The Bottlenecks for Churches on Short-Form Video
Working on a new media project sounds great until you sit down and begin to count the cost(s) and challenge(s) you'll encounter along the way.
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For this week’s newsletter, I had intended to do what a reader suggested in my Substack chat several weeks ago and begin detailing a blueprint for how churches could do short form video effectively through their institutional social media accounts. This is a natural follow-up to my recent piece on “4 social media shifts the church should know about” and my extended commentary on each of those four shifts:
The cumulative takeaway from these four pieces is that we are entering the Second Age of Social Media, and not only will it look radically different from social media as we’ve taken for granted for the past decade, churches are going to get hit especially hard by it. While churches are not without options on how to respond to this, the playing field will be overwhelmingly stacked against institutional social media strategies, which has been the norm of the church social media world for the past 10 years.
Originally, I had planned to outline how churches could do short form video in this new state and potentially with some success. However, as I started writing that piece, I quickly realized that there was a giant elephant in the room that I needed to write about before I could get to that point: bottlenecks. Specifically, the kind of bottlenecks that churches could face when it comes to doing short form video consistently - and well.
Part of the reason why I needed to write this piece first because much of my writing over the past several months has been based on things going on in my immediate ministry context. Historically, bottlenecks are one of the largest issues that I face and have derailed multiple projects and endeavors for me in the past. In fact, this past week I did an honest assessment of all the projects that are going on in the coming months and realized that doing short form video for my church was not the right call to make right now - the bottlenecks were too powerful at this particular moment. Instead of working on short form video content this Spring like I was planning, I realized that I needed to delay this to a later period of time where those bottlenecks would not be as powerful.
But I am getting ahead of myself. What exactly is a “bottleneck”?
What is a Bottleneck?
In this super clear and helpful piece, Asana defines a “bottleneck” as
“a point of congestion in your project that causes delays in the workflow. Bottlenecks…reduce the pace of the project due to limited capacity.”1
For churches that want to begin making short form video, there are multiple points of congestion that can not only slow this endeavor down, but bring it to a grinding halt, causing burnout or other problems along the way. For churches to be able to do short form video well, they will need to be able to clearly see the type of bottlenecks involved with short-form video and whether they have the resources to clear it, whether its manpower, time, or several other bottlenecks we will.
I want to start here because I know full well that there is always an insane burst of enthusiasm and energy at the start of a new creative endeavor, or at the thought of undertaking a new creative project. What that initial enthusiasm often overlooks or downplays are the bottlenecks that may slow the project down or threaten its success. While many churches are often acutely aware of their limited capacities when it comes to finances or manpower, being aware of those limited capacities when it comes to media and creative endeavors can often be more nebulous and hard to grasp - until you’re in the weeds of something and realized you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
Thinking of a bottleneck as a “limited capacity” is a helpful starting point, but it immediately raises a follow-up question: “limited capacity” relative to what? What kind of “limited capacity” counts as a bottleneck?
The short answer is: anything, really. Limited capacity can come in many shapes and sizes. However, there are several large “buckets” of types of limited capacity that we can start with first. Here are the major limiting factors individuals or institutions can face both with creative media projects in general, and short-form video specifically. Do you have the:
Time: Do you have the time to plan videos, set up a space to film videos, edit your videos (by far the most time consuming step), publish your video, and more? How many hours do you estimate this will take you? Take that estimate and double it - this new number is likely more accurate. Do you have those kind of hours to spare in your work week? Are those hours that you ought to be spending on other more important ministry work? What will you have to give up to make room for that time, and compared to short-form video, is that sacrifice worth it?
Energy: Do you have the energy to commit to regular sprints of creative planning, filming, editing, publishing, over and over again? This is not a one-and-done process. Physical health is a critical, but often overlooked, factor here as well.
Manpower: Are you going to be doing all this work by yourself? Do you have a creative team or some volunteers that you can delegate some of this work to, or are you going to be solely responsible for every step of the process from start to finish? These first three limiting factors - time, energy, and manpower - are likely the three most critical limiting factors that you can consider, and a deficit in one often creates deficits in the others.
Mental bandwidth: Do you have the mental space to constantly be thinking of ways to be creative or how you’re going to make new videos? Do you have the mental energy to be able to deal with comments (both good and bad) from viewers? Do you have the mental momentum to push through insecurities and doubts about the quality of your work?
Strategic Clarity: Do you have a clear grasp of why you’re wanting to do this, and the kind of outcomes you hope to see along the way? Or are you doing this because you feel this ambiguous pressure to “do something” or a shade of “keeping up with the church down the street”? Your church plays a specific role in the body of Christ and has been gifted by God to go into your community in unique ways, and short form video may not be one of them!
Creative Skills: Do you have basic competencies in lighting, shot composition, audio recording, editing (notice that editing is a recurring theme here!), captioning, and a whole host of other short-form video skills? Generalists, or those who have basic competencies in multiple skillsets, do much better on short form video than specialists who are masters in fewer disciplines.
Technological resources: What tools do you have to make these videos with? Yes, the barrier to entry with short form video is the phone in your pocket, but just because you can get away with your five year old phone and your stock Apple earbuds doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to raise the bar as much as you’re able to.
Spiritual stamina: How is your soul? How is your relationship with the Lord? How is your prayer life, your family life, your work life? Though we talk about short form video as a type of creative media endeavor, the entire Christian life takes place amid a fierce spiritual battle, and short-form video will not be exempt from that. Are there trials you and your church are facing that require additional time spent in prayer, worship, and rest instead of adding another plate to spin in your ministry?
My hope is that as you read through this list, you were able to identify some potential or existing bottlenecks that you face in your ministry. To be clear: every ministry is going to have bottlenecks of some kind, and with the proper diligence, the restrictive impacts of those bottlenecks can be minimized. However, if several items on this list are examples of limited capacity for you and your church (or one of them is an overwhelming problem), you ought to consider putting a pin in investing in short form video as a church for the time being. You’re not punting the ball permanently, but you are recognizing that your limited capacity will not only prevent you from doing short-form video well, but adding short-form video to your slate will eat into your ability to do your other ministry work well. There may come a season where you can invest in this, but today is not that season.
Even though I’ve written a lot about short-form video over the past couple of months, I want to stress and emphasize that while this is a good thing that churches can invest in, it is not a necessary thing that every church must invest in. I stubbornly reject one-sized-fits-all social media strategies, and I stubbornly reject the idea that every-church-ought-to-be-doing-media-thing-X. Some aspects of the church are universal - the faithful preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the humble exercise of church discipline being the three marks of an authentic church. Outside of that, the specific ministries of each church ought to be entirely dependent on where that church is what God has gifted that church to do. Some churches will be gifted with the ability to do short-form video well, and churches that cannot should not feel as though they are failing in any way. Not every part of the body of Christ is a hand holding a camera in their face.
Substack Chat for This Week: The Bottlenecks In Your Life and Work
Thanks for reading Passing Through Digital Babylon. For next’s week’s piece, I am going to build off this piece by sketching some tactics for churches to consider when they’re doing short form video, which will hopefully be useful for any church regardless of what their specific strategy is. After next week, I am going to move away from writing about social media and short-form video to go back to writing about Digital Babylon, which is what this Substack was conceived on.
For this week’s Substack Chat, I want to know: what are the bottlenecks you’re facing in your life and work? The more time I spend with Substack the more I’ve come to love its culture and pro-writing atmosphere, so I’m always looking for new things to read! Link your favorite pieces and I’ll check them out!
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