Watch out mega-churches, video sermons have a new frontier!
Essentials speaks with Joel Kettleton
about pioneering something new in a digital era.  Joel Kettleton and his wife Kristina


I’m the rector of the Anglican Parish of Sorell, Richmond & Tasman in the south-east of Tasmania. I’ve been here for eight years, initially as a curate then a locum and now the Senior Minister for the last five years. My context is a combined parish that has been joined together in some form for 130 years and we have a mixture of small congregations as well as larger ones. We meet in convict built buildings with small isolated congregations as well as a growing new church plant in a satellite suburb of Hobart. From top to bottom I have to cover 120 kilometres. A typical Sunday is that I’ll be at one service in the morning and one service in the afternoon but we have concurrent services happening in other places at the same time.


There is a big challenge of having good preaching that is consistent at each service every week. We have people who are able to help run services but they are not able or willing to preach.

I have the challenge of juggling many things at the same time. None of the congregations are the same but each has a unique identity and rhythm to their worship life. This makes it hard to manage the whole parish and use our limited time well. The question we have to keep asking is how do we grow a healthy church in each place, whether it’s a congregation of 5 or 50. We really want to identify people’s gifts and mobilise them for ministry so that they are confident disciples. We want them to be sharing their faith and making disciples themselves. This is really difficult when there’s 5 and you don’t live in the area and you’re not even there each week.


I wanted to be able to multiply the delivery of messages. Having seen large churches like City on a Hill do this across large congregations made me think this made sense to do this in smaller remote congregations as well. In places where I could train people to run church services but I couldn’t train preachers I’d rather have our local content that we were working on together delivered by video than just buying sermons off the shelf. When you buy or use someone else’s videos it’s not personal so when we’re talking about pastoring and preaching to your congregation that’s a big problem. Many videos are made for another cultural context so it can be hard for people to connect, they are like “yes, we’re just watching a video”. But there’s a real pastoral connection when we can make videos and preach to our congregation when we’ve got their feedback, when we’ve incorporated their story into the content. When we use b-roll from their location, it makes them feel like they’re part of the sermon.


I watched a lot of youtube! Even the simplicity and effectiveness of video calling supports this. If such a simple thing could be done in a way that it is presented well, the technology is there now to be able to do that easily. I made my own youtube channel making music and car related videos and this helped me learn about the equipment and the craft of basic videography and content creation. I then spent a lot of time learning how to produce videos and once I’d done that it was a simple thing to combine video creation with preaching.


I have a high threshold for failure. I didn’t know anything about lighting since I didn’t come from a photography background, so just used gear that I had. I learnt that it has to be short, no more than 10 mins unless it’s excellent and has different sections in it since our attention span on screen is very different to being in person. I learnt a lot about looking into the camera to engage with people, simple things that people who make videos know but takes some effort to turn it into a habit when you’re starting out. 

I wanted to include the words of scripture on the screen so I spent a lot of time listening to feedback about how it didn’t quite work out, it was either too short or too long. It was interesting to find out about how people listen and read in different ways. 

I wasn’t coached through any of this by an experienced content creator and if I had other people around me and been able to do a course this would have changed how quickly it was improved. However, it gave us a big opportunity to pastorally connect with the people I was making this for over the idea and work on it together. If they didn’t like the colour of the background they’d tell me, they said that it hurt their eyes. If they didn’t like the quality of the sound then I needed to change the sound setup and use a lapel mic. In a way, each of these failures was a win because we could collaborate on it and work together. In my context and especially with the tiny remote corners of the parish this was really important because they had never experienced anything digital like this before. They had only experienced a person and a prayer book so this was an enormous change. 

Not only did I have to learn how to produce the content at my end, I had to learn how to display the content at their end. I wasn’t streaming it because our areas don’t have internet connections. Their buildings are not set up with wiring and some only have a single power point. I started with DVDs but didn’t like the way the editing program produced the DVDs, it was just too difficult. So I kept it to mp4 files stored on a USB and sent to the location. It was a challenge getting physical USB before their sermon time on a Sunday and making sure it is all set up and ready to work. I would mail it to them or I’d get someone to pick it up on their way back into the country. Several times I had to drive it out myself which is worth the three hour return trip except when they forget to turn the power box on and it doesn’t end up working! Thankfully they are resilient congregations and they have leaders to take the initiative and make the most of the time.


No! Initially I just had my laptop with the webcam, that was it. My mobile phone with a microphone input actually works well enough to record something wherever I am and doesn’t require me to carry loads of gear around. However, using a DSLR or two with a Zoom audio recorder increases the quality a lot. For editing I started on Windows Movie Maker and then shifted to Powerdirector when I needed to synch audio and do other more complicated things.


It has meant that I can help my congregations as a pastor and teacher and they don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned. They really appreciate the energy and time put into it and it has kept our pastoral bond between semi-regular visiting. 

It has also meant I’ve had to learn how to preach differently. I don’t have a teleprompter or something to read from so that has changed how I deliver the sermon and I’ve had to condense big sermons down into smaller versions. 

This also has seeded a whole bunch of ideas for content creation in rural churches. It has led us in our parish to think creatively about how we can use pre-recorded content in places where they don’t have access to preachers. Beyond this we have joined in a bigger project picked up by the Tasmanian diocese who have partnered with Bush Church Aid. There is now a much larger scale project to produce digital content that can be released across the rural parts of the diocese.


It can be daunting starting out but like any new skill, if you repeat a thousand times it becomes second nature. We’ve found that our whole staff team have become a lot more confident making videos. We’re more natural and capable, we do better editing, and we’re much more comfortable in front of a camera and watching ourselves on screen. 

There is a danger with all this if we think every person should be doing video content all the time. It really is the context that needs to drive what you’re doing with video. If you want to take this on yourself, you need to have the creative knack or someone talented in your parish because the editing takes the longest. For me it was a way of presenting the gospel as well as I could in multiple places at the same time. If I was the pastor of a single congregation I wouldn’t have had that need, so don’t make video sermons unless you have a very good reason. Video is never as good as being in person, being physically present is always the ideal.