How Video Helps Missionaries and Churches Stay Connected
By Bob Smietana
Missionaries Gary and Mary Lou Sander made their first attempt at high-tech communication with a church back in the 1990s.
The church wanted them to make a guest appearance in a Sunday worship service. The Sanders, who were serving in South America, made an overseas call to the church, and the tech staff piped the call into the sanctuary.
It was a great idea. But it didn’t work so well.
“The technology wasn’t there yet,” says Sander, who has been a missionary with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Colombia for the past three decades. “It was impossible to hear on their end.”
Fortunately, technology has come a long way in recent years. Today, the Sanders have used video connections to visit with churches long distance during conferences, church services, and even training sessions for mission teams.
They see it as a great way to harness modern technology to bring missionaries and churches closer together. Missionaries can use video to help raise support for their work, inspire others to follow in their footsteps, and keep them connected with their home church from the other side of the world.
Easier than you might think
With smartphones and apps like Skype or FaceTime, almost any church can use video to connect with missionaries, says Sander.
And having a real-time conversation can help missionaries and churches work more closely together.
Several years ago, for example, the Sanders spoke by video with a church that was thinking of going on a mission trip. One church member, who had grown up in a missionary family, wanted to organize a trip to Colombia to work with the Sanders.
But he wanted to see if the rest the church would buy in—rather than organizing the trip on his own.
He arranged for the Sanders to connect with the church during a service via video. The missionaries described their work for a few minutes and church members had a chance to ask questions.
Not long afterward, the church decided to go ahead with the trip. Having a conversation with the Sanders ahead of time helped the congregation get on board.
The Sanders then chatted with mission team members during some of their training. They were able to go over the details of the work—and get to know each other ahead of time. When the team arrived in Colombia, they were ready to get to work.
“It really worked out well,” says Sander.
A personal touch
Susan and Mark*, missionaries who do pastoral care for missionaries serving in difficult circumstances overseas, have used video to keep in contact with their home church in the United States for about a decade.
They have sent prerecorded videos about their work to keep their home church informed. The couple has also called into the church’s annual meeting to give the congregation an update on their ministry.
“They did an interview and we got to say hello to everyone,” says Susan. “That was fun.”
Their home church also assigned a liaison that checked in with Susan and Mark on a regular basis, often by a video.
Missionaries often feel cut off from fellow church members back home. Having regular contact with their home church by video has been a big help, says Susan.
Having real-time, face-to-face conversations by video has helped Susan and Mark feel supported by their home church. They know what’s going on back home—and feel part of the congregation, even from afar.
“When we come back, we feel less like strangers,” says Susan. “It still feels like home.”
Real-time conversations also can help churches and missionaries build a sense of partnership. Rather than emailing back and forth, the missionary can have a back and forth dialogue with their church. Seeing someone on video makes it easier to build a relationship, says Mark.
Susan also tries to keep in touch by Facebook and social media. But that has its limits. They have to be careful about what they post because of security concerns. And Facebook isn’t always the right place to have an honest conversation.
At times, churches will follow missionaries on Facebook and assume they are keeping in touch, says Mark. Social media is no substitute for direct contact.
Missions in worship
In addition to live streaming conversations with missionaries during a worship service, churches can also use other forms of video to make missions come alive.
As cell phones become more sophisticated, it’s easier for churches to get “crowd-sourced” mission videos direct from the field.
Consider having missionaries send in short prerecorded videos to be shown in services. It could be an update on the missionary’s work, a brief reflection on a Scripture passage, or video of a worship service overseas.
A church in Oklahoma recently showed a video of mission work that was filmed entirely by missionaries in dozens of locations. Missionaries sent their videos to the church and an editor in the U.S stitched them together.
Video is a great way to remind your congregation of the global impact your church is making by supporting missions around the globe.
- Remember the time zone changes. Check out the local time zone for missionaries before setting up a video conference call. Otherwise, you might be asking someone to meet at two o’clock in the morning.
- Be careful about security. Some countries are less than friendly to missionaries and so Christian workers there have to be careful. Make sure the video conferencing software has good security protocols. Some suggestions: Skype for Business and Zoom, both of which use encrypted data. Steer clear of FaceTime and Facebook Messenger when there are security concerns.
- Be flexible. In some parts of the world, power and internet access aren’t always reliable. Be prepared for a bad connection—or that a planned meeting might not work out.
- Call ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to connect with the missionary during a service or meeting. Set up the connection ahead of time so there’s no last-minute scrambling.
Tips for filming missions videos:
- Record in landscape mode (wide not tall).
- Walk through the mission space/location and capture the activities going on there.
- Remember to explain what people are seeing.
- Try to stick close to people and activities—stay within 20 feet.
- Get candid moments with people, not set up shots.
- Identify one key story that is emblematic of the mission project. This could be a person who was blessed by the mission trip, someone local to the mission location whose life was changed, or some way God made something possible.
- Change the camera’s recording settings to 4K and 24 FPS.
- If you’re asking the missionary to film a short video, send specific instructions of the kinds of images or information you’re looking for.
* First names only are being used for security reasons.
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.