Northland Church describes itself as “A Church Distributed.” Given its multiple locations across Central Florida, its Internet campus, its various partnerships both home and abroad, the breadth of resources available via the church’s website, and the 100 or so staff members listed on its Staff page, that description seems to suit Northland well. And when Erwin McManus, the subject of one of our feature stories, mentioned to us that he is inspired by the ways in which Northland uses media and technology, we had to investigate for ourselves.
Nathan Clark, Creative Director, Communications Department
COLLIDE: How has Northland used the website as a gateway to the church? What is the purpose of posting audio and video of the sermons to the website?
Nathan Clark: One of the primary functions of our website is to serve as a resource center for both our congregation and the church worldwide. We post weekly sermon audio and video as an extension of that view. But there are a number of other ways our web philosophy is evident. Every week our children’s team produces a wealth of materials for our kids’ church. There are crafts, songs, lessons, and even occasional videos. Every week those materials are posted on one of our websites for free. Those materials are translated by our partner churches, and then also put on our site for free. We’re able to take lessons we’d use once and deepen our relationship with our church partners by sharing a common children’s curriculum. We also get to provide free materials to other churches looking for a comprehensive children’s program.
We feel a specific call to provide that sort of support by extending the materials we’re already creating for our congregation to platforms where others can use those materials, and the Web is one of the simplest ways to achieve that.
Marty Taylor, Creative Media Director
COLLIDE: In what ways does Northland use media and technology in its services?
Marty Taylor: Each week, our worship service is focused on a different attribute of God that connects to the message being taught. All that we do in the service, be it with music, technology, or otherwise, revolves around that attribute.
Typically, we create visual video treatments for every song in the service. These are kind of like mini-music videos that not only provide the lyric support but help connect the worshiper visually to what they are hearing and singing.
We utilize a lot of original content, classic and modern works of art, and moving, fluid presentations of the lyrics themselves to draw the viewer into what and whom they are singing about. All of these videos are created in advance and kept in time with the music by a Digital Performer system on stage.
The same approach holds true in our lighting and audio as well. It is always approached with specific purpose beyond just the target of quality presentation. Success for us is creating a very purposeful environment centered around the attribute of God that we are focusing on that weekend.
We put elements like virtual room acoustics, surround sound, digital lighting instruments, and other tools in our new facility to help us create these environments. This purposeful approach to worship and technology is really what drew me to Northland, first as an attendee and then as a staff member.
There are also practical approaches to our use of technology. We have three other venues beyond our original campus. These locations are not just receiving a sermon via video. They are fully connected live for the entire service with video and multiple streams of audio going to and coming from each site.
All four sites are singing the same music and participating in worship together at the same time. Various elements of the service are coming from different locations and being sent to all the others. We may have the music from one location, the sermon from another, and the welcome or closing prayer coming from another.
This is, obviously, a massive technical undertaking to manage and execute, but the result is seeing all our congregants worshiping together, despite being miles and miles away from each other. We have also done this type of concurrent service with some partner churches in Egypt, Ukraine, and Namibia.
Our Internet campus is seeing thousands of people from all over the world worshiping online with us each week. One of our big goals now is to find ways for them to interact with us live and actually contribute to the corporate worship expression. We use chat functions to allow them to offer prayer requests, stories of encouragement, scriptures, etc. that we will interject live into our services.
COLLIDE: Is there any wisdom you would like to share with other churches using media and technology?
Taylor: It is a common experience for us to have visitors from other churches. Usually they experience a service and get excited about creative possibilities for their own church, but then become discouraged when they see the technology and cost behind what we do.
I then take them out the back door of the tech center to a room originally designed to be a closet. In this small room sits a desk with a single Mac computer and some video editing software.
We spent millions of dollars on a system that routes audio and video signal to dozens of destinations, but it means very little without the content that comes out of that little computer that only cost a couple thousand dollars.
All great visual expressions of worship begin with a heart longing after God and an idea—the content is everything. The technology tools are meaningless apart from the person who employs it. The end product is what happens when the soul is engaged and hands and feet are put into motion with that tool (whatever it may be) to produce something that reflects the true, the good, and the beautiful.
You miss the point if you let the tools you have (or don’t have) define your boundaries.
To find out more about Northland Church visit www.northlandchurch.net.