation. With his listeners fully engaged, the leader explains the power of the music and poetry in the psalms.

Get switched on

?“Using DVDs well can make the difference between a good, engaging talk and a great one,” says Paul Windo, communications manager with the national Christian youth organisation, Urban Saints. “We are surrounded by visual imagery today - there are TV screens in airports, railway stations, supermarkets, post offices, - people are drawn to images. If we can use DVDs wisely, we can really make an impact.”
DVDs and movie clips downloaded from the web, can be highly effective in worship, in illustrating points in a sermon, in delivering the main message, or in small group devotions or teaching, if the preacher or teacher knows how to use them well, says Dave Gardner, vicar of St John’s Church in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

“There is a danger that we think we are going to be hip and cool by using clips from a popular film or TV programme, or we get lazy and show a pre-packaged Christian presentation. In fact the correct use of DVDs takes a lot of time and thought. Just because it’s flash and you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” “There are many things to be wary of when using film clips”, says Rev Tim Hull, a tutor at St John’s College Nottingham, who is responsible for developing multimedia teaching resources. After the copyright issues have been dealt with, remember that preachers are susceptible to using film clips just like they do illustrations in talks, “because they are funny or entertaining and not necessarily because they are relevant. You can use a spectacular clip but if it is not connected to your message then technology has got in the way.”

“Youth leaders tend to use DVDs fairly lazily,” says Chris Curtis director of Luton Churches Education Trust (LCET). “They use clips as fillers - ‘we’re doing a session on anger, so here’s a clip of someone in a film getting angry’. I find film better at asking questions than giving answers. The best films that have explored faith have tended to be asking questions about faith, sometimes difficult ones - The Apostle, for example.” (The Apostle, Universal Pictures Video, DVD 2006, B000BRPX36, £9.99)

“The DVD may open up the possibility that there are ways of communicating other than the three point sermon,” says Dave Gardner. “When I talk I am trying to paint a picture in people’s minds, I am trying to get them to step into a particular story. I don’t want to illustrate it too tightly because then it’s like going to see a film of your favourite book - it’s not the same because the actors aren’t the characters as you imagined them.” “It is still important to encourage the individual to get involved in worship in their own way,” says Malcolm Turner, executive director of the Christian Television Association (CTA). “We don’t want TV to take over and for it to become entertainment in the pew.”

While there is no denying we live in a visual age, congregations will respond to media and presentations differently. “Older people may find there are too many things flying around the screen”, says Tim Hull. “The issue of many using DVDs in services is generational. It is never a problem with young people.”

A visual generation

?“We used to talk about young people being the ‘MTV generation,’ says Paul Windo, “but they’re no longer simply passive observers; with camera phones and webcams they are now creating their own TV and video - we are in the middle of the ‘YouTube generation’!” Chris Curtis agrees: “YouTube gets 100 million viewings a day. Maybe we should be thinking about how we can engage with this culture. Soon content will be in digital form and more easily accessed online.”

The youth pastor at Stopsley Baptist Church in Luton, Mark Scanlan enjoys using a variety of media to reach young people. “Film and TV clips, and often newspaper stories, provide a window into our culture everyone can relate to, often telling powerful stories. “Jesus used parables as stories that spoke into his culture and were a medium that the people of his day understood perfectly.”
Men of faith?The DVD may also contribute positively in encouraging more men through the church doors, says Carl Beech, director of Christian Vision for Men. “Men take time to trust a speaker at the front, especially if he is a vicar type!” he says. “But a movie clip overcomes all that. Also men appreciate quality and professionalism, and things that connect with everyday life. DVDs do that.”

Ministry tools?

Pre-packaged DVDs can prove a great help to time-pressured church leaders. This can be seen most starkly in recent years in the changing shape of the small group. “Paper-based Bible studies are not scratching the itch any more,” says Ian Matthews, UK sales and marketing manager at the publisher, Zondervan. “Small group leaders today are less likely to be mature Christians who will teach, lead and inject wisdom. People have increasingly busy lives so don’t have the time to prepare a Bible study; instead they become facilitators.”

DVDs bring study leaders into the room via the television screen: celebrity authors like John Ortberg with If you want to walk on water, or leading academics giving insight to passages that may be impenetrable if presented as printed matter. DVDs also take the viewer overseas to the scenes where Jesus prayed or taught. “This opens up the cultural setting and background in a way that cannot be achieved in church,” says Matthews. (If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat, Zondervan, DVD 2005, 9780310261803, £13.99)

Probably the biggest impact Zondervan’s materials has made in recent years has been the launch of the Nooma series of DVDs from Rob Bell. These, arguably, have changed the scope of AV in church services. There are currently 15 in the series with six more planned next year. Each takes the form of a 10-15 minute contemporary presentation with Bell talking to camera about a life challenge and God’s answer to it. They can be used for personal devotions, but are also increasingly being used in services, often as a replacement to a sermon.

“People’s concentration span today is shorter,” says Matthews. “A 45 minute sermon isn’t appropriate. There need to be various elements to teaching to maintain people’s interests. We need to explore communication beyond words with visual images.” People expect a high quality of production too. The Christian Television Association has hundreds of title in its list, all boasting high production standards. Workshops on life issues like depression; mission documentaries; testimonies; and teaching materials are all included and available through mail order. In addition CTA has produced drama documentaries which it promotes as an outreach tool either for churches to show as an event, or for individuals to give to neighbours and friends as an introduction to the Christian faith. So, who is Jesus? (CTA, DVD, 9781904726203, £4.99) is an account of the life of Jesus, shot in Israel and last year, Robber of the Cruel Streets (CTA, DVD 2006, 727985009391, £19.95), telling the story of George Muller, was released.

Wide-reaching resources?

Of course the programme of activities from Holy Trinity Brompton, initially through its phenomenal Alpha course, has highlighted the potential a DVD can have in making resources available to a much wider audience. The latest DVD by Alpha International contains two talks by Nicky Gumbel. Challenging Lifestyle: The Beatititudes DVD is subtitled, ‘How to find the secret of happiness’ and ‘How to change the world around you’ (released on 15th September, price to be confirmed). Meanwhile CWR made a strategic decision two years ago to make more of our resources available on DVD. Lynette Brooks, publishing director of CWR explains, “We have training on offer to the church but not everyone can visit us here in Surrey, and we can’t send our people out all over the country each weekend. This way we are maximising our resources.”??In addition to intensive teaching sessions for churches to follow together - Understanding and Praying for Revival, Christ Empowered Living or Caring God’s Way - there is a marriage DVD for couples or small groups, and children’s resources. The latest CWR DVD is in the Jeff Lucas Life Journeys series (A walk on the wild side, Jeff Lucas, CWR, DVD 2007, 9781853454394, £14.99) specifically designed for home groups. This has been so popular it had to be republished after just three months. Two more are planned for spring 2008. “Some churches will baulk at what is expected of their congregations in following some of our programmes,” says Brooks. “But the Lucas DVD is much lighter. People could sit and watch it, then have a chat over a cup of tea and move on. However we do encourage them individually to follow a daily devotional in between viewing the films.

“People’s learning methods vary,” says Jonathan Booth, director of Care for the Family which has produced DVDs on most of its major seminars including Beating Burnout, 21st Century Marriage and Bringing Home the Prodigals. “Regardless of educational background, more people can access material through DVDs. It tends to feel more like entertainment than being educated. “The DVD delivers the content so theleader doesn’t have to have specialist knowledge.”

Booth also highlights the value of using a DVD in promoting a particular cause - using a short clip in the notices within a service can be incredibly powerful.” “We have used DVD to bring some creativity to a simple notice in a meeting or to bring life to a scripture reading,” says Paul Windo of Urban Saints. “In a recruitment drive for Hope 2008, we took our presenters onto the roof of the office, looking out over the town, to film them describing the vision of Hope and asking young people to get involved. The notice could have been delivered in person but using a DVD gave it an extra, almost prophetic, dimension.”???Top tips on showing DVDs

  • Watch the DVD beforehand.?
  • Make sure it is relevant to your audience and message.?
  • Note the points you want to make.?
  • Note the running time - it may not seem long in your home but when in a service it may eat into your speaking time. Aim for less than ten minutes.?
  • Allow time to comment or discuss the content.?
  • Ensure you have the correct equipment to play the DVD and that you know how to operate it. Cue up the start and end of the DVD.?
  • Ensure you balance the DVD with adequate human interaction or comment.

Downloading clips from the web

Many websites offer you the chance to download clips of media including movie clips, short films and video stills for free or for a small fee. You will need a PC with 512k or a larger broadband connection to download the videos and QuickTime Player, QuickTime Pro, or Real Player to view the videos on a PC or laptop.