Short-Form Video Strategy and Tactics for Churches
Recognizing the difference between strategies and tactics and why you need both to succeed.
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This week, I am wrapping up several weeks of writing about short-form video for churches by talking about how churches can get engaged in short-form video content. Last week I wrote about the bottlenecks that churches will face in getting involved with short form video, and this week I want to give a general overview of the strategies and tactics that churches should consider if they’re going to begin making institutional short-form video. As a bonus for this piece, I am also extending an exclusive invite to the first preview for Mending Division Academy, the project that I have been producing for the past several months with American Values Coalition.
Read this before you continue
Before you continue on in this piece, I want you to stop and read this excellent breakdown of the difference between strategy and tactics. Much of what I am going to say in this piece assumes that you have a basic grasp of the difference between the two concepts. “Strategy” and “tactics” sound interchangeable and are often used interchangeably in everyday language, but the two could not be more different from one another. They compliment and reinforce each other, but they are not the same thing!
Read the piece? Good! Let’s keep going.
Thinking About Short-form Video Strategy for Churches
The whole point of this series has been to sound the alarm that churches are about to have a hard time with social media. The playing field that we have taken for granted for the past decade is going away, and this new playing field puts churches at an extreme disadvantage. If churches are going to continue playin on this new short-form video playing field, they’re going to need to press pause on “doing” their social media so they can begin “planning” on how they’ll adapt - or if they want to even adapt at all.
Churches need to strongly consider two particular “strategy” questions from the list in the article: 1) why, and 2) long time frame. Before churches commit any time, energy, or resources to short-form video, they need to be able to have a clear vision of “why” they’re wanting to get involved in short-form video. Unfortunately, I suspect that many church leaders will reflectively answer “to promote our church” or “to tell people about what we have going on” - neither of those will work as strategies. You must understand the current playing field before you can understand why you’d want to go play on it.
The other thing that churches ought to strongly consider is that investing in short-form video is a long-term commitment. Just like with Facebook and Instagram, once you commit to being present in that space, you’re in it for the long haul. Once you begin making short-form video content, you’ll need to expect that it might take some time before you see any meaningful fruit from it, and if you happen to gain some traction with your work, you’ll feel the pressure to keep going just like you did with Facebook and Instagram all those years ago.
This leads to a very vital point I want to make: if you cannot come up with a clear “why”, or the thought of investing in short-form video long term scares you, don’t do it.
When I was researching other local churches to see what they were doing on TikTok and Instagram reels, I found countless churches that started something and then gave up on it, and it looked much worse than the churches who didn’t attempt it at all. In the absence of a clear “why” and a willingness to stick with something for the long haul, it is better to not make any short-form content at all than to begrudgingly make content and fizzle out.
But there is even more good news here: even if institutional short-form video as a church isn’t worth the church’s time and effort, there is nothing stopping you from becoming an influencer-evangelist on your own time. You don’t need to worry about impugning your church’s branding or reputation, or turning your work into some measurable justification for attendance/giving/downloads/whatever for your elder board or personnel committee. You can get involved in short form video as an individual evangelistic effort and let any institutional benefits be secondary as you teach Scripture and answer tough questions about the faith.
But let’s assume that your church has a clear “why” and is down to make short-form video content for the long haul. You have the people, resources, and time to invest in this work. Tactically, how can you pull this off?
Thinking About Short-Form Video Tactics for Churches
Covering all the tactics that go into short-form video success is not something I couple possibly cover in a Substack piece. To truly know what works, you have to be able to intuitively “get it” as a short-form video consumer; you’ll learn “how” to be “doing” short form video by watching it yourself. Nobody could possibly cover how to do that well in a text post.
That said, there are some tactical considerations that you can think about in the planning process - as you create your strategy, you can plan for some of your tactics. Here are a few worth planning for:
Tactic 1: Create a content calendar
It doesn’t matter where you make it, but create a shareable content calendar that anyone involved with making short-form content can see and have access to. Don’t just wake up one day and decide “what am I going to do this week?”; plan in advance how many videos you’re going to make and what they’re going to be about.
If you’re working with multiple people, assign clear roles, responsibilities and deadlines for each person. If you’re able to pick up a subscription to Monday.com phenomenal work management suite, that will transform not just your media work, but likely your other processes in your church as well.
Tactic 2: Plan each video by planning how the video starts.
When your video is served up into someone’s feed, you have two windows of time to get someone interested in watching the entire video: the immediate, instantaneous first-second sights/sound/text of the video, and then the next five-ten seconds afterwards. What happens in seconds 11-240 is irrelevant if second 1 and seconds 2-10 do not generate enough interest to make people want to watch. This doesn’t mean that you can’t plan what the video is about, but build what the video is about around how the video starts.
Experiment with text in your initial second and first five seconds. Instead of audibly asking the question, consider having the question be in text, or some other kind of statement. This way, you’re front-loading that initial second with both the subject of the video and not wasting any time launching into your material.
Focusing on how the video starts will help you determine the video’s thumbnail for people who come to your page looking for more videos. Build your thumbnail around that initial first second of the video as you’re planning it.
Tactic 3: Save personal information/church information for the end of the video.
Don’t treat these like you would a Sunday morning announcement! On TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram, nobody knows who you are, and nobody cares what your role at some church is. They’re watching your video to be entertained and/or informed, not so somebody across the country can find out the service times of a church a thousand miles away. Instead, use your personal information and church information as the cherry-on-top for whoever watches through to the end - if a viewer is in a certain city or area, they can personally get connected to one of the creators they’re watching.
Yes, that is vastly different from how we talk about our churches in our institutional roles, but that is the playing field for short form video. If you want to play the game, learn to play it well.
If you intend to include a plug for your church near the end of your video, consider the music that you use in the video, and make sure it doesn’t clash with the tone and tenor of your video. If you hope that someone sees your video and is able to check out your church, make the feel of the video warm and inviting and have the music reinforce that.
Tactic 4: Reply to comments, but do not feed the trolls.
If you get a comment or reply to your video, respond quickly and positively, even if just to say “Thank you” or something else simple. You do not need to reply in-depth to every comment, but . The exception, of course, is trolls - delete their messages or ignore them. The most loving thing you can do to a troll is to starve them for the attention that they desperately crave.
If someone asks a good question in the comments, use that as a template for another video. All forms of audience engagement will boost your performance and exposure, but high-level audience engagement like making a video in response to a viewer’s question will do wonders for your presence.
Tactic 5: Watch other short-form video creators and pay attention to things they do well.
Nobody has a monopoly on good short form video content ideas or tactics. Pay attention to what others are doing, and if they’re doing something that you can adopt and use yourself, do it! Be a student of those who are successful and learn from their successes - if its something that fits with you and your church.
Research your hashtags well. Hashtags are not new to social media, but there is no question that they’ve taken off to new heights with short-form video. Research your hashtags and plan them well for your video captions.
Don’t chase trends. Trends will come and go and chasing a trend may get you views, but not an audience. Do your own thing, and over time those that are interested in your thing will find you and begin watching you.
Now, notice that all of these tactics are things that you do in executing the strategy that you have. These tactics are not a strategy! Even if you adopted all these and other best-practice tactics for short form video, these cannot answer “why” you’re doing short-form video as a church, much less give you the vision and drive to stick with short-form video for the long haul. These exist on top of an existing strategy, not in lieu of one.
I want to end this post (and, in a way, this series) with an axiom that I often use with the students in my church. It is relevant to many habits and spiritual disciplines, and it is relative to this subject as well: the only way to get good at something is to do it badly for a while so you can learn how to do it well. Even if you have a media background (as I do), short form video will not come naturally or easy to you if you’ve just now dipping your toes in the water. Your first videos are probably not going to be great at first, and that’s okay. If you have a solid conviction of why you’re doing this and a willingness to stick with it for the long haul, your videos will get better. I cannot guarantee that you will actually see success with your work, but I hope that everything I have laid out over these posts will give you the best odds of success that I could give you.
Mending Division Academy Preview on Thursday, Feb 23rd at 1PM CST
As the producer and director of Mending Division Academy, I am excited to share that we will be having an exclusive sneak-peak of Mending Division Academy next Thursday, February 23rd at 1PM CST. This will be a free preview to anyone who attends, and not only will we have some footage to show of one of the six (!) courses MDA will launch with, you will be able to meet and interact with some of the speakers as well.
If you’re invested in attending, visit the MDA website and sign up for email updates on the landing page. We will be sending out registration and invites via email next week. I would love the chance to be able to connect with anyone who is reading this and show them what we are working on!
Substack Chat for This Week: Your Church’s Plans for Short-Form Video
Thanks for reading Passing Through Digital Babylon. Next week’s piece is going to be a fun one-off that I’ve wanted to write for a while now, and then the week after that Passing Through Digital Babylon will (hopefully!) get a small makeover as I resume writing on how the story of the exile in the Old Testament has so much to say to us living in Digital Babylon today.
For this week’s Substack Chat, I want to know: what are your plans for short-form video in your church? Are you going to make an attempt to go all-in, or are you going to use this seismic shift in the social media landscape as an opportunity to withdraw and spend your time and attention elsewhere? I am curious to hear from other churches what they plan to do, and if there’s anything I could do to help, I’d be more than happy to!
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