Since I’m currently involved in two different churches, delivering seven video sermons per month between the two, recording and producing them completely on my own, I’m making twice as many mistakes as most pastors when it comes to virtual preaching.
But I’m also learning twice as fast (I hope!)
By the grace of God, I had a few things in place before virtual church services and sermons became necessary:
- Just before the New Year I retired my beloved Blackberry (my third and likely final one) and got a Samsung S10. The camera on the new phone is better than any camera I have ever owned.
- I upgraded my webcam from the built in one on my laptop to an HD Logitech
- Because I was already podcasting and looking at doing more video tied to my Priority Pastor and DNA of a Christ Follower content, I had purchased two external mics for the S10- a lapel mic and a directional Rode Video Mic Me. (HUGE upgrade in sound!)
- I already had a USB mic for podcasting using my laptop and Audacity.
- I’m fairly tech and web-savvy, having done internet marketing and my own online products and courses
One significant gap in my preparedness for doing video sermons was and is that I am not a photographer, videographer, or even a remotely graphically inclined individual. In fact, I once took a Marketing DNA test which basically said “Stay away from graphics!” My bias is towards Words-Recorded, in contrast to Graphical or Live content. But, the fact that video sermons can be recorded, edited and tweaked before syndication has been a loophole for my graphic-free brain.
I share all the above as context for where I started when video sermons became a necessity. But please don’t overrate where I was- the shift to recording sermons was still huge and a little traumatic. However I think with a little direction any pastor, teacher, preacher can make the shift.
Cameras for Video Sermons
As mentioned above, I have a Samsung S10 phone. That has been my primary camera. My associate has an older Nikon D3200. At first he used the camera’s mic, which was surprisingly good, but then he ordered a lapel mic as well, which helped significantly.
In the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time researching cameras and have pretty much settled on the Sony a6400 as my next upgrade. The new Sony ZV-1 is a close contender, and its simplicity is very appealing, but I will likely go with the 6400 due to it’s wider range of lenses and accessories. (Update: I expect to have it in hand this week!)
At some point I will share in detail why I went with this camera. But the short story is that it is an ideal video production unit with a forward facing “flippy screen.”
Most newer smartphones will be adequate as far as video quality. The video quality on my phone was helped greatly by the addition of an inexpensive ND filter to darken the scene and allow me to follow the 180 degree rule of having a shutter speed 2x that of the frame rate without being overexposed. (For example, I shoot at 30fps which means my shutter speed should be 1/60 of a second.)
But audio is actually more important. Good video with bad audio will not be consumed; so-so video with good audio is acceptable. So whatever you choose to use, make sure you invest in some kind of external mic. The mic I am currently coveting is the Rode Wirelss GO.
Yes, I have discovered a whole new world of bright shiny objects and their associated temptations!
Preparing Video Sermons
Sermon preparation doesn’t vary greatly for physical or video sermons. However I do find myself thinking as much in terms of “scenes” as in “points.” And there are far more scenes than points.
When I preach I like to have one solid illustration or clusters of illustrations for every main point. But on video, I’m finding, from watching a lot of online speaking, that having multiple scenes- different angles, cropping or graphical content – can really help maintain interest in the reduced online attention span.
I would summarize it this way: Learn from vloggers as much as from preachers and other traditional speakers. This will affect your filming, content structure and overall length of the message.
Recording Video Sermons
Here’s where the learning curve has been for me!
The camera on my S10 was “good enough” so I started with that, and with the above mentioned external mics. I record at 1080p, though 720p is adequate for most situations. Some people will record in 4k but the files are massive and in my opinion the gain in quality is too incremental to make up for the added size and greatly increased processing time.
But no matter what recording equipment you have, lighting and set are going to be an issue.
I’ve purchased several supplemental lights for my sermon recording, most notably a mid-sized ring light and stand which I place on the opposite side of the dominant light in my filming location, usually a window. This prevents one side of my face from being all shadow and was a significant upgrade in quality. I’ve also picked up a couple small, multi-colour led’s and a couple larger, brighter white led’s. But I generally simply use the ring light and natural light. The led’s are generally employed as back lighting for video meetings or announcements which I record in my office.
My initial set was in my office, using my webcam, talking head style. Ugly.
First video sermon. Screen recorded using Camtasia and a webcam.
I improved a bit by moving to my living room. Bland. We also used my associate’s office since he had a nice scenic wall paper, and the church sanctuary, but I didn’t want to simply try to reproduce the Sunday look. However the platform at your church can be a good place to build a set and film, especially if you have good lighting.
Then I asked an interior decorator in the church to spruce it up a bit, added one of my colored back lights, and that smartened things up a lot.
The improved living room set. Plant, camera, block of wood, backlighting.
But, I have since become very taken with filming outdoors, especially since it’s summer and especially since we have an ideal, scenic location which includes a rugged cross., as seen in the picture at the top of the page. Note sure how this will work come winter!
It’s far easier to ensure good lighting, especially if you are in a treed area. And the set is second to none.
One big difference in pre-recording a message versus preaching live is that you can pause, review your notes, change locations and continue filming. This of course isn’t the case in a livestream situation, but at present I am prerecording everything and will do so as long as it makes sense. I’m one of those people in no hurry to go back to full physical meetings; the risk to our older folks is not worth it, and the gains from meeting physically and livestreaming are minimal. (We’re looking at opening up the church for people to come and view the livestream at service time, allowing for more interaction, but do not plan to do live preaching or music until we can provide a better gathering than the pre-recorded. The line is probably at the point where we can sing out loud safely.
Editing Video Sermons
Camtasia Studio has been my go-to editor for more than a decade, since my early days as an internet marketer. It is a screen recorder and a passable video editor. In the past I used Sony Vegas but Camtasia was simpler to use and did all that I needed. Now that I’m recording and producing video sermons, it is still serving me well.
I think Camtasia, which works on either PC’s or Macs, or the free iMovie are probably adequate for most video sermon editing initially. FinalCut and Screenflow are paid program for Macs that many people use. There is also Adobe Premier and the quite functional free DaVinci Resolve, which also has a paid upgrade. But at this point I am doing okay with Camtasia.
The thing to note about editing sermons is that it takes time. More than you might think, especially to do it well. The way you do your filming can reduce editing time, as can the amount of text and graphics you add, but the point of editing is not to rush but to make the final version as effective as possible. I like to see something change on the screen at least every minute. This is not necessarily a full scene change but at least some text on the screen or a zoom in our out on the speaker. Movies have scene changes roughly every 2-3 minutes.
Video editing is an entire field in itself and there are a raft of channels and videos on YouTube to give you what you need to know how to edit videos. If you are in a larger church with the right staff or have capable volunteers then you might want to farm out your editing, though initially I’d suggest you ensure that the edit captures the intent of your message and your own personal flavour.
Producing Video Sermons
What I mean by “producing” is the point at which you are done editing and tell the software to generate all the pieces of content into the final video.
This can take a while depending on the resolution of the video, its length and its production settings. There are too many production variables with the various software options to get into specifics here, but you generally want to produce at a middle quality level at whatever resolution in which your recorded the sermon.
Initially, my old Dell laptop, which despite having an i7 cpu is quite old, took about 90 seconds to produce each minute of video. My new machine, a Dell desktop XPS which I configured to be adequate and upgradable but not currently cutting edge, takes about 30 seconds for each minute of video. Oh, and I was using 720p footage on the old machine and am now doing 1080p on the new. So a huge gain in speed.
The other benefit of the desktop is that my laptop is now free to work while videos are being processed and uploaded.
Hosting Video Sermons
Do not host the sermon videos on your church website.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t show them on your site, it simply means that the files are hosted elsewhere and streamed through your site. The reason for this is that the video files will quickly fill up your hosting account and will also stream more slowly, in most cases than from a proper host.
Some churches use YouTube, which is free. This is adequate but less than ideal since you cannot prevent a list of other videos from popping up as suggestions after your video has played. Yes, this is true even if you are playing it on your site.
Vimeo is a very reasonably priced alternative and gives greater customization in how your present your videos. This is what I use for the videos I host on my site (though I may occasionally insert a YouTube video) and what I’m using in the church I’m currently serving.
I plan to update this post based on new developments, learnings and questions I receive about video sermons. Feel free to contact me with your questions, corrections, ideas and best practices.