Summer Camp: How we planned a great, weeklong off-site event

1. Be intentional with atmosphere

First impressions are a big deal.  Putting some effort and creativity into the atmosphere at your event can have a huge impact. Even a couple of well-designed banners or some string lights draped from the ceiling can tell your audience, “We care about the experiences you will have here”.

View More: http://mosaicchurch.pass.us/camp-2016

 

2. Think about the experience you want people to have

Start with a goal for what kind of experience you want to design for your audience (i.e. fun, contemplative, challenging, rejuvenating). We wanted our camp to be high-energy and impactful. We made several decisions that were specifically intended to set them up for that kind of experience.  We hired a super energetic, young, worship band from a local Christian university.  We made a no-cell-phones rule, but, in an effort to make that a positive thing, we made sure we jam packed the camp with fun things to do and captured great photos for them all week long.  We made sure even the sometimes ‘boring’ aspects of camp, like the speaking and the devotional book, were supported with creative elements, engaging stories and fun design. We took the expected, free t-shirt to the next level by offering a full store with 5 different items in a variety of colors and styles. We made sure to give students lots of time in small groups to process what God was doing in their hearts that week. All of these decisions contributed to a fun and impactful summer camp.

3. Don’t let your creative and production elements be an afterthought

Everything I just mentioned that we did to plan an incredible week for our students didn’t happen overnight. I personally tackled one camp task every two weeks for 6 months prior to camp and our team met regularly. Planning a big event like this takes foresight, budgeting, creativity, collaboration and lots of time! 

Planning things like merch, videos, and atmosphere from the very beginning can help you design a more cohesive and impactful event.

4. Help students make memories and bring the camp experience home

Making lasting memories was a high priority for our team.
We used photography, video, and a devotional article to help them take the camp experience home with them. 
We set up a trendy photo spot, brought in quality photographers, made daily recap videos (using animoto.com), and distributed all of our camp photos to students and parents (using pass.us).  These intentional decisions helped our students focus more on engaging with others and God. They also helped our students take the camp experience beyond just that week.

5. Don’t be afraid of hiring and renting

Hiring a worship band or renting lighting equipment can seem really intimidating! But, being willing to expand your resource pool beyond your own church can give you so many options.

EVERS @weareevers

We hired SEU Worship band from South Eastern University, Slap Happy Comedy (an
improv duo we once saw at a conference), a guest speaker, Scott Frazier, (from a church we have a great relationship with) and an up and coming local band (Evers) for a concert.
We also rented audio equipment, lighting, a Penske Truck, and a TV.  It might seem like a lot of money and logistics (which it is), but with good planning, making some strategic hires and rentals can really help you elevate the camp experience for your students. Doing these things made our camp feel very special and set apart, compared to a typical Wednesday night.

6. Think about reusing resources

You can be a lot more efficient View More: http://mosaicchurch.pass.us/camp-2016with a tight budget if you consider reusing things for multiple events.  For this event, we reused banners, blinder lights, string lights, Ikea lamps, a photo booth frame, some tubs for merch display, and lots of cables. We would have spend hundreds of dollars more if we were always buying things for one-time use only.  What bad stewardship that would have been!

I love giving our students the best experience for their money.  Even if you have a giant budget, stretching that budget to include as much as possible can really glorify God.

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Go-To Online Design & Production Resources

Collaboration is the lifeblood of creative disciplines.  Some of the most practical information we can share with each other is where we go for helpful tools, resources, and inspiration. Here are several websites, apps, podcasts, and social media influencers I use frequently.  Without these tools, my effectiveness and skill level would be drastically lower than it is today.


WEBSITES:

Animoto is a website with templates for quick, easy, and beautiful videos or slideshows. 

Fiverr provides a ton of graphic design and marketing services, but we’ve utilized them for their $5 or $10 custom intros & animated logos.

Monoprice is an online store that sells a ton of electronic and tech equipment.  It is frequently the first place our production team members go when we need to buy anything from a speaker, to a cable, to an ipad stand. 

Vimeo Video School is a place to go for some quick, engaging, and very helpful training videos on just about anything you can think of related to video production.

Planning Center Online helps us plan and execute our gatherings.  It’s a super-powerful church management tool that has capabilities to facilitate check-in, event registrations, volunteer management, worship team scheduling and more.

Collaborate Worship is a website and facebook community page that creates and shares useful articles for people in production and worship ministry. 

Church Stage Design Ideas is a website and facebook community page that shares stage design example, ideas, materials, and tutorials.

Visual Church Media is a facebook group of more than 10,000 members, willing to share their ministry and production experience with you.

Unsplash and Creative Commons are my go-to websites for finding great images that I can legally use, share, and modify.


APPS:

Ripl App

Created with Ripl App

Over helps you add beautiful text or graphics to your images.

Tangent incorporates geometric image filters to your photos.  

Ripl
 uses short animations to bring your images to life and help them stand out on social media.


PODCASTS:

Finely Crafted is a podcast hosted by two guys from Proof Branding in Nashville.

Under the Influence is a branding podcast with Terry O’Reilly produced by BBC.

The Student Ministry Podcast is produced by a good friend, Kenneth Ortiz, who’s experience in Student Ministry, I highly respect.  It’s full of helpful resources, wisdom and tips.


INFLUENCERS TO FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

@shereadstruth
@gracecityfl
@gcyc_fl
@hillsongunited
@hillsongyoungandfree
@hillsongnycyouth
@zeketucker
@gopro
@proofbranding
@vouschurch
@theaustinstone
@austinstoneworship
@rivervalleyyth
@rivervalleyworship

Glorifying God through task-oriented roles in the Church

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Working behind the scenes in your church can be incredibly gospel-centered. But, for anyone who has a lot of behind-the-scenes responsibilities, you know that this is much easier said than done.  When I first started vocational ministry, I had this romantic idea that everyday, I would approach my tasks as worship.  I assumed that even when my plate was way too full, I would somehow, get more done than I had time for, through divine inspiration.  Sometimes that happens, but there are also times when support tasks are draining and frustrating.  Here are a few ways to avoid the pitfall of burnout amidst task-oriented roles in the Church.


1. Start with a solid vision.  Spend some time thinking about and praying about why your work matters to the kingdom.  Sometimes it can feel like the  “up front” roles are most important, but they only thrive when support roles also exist. At my church, we often say that as good as the gathering is, if a person doesn’t have a “gospel experience” in the parking lot, the bathroom, and on their way to find their seat, then the gathering might be less impactful for them.  Read more about vision for creative roles in my article, Creativity: For Glory and for Beauty.


2. Build a team. Ephesians 4:12 instructs us, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. Sometimes investing in a team is more about giving people an opportunity to be ministry participants, than it is about helping you get more done.  But, if you’re smart and intentional, building a team can accomplish both goals. Don’t forget to remind them regularly why what they are doing matters to the kingdom of God.  Read more about building a team in my article, 6 Production Team Building Essentials.


3. Be an influencer. Whether it’s through a blog, a podcast, or social media, sharing your work with others is a great way to give a broader purpose to your tasks. It glorifies God when the Church collaborates and shares resources.  Think of who could benefit from your unique experience and then engage them with the wisdom you have to offer.  Building a network of people who have similar roles in churches can help inspire you as well as giving you an opportunity to inspire others.


4. Have lots of conversations with people in roles not like your own.  This is a big one.  Nothing has helped me be more flexible, positive, and genuinely gracious to my team more than taking time to understand what it’s like to do the work my teammates do.  


5. Do things you love.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in producing work, that we forget to experience life and fun. Refreshing yourself with the things you love in life is one of the best ways to fuel your passion and productivity.


6. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.  Notice that I didn’t say “Surround yourself with creative and hard-working people”. How someone does their work, is much more contagious than what they produce. Not all people who are producing great work are going to drive you to do the same. You know yourself best, so evaluate what types of people inspire you to glorifies God and then invite them to give you advice and direction.

 


7. Set manageable goals.  One of the most stress-relieving changes I have made in my job, has been looking  to the future and setting manageable goals.  For probably the first two years at my job, it seemed like I was just spinning my wheels to get a bunch of unimportant, urgent things done.  But when I started anticipating the important, non-urgent tasks, I began making big strides in my effectiveness.  So, a couple of times a year, set some goals for the future.  Be realistic by choosing only one or two areas at a time to focus on for major growth or change.


8. Strive for excellence, but plan for mistakes. I think God is glorified when we bring our A game – when we start out a task planning to absolutely kill it!  But I also think God is glorified when we are flexible and gracious if something derails our excellence.  Whether it’s a mistake you or your team member makes or a technical difficulty, be ready to move on and keep working towards the best outcome.  


9. Practice submission. Production roles are often executed the best when we have a passion for making someone else look good, or taking their vision and making it a reality.  That takes a lot of trust and humility. I don’t know about you, but trust, humility and submission are not traits that I naturally demonstrate without the Holy Spirit.  So, submit regularly to God through intimacy with Him, obeying His word, and engaging with His community.  And as you submit to God, allow that to spill over to other headships God has placed in your life.

6 Production Team Building Essentials

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1. Start with vision.

Your volunteers will be passionate about your vision if you consistently share the why behind the what.

If you’re willing to train volunteers on the exact expectations of their job, you should also be willing to share the reason for those expectations. For our church production team, a high priority is to minimize distraction so that people can freely engage in worship or focus during the message. Because of that vision, we train our volunteers to make transitions smoothly and during times in the gathering that feel most natural. Let’s remind our team that what we do matters because of why we do it.

And even beyond what we do in gatherings, we can remind our volunteers that anything they put their hands to can glorify God. Scripture teaches us that God regularly uses man to display His wonder through craft and creativity. See my article Creativity: For Glory and for Beauty. What a great privilege it is to partner with Christ in reflecting His beauty to the world!


2. Clarify the win.

Ask yourself, “If one of my team members had to describe A+ level service on my team, would they know what to say?”  Do your team members have clarity on what the WIN looks like?  Feel free to set the bar high (at A+ level). Then, remind your team that perfection isn’t necessary, but doing their absolute best is a way to serve Christ’s bride.  


If it’s helpful, write down some expectations together as a team and then display them for everyone to use in self-evaluating. We have about 10-15 Middle and High School students (as well as 2 interns) who serve on my production team for weekly Student Ministry gatherings. Recently, an intern and I developed a “Rate Yo-Self” form for team members to fill out after each gathering. The form is complete with a list of expectations, an emoji scale, and a reminder of the purpose of the form. The next time they serve, they get to see their form and remember in what areas they can improve. This is just one example of a way to remind your team exactly what the win looks like.

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3. Never stop recruiting.

Has this ever happened to you?  You feel like you’ve built up your volunteer team well and you can relax for awhile on recruiting. So, you let your guard down for a little while and all of the sudden, you have no volunteers! We’ve all been there. During a busy season or a transition in leadership, you stop recruiting for a second and the ship sinks!  This has happened to me and other co-workers enough that I now realize recruiting can never be put on the back burner.  People move, they go through craziness at work or home, they start serving on other teams, or your church’s production needs increase. We can’t afford to take a break on recruiting, while people’s real lives keep going.

In Andy Stanley’s book, Next Generation Leader, he teaches young leaders to “Only do what only you can do.”  If you’re leading a team of any kind, recruiting and training is probably something that only you can do well.

Carve out more time than you need for recruiting, training and maintaining. Then, become unwilling to let any other responsibility take its place.

One last point I’ll make before I get off my recruiting soapbox. Don’t just recruit for new team members, but also recruit for higher skilled team members. On my volunteer team, I have 3  different tiers of responsibility. To staff my gatherings appropriately, I have to always be looking out for the people who show potential to move up. If someone is doing an excellent job or they have passion for learning something more advanced, I take note. Then, I share some encouragement, goals, and incentives with them. Anything from learning a new skill, to getting to serve in more gatherings, to… CANDY can be effective incentives. Volunteers at higher skill levels can be the most difficult to replace, so always be training up your current team to move forward.


4. Decide what you expect from your team and then be consistent in protecting them.

To me, this also falls into the “only do what only you can do” category. If you are a production team leader, you are in the best position to understand the skill level of your volunteers and the needs of your church. You are also in the best position to help the leaders above you understand the capacity and limitations of your team. You can and should act as a liaison between the team you lead and the leaders above you. Make sure your team and your church are set up to win each week.  

Scenarios where I feel I need to protect my team often occur around the games we plan for our weekly Student Ministry gatherings. Sometimes a great idea for a game requires that the person running media cues a sound effect in a split second or reveals an answer to a trivia question on the spot. In moments like these, any delay can cause awkwardness and distraction in the gathering.  When possible, I try to work towards a solution that allows either our staff communicator or the game participants to be controlling any split-second reveals.

It doesn’t help anyone if you pridefully say “yes” to big production requests, just to turn around and fail at the execution because your team wasn’t adequately trained. It also doesn’t help to shoot an automatic “no” out to any production request.  I try to answer any request from my leaders kind of like this: “Yes, I love that idea. I want to talk through how we can make that happen in the most effective way. Here are my team’s limitations, so what if we tweaked your idea a bit to be sure this runs smoothly?”

Your leaders will respect you for positively moving towards a solution, and your volunteers will appreciate you for not asking them to take on responsibilities they aren’t trained for.


5. Don’t forget that you are partnering with God.

When you get in the thick of your pre-gathering prep or the busiest season of your year, it can be tempting to just put your head down and get stuff done. But, stopping to ask The Creator to give you the inspiration, direction, and energy to lead your team well is absolutely essential! I went to college for architecture and one time I had a project I was working on that just totally stumped me. It was a design studio project and I felt like I just had creativity block.  Everything I tried seemed forced. One late night in the studio before a big presentation, I was super frustrated. Then I thought, “I feel like I’ve tried everything, but have I even tried asking God to help me be creative?”  So I prayed (almost jokingly – not expecting it to work) and within 10 minutes I had overhauled the design, and come up with a great idea that would drive the entire project. I don’t think that praying will manipulate God to give us anything we ask for. God is not our butler! But, I do think sometimes we just need our Creator to breath life and inspiration into our work!

I wholeheartedly believe that an intimate relationship with God makes me a better creator and leader.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had my volunteers cancel last minute, or a piece of equipment fail shortly before a gathering, and I’ve had to cry out to God on behalf of the students about to walk through our doors. Our best work is done when we partner with God, realizing that even our best efforts will pale in comparison to a joint effort with Him. He desires for us to participate with Him in the redeeming work He is doing in the world (not the other way around).


6. Have fun.

It’s such a privilege to get the opportunity to do creative work on behalf of our Father. And, honestly, I can’t think of any area in the church I would enjoy serving in more than production! For those of us who enjoy technology and creativity, this work is FUN! Let’s remember to celebrate that regularly with our teams.  

As a leader, your demeanor can have a huge influence on the mood of your team. So make it an absolute priority to discuss life with your team, play games with them, acknowledge them on social media, joke with them, and celebrate with them after a job well done. If you’re anything like me, forgetting to intentionally prioritize the FUN will cause you to let it fall through the cracks for months at a time.

Sometimes the weight of our responsibilities or the urgency of our tasks can take our focus, but bringing back the fun can re-energize you and your volunteers.

I am Tiffany Kelly

What I do:tiffanyKellySQ (1)

Since 2011, I have been working in the Emerging Generations Department (Middle School, High School and Young Adult) of a quickly growing, multi-site church in Central Florida. I primarily oversee the production and branding side of the ministry. Most weeks, that translates to a lot of gathering production, training volunteers (for media, lighting, and audio), video production with some graphic design, web design, and atmosphere. As a part-time staff member with a lot on my plate, I’ve had to develop strategies for working efficiently and only doing high-impact projects.  I’ve also had to learn a lot about delegating tasks and training volunteer teams. My hope for this blog is to share some lessons I’ve learned about effectively managing production and creative areas of ministry.

Where I started:

I actually began my career path with hopes and dreams of becoming an architect.  I’ve always been artistic as well as having a natural aptitude for math and physics. So, since Middle School, I’ve thought I would love a career that involved designing buildings… some engineering, some creativity – perfect!  I worked hard to get a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Architecture from Miami University (of Ohio) and Masters of Fine Arts in Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design (traveling to my favorite cities and interning at small architecture firms along the way).  But shortly after I graduated, God began to change my heart about my career path.  The catalyst  was a short-term mission trip I went on to Guatemala.  On that trip, for the first time since becoming a Christian at 13 years old, I realized that God wanted to use my gifts and talents to glorify him.  I always knew that I could glorify God in small ways as an architect, but a career of ministry had never been on my radar.  Quite honestly though, I had never asked. I had insecurities about what kinds of things I excelled at, and I wrongly assumed that God wouldn’t want me for vocational ministry.  To me, ministry meant that I would have to be a good speaker, highly relational, charismatic, and extroverted.  I was none of these things.  So, when I returned from that mission trip and felt God calling me to ministry (specifically youth ministry), I was confused and anxious. But my passion and vision for youth ministry continued to grow, so one night, I made a deal with God (which I wouldn’t necessarily suggest).  I told Him I would follow any plan He had for my life, as long as He was with me and He would help me figure out the details… Within the next year, He opened doors for ministry opportunities that were perfect for my specific skill set.

More about me:

12241618_10102655385727588_6281486109622046620_nI enjoy painting/drawing, doing home improvement projects, travelling, reading, swimming, volleyball, discovering new music, cooking, listening to podcasts, and finding a good bargain.  I recently married my best friend and the funniest man I know, Andy.  We met through serving together in our young adult ministry, a passion we share.  We also share a love of really good coffee! We have 2 dogs and 9 nieces and nephews.  We spend a lot of time with our family and friends.  We’re outdoorsy… (when we feel like it), which means a camping trip, a beach trip, a theme park day, or an outdoor festival every now and then.  We like to share and explore culture together by going to concerts, visiting galleries and museums, learning to cook exotic foods, travelling, and trying new restaurants.

Hopes and Dreams for the Future:

We hope to start a family soon and are praying about adopting.

We are dreaming about and working towards getting out of debt.

13100800_10102948385363968_8142991610224108229_nWe are designing a tiny home on wheels that we will build ourselves within the next 5 or 10 years. We plan to transport it to some land in the Tennessee mountains and vacation in it with our family.

The church we’re a part of is growing quickly so we’re excited about being a part of some transitional steps that are forthcoming.  As a couple, we see ourselves continuing to be a part of young adult ministry, worship/production, and missional community leadership (our version of small groups).

In my current role on staff, I would love to see our Student Ministry as well as our church taking new strides towards networking with other churches to share resources and strategies.  I also have a goal for our Student Ministry to have a more intentional and effective social media strategy.  And, I would love to help develop an even more relevant, energetic, contextualized environment for students.  And finally, I am continually focused on building these dreams on the shoulders of a team, not just myself.  Each day, I have to approach my job with the goal of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry.

Creativity: For Glory and for Beauty

In Exodus 28:2, God tells Moses “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”

Genesis

The epic story of the gospel contains poetry, songs, architectural design, ark plans, textile design, and stories about people who made their own idols to worship. Scripture tells us a lot about what kind of creator God is and what kind of creators we should be.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created us “in His own image”. But, that doesn’t mean we’re exactly like Him. Some of His characteristics He passes on to us (intelligent and relational), some are unique to Him (omnipresent and omniscient), and still others are imparted to us through our restoration and sanctification (righteous and patient). One aspect of God’s character that I think about a lot is His awe-inspiring creativity. This is a character trait that we have the amazing privilege of receiving from Him.

Throughout scripture, we see that God creates, He designs things for man to create, and He allows man to honor him by creating. In Genesis 1-3, God creates out of nothing (the Hebrew words “ex nihilo”) as well as forming pre-existing things into something functional or beautiful. We can only forming pre-existing things.  As artists, designers, craftsmen and musicians, we often have the feeling that everything has been done. Nothing is new. Solomon, in his great God-given wisdom said  “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) Humility is good and part of our nature as created beings, but we can reflect God’s character to the world by forming existing things into something beautiful that glorifies God.

What the Bible has to say about honoring God through creativity:

1. God cares deeply about design and expression.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-American Modernist architect said “God is in the details.” When I read the detailed plans God gives Moses for constructing a temple fit for God’s presence to dwell, I realize that God is a very detailed and intentional designer. In Exodus 24 & 25, God invites Moses up to Mt. Sinai, where the glory of God dwells and he tells Moses to let the Israelites “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and all of its furniture, so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:8-9). God goes on to tell Moses to assign certain projects to “all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill.”(Exodus 28:3). During this conversation between God and Moses in Exodus, we see that God cares deeply about the dimensions, materials, colors and craftsmen of this project.

Elsewhere, in 1 Chronicles 28, we see God again, specifying who should be part of building His dwelling. King David tells his people,

“I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.” (v. 2-3)

”It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.” (v. 6-7)

Sometimes I wonder why God would go to such lengths of specifying exactly who would work on certain projects or to describe in such detail the materials, colors and dimensions of the Tabernacle and its furniture in Exodus 25-30. But, then I realize… as a designer, I would care. I have a Master’s Degree in Architecture, so I have spent years studying buildings, thinking about buildings and engaging with buildings. I know that proportion, spatial layout, materials, colors, light, sounds, smells can all drastically shape a person’s experience of a built space. I’ve read books, written papers, sat in seminars, built models, drawn meticulously detailed plans, watched documentaries and traveled around the world to learn about architecture and how it can move people. I consider some of the best architects to be geniuses, who deeply connect with the human experience. I’ve heard several of my architecture professors suggest that psychology is a field strongly tied to architecture.

So, as talented and experienced as the best architects are, how much more does God understand how people will interact with something He’s designing? It makes perfect sense why He would be so concerned with each minute detail. He gets how humans operate. He knows we have senses and we experience so many thoughts and emotions that are informed by our surroundings. And since we are talking about the meticulous detail of the design of God’s own dwelling place, I wonder if some of His design decisions were also for His own experience? So, as we express creativity, we should always have a humble reverence to the one who inspires and allows all creativity, our Maker, the only one who totally understands how everything in the universe operates and connects.  

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” -Isaiah 64:8 (ESV)


2. Our creativity is for His glory.

Everything we create communicates something about what we believe. Creating is an opportunity to display to the world that we serve a glorious God. As image-bearers of God, we are given the opportunity to create things that are worthy of a great God. But we are also simply God’s creation, who should regularly humble ourselves and give credit to our Maker for anything we create.

In 2 Chronicles 2:4-7, Solomon says,  

Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel. The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided.”

What Solomon knew is that we have the opportunity to glorify God by dedicating our work to Him, by striving for greatness, by humbling ourselves, and by collaborating with skilled partners.


3. Work is something God intended for us even before the fall and He is honored when we do it diligently and excellently. 

“‘Let us rise up and build’. So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” -Nehemiah 2:18

In the book of Nehemiah, we read about a man whose passion to demonstrate God’s glory causes Him to take on a giant task. Jerusalem had been torn apart by war and the walls of the city were destroyed. Nehemiah was so heart broken about this because God had chosen these people and this city through which to display His character to the rest of the world. A city in ruins was a disgrace to God and the destroyed wall left God’s people unsafe, scattered and belittled. The book of Nehemiah describes the people’s willingness to work diligently to restore God’s honorable reputation.

“For the people had a mind to work.” -Nehemiah 4:6

“Each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.” -Nehemiah 4:17

Throughout this wall reconstruction in Nehemiah we see lots of hard work. But, we also see many moments of God’s provision and protection as the people pray and rely on Him. A lot of times we see prayer and faith as an opposite strategy to hard work and drive. We either rely on God’s provision or our own diligence, right? I think the book of Nehemiah suggests a different way. We read that God is most glorified when we work hard and have faith in God’s provision.

When I read Nehemiah 3 where the whole chapter is dedicated to a detailed, section-by-section description of the work and names of each worker, It makes me wonder why so much detail is necessary.  I think it is because God sees this effort as worshipful work on His behalf. There is an inseparable connection between what we put our hands to and to whom our hearts are devoted.

The Shakers (a sect of Quaker Christians in colonial America) had a motto, “Put your hands to work, and your hearts to God.” This meant that as they worked hard in the fields or mills, they were to devote their hearts to God as if the work of their hands was worship. Consequently, the Shakers were known for some of the most excellent craftsmanship, architecture, crops, and textiles. They were also known for working long hours but having a very peaceful, spiritual countenance. As Christ-followers, if we all put our hands to such skillful work and put our hearts to such passionate worship, what a beautiful picture of God we would display to the world!  Let’s strive to be more and more like that in our work everyday.


4. God takes it very seriously when we dishonor Him with the things we make.

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!” – Habakkuk 2:18 (ESV)

Some of the most harsh reprimands in scripture are to men who decided to craft their own idols to worship. Something deep within God is enraged and hurt when we betray Him in this way. Just sit down, take a deep breath, and read Isaiah 44:9-20 sometime. Wow! When I read words like that from God, I remember that we should treat Him with the absolute highest of respect, awe, and fear.

True, most of us in modern western society aren’t regularly tempted to form an idol with our hands and bow down to worship it. But, we still should be just as careful to keep more subtle versions of idolatry far from our hearts.  So often, we skate through life, flippantly rearranging priorities to fit our comforts, forgetting that nothing should ever take God’s place or fill a role He should have in our lives.  

Throughout the New Testament, we see the vastness of God’s power playing out in the Israelites’ story. As God is teaching them what it means to be His people, He uses strict rules to preserve their relationship and His glory. Some of the most serious laws are concerning the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant. God required holiness and reverence from anyone who would come near to His dwelling place. So when Israel began taking the Ark of the covenant into battle with them to ensure victory, wrath was imminent. They had lost their sense of awe of the presence of the Lord. Eventually, the Ark was captured by the Philistines, who consequently experienced seven months of plagues everywhere it went until they returned it to the Israelites.

Likewise, it is healthy to have a dose of reverence while imaging God through creativity. In scripture, we read about men like Solomon, Ezra and Paul realizing that God deserves the credit for anything we put our hands to (whether ministry or tasks; whether grand or modest). During Paul’s ministry and during the temple constructions of Solomon and Ezra, we see humble men who realize that success is only through the provision of God, and that as created beings we owe everything to our Maker!


5. Created and built things are not just for this world.

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” – Revelation 11:19 (ESV)

The fact that Revelation describes what seem to be tangible, real built objects and structures is so fascinating to me. Sometimes I wrongly think of design and artistic expression as something we superficial humans vainly place too much importance on.  But the fact that there are designed objects and buildings in Heaven makes me think that the way humans sensuously experience our environment is more of a soul thing than a body thing.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 (ESV)

So, as we seek to honor God through creativity, let’s recognizing His absolute magnificence as a designer on Earth and in Heaven.  As creative people who image Him, lets endeavor to make things worthy of a great God – things that display to the world that we serve a God of beauty and restoration. And let’s humble our hearts as we worshipfully work on His behalf, always giving credit to Him.

Resolve to Take More Pictures: How Photography Can Impact Your Ministry

If your work-week looks anything like mine, you usually spend one day planning, one day nailing down details, one day on the actual gathering, one day tying up loose ends, and one day devoted to a secondary ministry or supporting other areas of your church. If you’re lucky, you get an actual break for a couple of days until it starts all over again.  If you add to that a bunch of meetings, some crisis situations, and lots of relational investment, you often find yourself struggling just to do tasks that seem urgent and essential. Taking pictures during the busiest time of your week is probably never on your “essential tasks” list. But effectively utilizing photos of your ministry can save you a ton of time in the long-run as well as engage your students in an important way.

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THE IMPACT:

Imagine if all of your ministry’s website/social media posts got twice the traction.  Imagine if every slide you display during gatherings makes your students feel engaged, involved and like they belong.  Imagine if students and their friends come to expect a youthful, trendy environment that feels like their own. Imagine if creating media for your gathering is much quicker and easier.

That’s what you stand to gain with just a little work on the front end and some intention use of photography.

HOW:

Ask a volunteer  (a student who’s learning photography, a leader who’s good with a camera or any creative iPhone user) to take photos of your ministry in action. Set your photographer up for success by giving them clear direction before they start shooting. It’s a good idea to give them a shot list, some boundaries on when and where to shoot (without being distracting), and vision on the importance of their task. Minimize distractions by having them capture band and speaker photos during sound check and by giving them a volunteer badge or lanyard (if your ministry uses them).

WHEN:

Trips, events and special gatherings, right? Wrong! We are naturally inclined to take photos during special nights but usually those photos get used only once and then they are outdated.  Instead, focus on capturing photos of typical gatherings and recurring events. Refresh your stock of photos at least every 6 months. Then, whenever you are promoting or communicating about your ministry you have lots of current, relevant photos to choose from.

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WHAT:

You might also be tempted to take photos only of things happening on stage or up front.  But the most impactful, dynamic ministry moments are happening off stage.  Consider taking photos of the pre-gathering and post-gathering hangout times, small groups, prayer, games and your atmosphere (if there’s anything unique in the room that brands your ministry).

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Consider using your photos for elements in your gathering that could be more contextualized to your specific group.  Instead of a generic countdown video, make a countdown video of photos from your ministry. Use it once or twice in a gathering and then remove the countdown clock and post it to your youtube channel or website as a promo video for a typical gathering.

If you’re not a video editing master, there are some inexpensive websites that create dynamic videos with your content.

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WHO:

Students LOVE seeing themselves on screen, so make sure your photographer takes photos of a diverse mix of students – not just the popular ones, the band, or the pastor’s kid!

Now that you have a fresh stock of diverse images, use them for info walls, promo cards, social media/website posts, gathering slides, etc. This will make designing graphics that are impactful to your specific audience much quicker and easier.

10 simple ways to use media to engage your students

1. Keep it consistent.  Develop a theme, color scheme and a simple font (and maybe one or two secondary fonts that are more youthful) and keep using them for the entire school year or longer.  Think about a company with great branding.  They sometimes use the same fonts, colors, style and wording for decades.  Every time you produce a flyer, slide, video or something for your website or social media, it should have the same look and feel.  Spend some time on the front end developing a great brand and all of your design decisions for at least the next year are already made for you.

2. Documenting your ministry. Ask a student or volunteer who is good with a camera (or iPhone) to take pictures of a typical gathering. Keep that stock of images to pull from for info walls, promo cards, social media posts, website, announcement slides, etc. I do this about every 3-6 months which saves me so much time when I need a photo. Students feel included when they see you using a photo of them.  Animoto is a great website for creating dynamic photo videos for countdowns or event recaps.

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3. Produce stuff that will not BECOME DATED! Anytime you create a slide, flyer, or video, think about ways to make it usable multiple times. Sometimes it’s as simple as designing a single banner to say “next Saturday” for a monthly event or creating a video for an entire series rather than just for one message.

4. Keep your media “bite-sized”.  Teenagers, young adults, and pretty much anyone who uses a computer are getting more and more used to 10 second videos, 140 character tweets and articles that are written in list form. The shorter your media is, the more likely it is to be viewed and have the ability to impact the viewer.   We usually keep videos to 3 minutes or less and we bullet point posts to make them ideal for a quick scan.

5. ALWAYS add a picture to your post! Posting about an event you’re excited about? Add a photo of you and the team planning it or beginning to set up.  Stoked about a crazy video or skit that’s happening tonight in your gathering?  How about posting a photo teaser this afternoon of the video set or your costume?

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6. Photo shoots to promote. You could spend hours trying to design a promo card that’s going to look cool enough for students to hand out to their friends – one that is going to perfectly capture the mood, feel, and purpose of your upcoming event. But if you’re not a great designer (or maybe even if you are), think about whether a themed photo shoot or some funny memes might get more shares than your nicely designed and printed flyer.  Grab your most extroverted leader, a costume, some props and an iPhone, head to a youthful room in your church with lots of color and natural light and start snapping photos.

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7. The senior guy strategy.  If you have a wide range of ages in your ministry, always aim your theming towards the oldest male in the room.  If it’s cool enough for a senior guy, the 6th grade girl is probably going to like it too.  But aim for the 6th grade girl and the senior guy is going to feel like this is a gathering for little kids.

8. Nix Flyers forever.  Instead, consider attaching your info to something wearable, like a wristband, hawaiian lei, or a simple printed label that you stick to each student’s shoulder as they leave.

9. Switching live elements to a video can help you be more intentional about what you present to your students.  It can also give you so much more flexibility and help you with transitions in your gathering.  Kicking a gathering off with a video gives it a powerful start, gets your students quiet and seated, and sets the tone for the whole gathering.  We do an intro video at the beginning of almost every gathering.


10. Don’t be intimidated by video. A few quick tips can really help you elevate your video production quality.  For years we used iPhones and got great results, as long as we had the right lighting.  If you’re indoors, lots of natural light is ideal. Try to have light coming from 3 places (one from the right, one from the left, and one from behind to give some contour to hair and shoulders.)

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If you’re outdoors, overcast is best.  Use 2 camera angles for variety and so that you can switch from one angle to another when your communicator messes up.  Take the first half of their paragraph from camera angle 1 (take 1) and the second half from camera angle 2 (take 2) and it will look like it’s all one take. You can even fake a second angle by just switching between a zoomed in frame and a zoomed out frame.

About Design Worship

Have you ever gotten to the end of your work week and realized that several things on your to-do list have fallen through the cracks? Ever felt like there is always more ministry to do and never enough time?  Where do the production, design, video, and social media tasks fall on your priority list?

For many pastors of small churches, youth pastors, or over-taxed support staff or volunteers, branding your ministry is the last thing on your mind and your to-do list.  But in this blog, I will share with you why it should be the first (while still allowing time to accomplishing everything else on your plate).  That may sound impossible, but I’ll also share with you what years of experience on staff for a student ministry of a growing multi-site church has taught me about how to make the biggest impact with limited time and resources. Although my context is student ministry, many of these strategies will translate for pastors of small churches, leaders who are wearing a lot of hats, or anyone who is overseeing media and production of a church/ministry.

So, why should you care about media, design, and production? The reality for most people who walk through your doors, is that they are inundated with media from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep. Aren’t we all?  The way we process information has forever been shaped by the constant visual and audio stimulation we are accustomed to experiencing.  So when we decide how we want to share the gospel, create community, and set the atmosphere for people to worship and experience God, we would be missing the mark if we didn’t care deeply about how all of that is packaged and delivered to a overstimulated generation.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all suggestion that we should put on a performance each week. But, I am suggestion that we can use the creativity that our creative God has generously shared with us to make the experience of coming to church more engaging, authentically bring life to the words of scripture and help people feel included in their community in a way that displays the value and worth God has placed on them.