Lights, Camera-Barna?

by Terry Wilhite

George Barna, who for more than 20 years has been the ministry community's researcher, in early April made one of his most significant announcements—this time not about the church but about his own organization. In essentially one major sweep, Barna downsized his organization (going from 100 employees to eight) and reorganized it in order to establish the largest consortium of film, video, and multimedia companies to ever serve pastors and worship leaders. 

"We have assembled the largest single collection of film clips, loops, and montages available anywhere in the church world—more than 10,000 in all, plus more than 5,000 stills. Along the way, we have brought onboard as partners some of the most trusted names in Christian media: EMI Records, Tyndale House, Church Communication Network (CCN), Hollywood Jesus, Kingdom Inc., OnCore Marketing Group, and others," he announced.

BarnaFilms' Website, www.barnafilms.com was still a work in progress at this writing, but it appears the intention is to make available the complete multimedia and still repertoire via the Internet by this summer (2005). My take is that George Barna is about to do for ministry what Steve Jobs (Apple Computer's CEO) has done for music connoisseurs with iTunes.

Barna's vision certainly shores up several major weaknesses. One, it has been extremely difficult to find a good variety of audio-visual resources suitable for ministry at a decent price. Second, the delivery mechanism has been "snail mail" or overnight at a whopper price, not digitally-delivered, as Barna has planned. As you know, when you need material, you need it quickly. If Barna can make the licensing process easier and more affordable, he'll have even more takers. (For more information on copyright permission, see Christian Video Licensing International, www.cvli.org.)

Barna says his move comes after enormous personal frustration that the church lacks influence in today's culture, and further, the church hasn't been able to respond to research and remobilize, based upon the findings.

"Our research has shown that most of the influence on what people think and do comes from just seven sources: movies, television, music, family, books, law, and the Internet. That same body of research shows that the local church has virtually no discernible influence on people's lives. Consequently, we are striving to understand, influence, and operate within the spheres of greatest influence to help facilitate genuine spiritual transformation in people's lives," Barna says.

I'm convinced that multimedia is, indeed, the "language of the culture." Further, I believe that the only reason we have the desire to seek out good multimedia material in the first place is because it's based on the idea of story-telling, one of the chief ways our Creator has "wired" us to communicate.

With all that said, it may come as a surprise that I believe pastors should tread with major caution in using multimedia material in general and secular video movie clips specifically. We will have failed miserably if we become nothing more than an extension of the local cinema with a Christian "bent." Our call is to be sanctified—set apart. Yet we are commissioned to go, to share the Good News. Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, is a great example that it can be done well and electronically, in our day and age.

But can we Christian communicators be culturally relevant, speak the "language" of the day, yet not violate "sacred space"? Absolutely. But it's easier said than done, and providing such direction and counsel, I think, is as important as providing the materials themselves. It appears Barna agrees.

"Our goal is to help churches and other ministries advance authentic worship, a biblical worldview, and family-driven faith experiences through compelling combinations of stories, visual arts and music," he says.

Resources such as the The King James Version Complete Bible on DVD, narrated by Stephen Johnston, can help pastors and church leaders. Sunday school teachers, for example, can easily use it to steer themselves and their students through hard-to-read Bible passages. It's a low-cost, high-value resource that can help prevent "death by lecture" in the classroom, and help you study the Word during your quiet time. See www.biblesondvd.com for information on additional translations.

If you're in need of resources not currently available at BarnaFilms, you can find good, "old-fashioned" sermon illustrations and modern video clips at www.sermonspice.com, or a large offering of clips-ready-to-use at www.screenvue.com. The company also offers the precise "time code" parameters where poignant points for ministry are conveyed in secular movies.

But again, when it comes to multimedia in ministry, I suggest we borrow and slightly tweak a line from television: "Pre-viewer discretion is advised."

             Terry Wilhite is a music and multimedia specialist and author of the DVD 7 Habits of Highly Effective Multimedia Teams. Visit his Website at www.terrywilhite.com. He also welcomes your feedback at pastors@terrywilhite.com

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