Missionaries have sent written letters to supporters from day one (think Paul). But today, missionaries have exponentially more outlets and mediums to share their stories, and video should be near the top of that list.
As TEAM’s multimedia video producer, I constantly see the power of video help missionaries engage supporters and share God’s incredible work. Using video from the early fundraising process through your time on the mission field will help your supporters, friends and family better visualize what your life and ministry looks like on a day to day basis. And when people can better understand your ministry, they are more likely to care about it and support it.
When my wife and I served in Zimbabwe for a year with TEAM, we made a thought out fundraising video that we plastered on social media and sent to anyone we thought would listen. And once we were in Zimbabwe doing ministry, we sent regular video updates to keep our supporters engaged. For us, video was a very helpful tool in reaching out to supporters.
But you don’t have to be a professional to make a great video. In this guide, I’ll share what you should put in your videos, what equipment you need and the simple techniques that every amateur videographer should know. (And if you’d rather watch or listen, make sure to scroll down to the bottom of this article for an interview with me on the same topic!)
Table of Contents
- What Should a Missionary Video Look Like?
- What Should I Talk About in Missionary Videos?
- How Often Should I Share Video Updates?
- How Long Should My Videos Be?
- Should I Write a Script?
There is no formula for this, so I’d recommend trying different methods and see what works best for you and what your supporters connect with.
The most common missionary support video has the missionary speaking directly to the camera. This is effective because it’s like the missionary is speaking to the viewer. It’s a great way to introduce yourself or ask for financial support. You’ll also commonly see photos or other footage while you hear the missionary speak.
Another great format is a vlog (video blog) style. This is often someone filming in selfie mode, and they might be walking and talking. It’s a less polished format but often easier to produce and requires less forethought and equipment.
Other missionaries rely heavily on quick social media videos. They might post 15-second videos several times a day, and topics range from family life, to meeting with friends, to fun ministry events.
Friends and supporters back home want to hear how you, your family and your ministry are doing. Remember, the parts of life overseas that probably feel mundane to you are new and fresh to them.
Consider making videos about what your grocery store looks like. Showcase some unique local foods. Film part of your daily commute. Show them what your local church service is like or the park you visit or your favorite coffee shop. You can give a quick lesson on how to say a common greeting in the local language. Think of how you can visualize what your life looks like. It will help supporters understand what you see, smell, taste and hear on a daily basis.
Don’t forget to share how ministry is going. People are drawn to stories, so tell a quick story right away as a hook to get your supporters interested in the rest of your video. Be intentional about taking photos or videos of ministry events. Ask ministry partners to be interviewed so supporters can hear various perspectives. Daily ministry tasks can be tiring and time consuming, but I’d encourage you to take a few video clips every month that you can share.
I want to note here that you should never assume that everyone wants to be in your video. Be sensitive to who you are showing, how you are showing them and what personal stories from ministry partners you’re sharing. Always ask if you can use a video clip of someone, especially if children are present.
This quick video from Missionary Films provides a great minute-by-minute template for deciding the content of your next video.
Video is also a great way to raise funds. Along with your written appeals for support and one on one meetings, a video with a personal ask can go a long way to emotionally connect with potential supporters. It doesn’t take the place of a face to face meeting, but it’s another tool to add in your fundraising toolbox.
When my wife and I were raising funds and waiting for our visas to Zimbabwe, we also did a FAQ video series. It was nothing complicated or fancy, but we would try to answer common questions people had about our lives, health concerns (this was during the Ebola epidemic), language learning, finances and more. This was a fun way to keep supporters engaged while we waited to leave.
Once a month is a great goal, but I’d recommend you start small and build up. If you’re new to filming and editing, there will be a learning curve that will initially take you longer to make each video. At the early stage, maybe start with one update video every quarter. As you become more proficient, you might want to make more and more videos.
You can break up your regular newsletter schedule, alternating between written and video updates. Or consider doing a quick and simple video one month, and a more thorough video the next.
Attention spans are short. Get to the point quickly. Aim for around three minutes. You can fit a lot of information in a few minutes if you give it some forethought. Now, there are those busy months that you’ll want to do a 10 minute video, and that’s great, but don’t go crazy here.
It also depends on where you are sharing your videos. You’ll have a captive audience willing to watch a longer video at a church missions night. People reading an email might have more time to watch a longer, 10 minute video. If you’re posting on Facebook, then shorter is better. And with Instagram or TikTok, you might even post 15 second videos throughout the day. Remember, there are no set rules here. But in general, be succinct, keep it interesting and call it good.
Yes, and then throw it away.
I find it extremely helpful to write a script, usually just an outline, to help get my thoughts organized. Bullet point the main things you want to talk about and order them into a cohesive flow. Some people might like to write out what they want to say word for word, and that’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing.
Then, set the paper aside, hit record and go for it. Look directly into the camera’s lens. You don’t want to be reading a script or having your eyes bounce back and forth between the paper and the camera as you’re finding the next talking point. You’ll be editing the video later, so talk about the first topic, pause, reference your notes, then record the next section, pause, reference, repeat.
Doing this will give you a more natural presentation, and it will sound like you’re actually talking to the viewer, not reading to them.
Now that you know what to include in your video, when to make it, and how long it will be, it’s time to actually create the thing!
When it comes to filmmaking, gear and technology can quickly become overwhelming. I’ve spent my entire professional life in video production, and there’s always a smaller, better, smarter, faster thing that promises to make you an award-winning filmmaker.
Don’t stress about it. With a few pieces of equipment and some knowledge of how to best use it, you’ll be up and running in no time.
The three main pieces of gear you’ll need to have is a camera, a microphone and lights.
YouTube is full of videos reviewing the newest cameras with shiny new features. But don’t get overwhelmed.
Remember this common phrase: The best camera is the one you have with you.
Start with your smartphone. It’s going to have a good camera and decent microphone, and you already know how to record a video on it. Make sure you’re in a well-lit area and close enough for the microphone to pick up your voice, and you’ll be set. Consider buying a small tripod like those from Joby. This DJI OM 4 handheld gimbal can make walk and talk videos buttery smooth and open up the creative possibilities on your phone.
How-To With Silent Images is an amazing resource to help DIY storytellers, like missionaries, make powerful videos with a cell phone.
If you want to take your game up a notch, you’re most likely going to move into the world of compact or DSLR cameras. The technology changes too fast for me to recommend specific cameras here. Instead do an internet search on “best vlogging cameras” or start your search here. Many of these cameras multitask with both photo and video options, so your next newsletter will look better than ever! When shopping for cameras, look for features like auto focus and a flippable screen so you can see yourself as you film.
People will forgive bad video but not bad audio. If a video is a bit out of focus and or shaky, but you can clearly hear the subject speaking, you’re more likely to keep watching and hear what she has to say. But, if the video is in crystal clear 4K resolution and professionally lit, yet the audio is muffled, cracking or overtaken by dreaded wind noise, there’s no point in watching it.
For me, audio is the hardest part of making a great video, but it’s a key part in the video make process.
A general rule of thumb is to never use the camera’s built-in microphone. It’s always better to get a dedicated microphone and plug it into your camera or smartphone. You might get a shotgun microphone that sits on top of your camera or a lav mic that clips onto your shirt. Whichever you choose, get the microphone as close to your mouth as possible. If you’re filming outside, get a windscreen to block wind noise. I’ve had good experience with Rode microphones, like the VideoMic, but there are many brands to choose from. Again, do your research to find the best option for your budget and filming style.
At their core, video cameras capture light. So, lighting is pretty important. By tweaking a few lamps, and repositioning your subject, your video lighting can easily be improved. The main goal here is to have the subject well lit without harsh shadows.
The easiest light that everyone has access to is the sun. Learn to use it well and you’ll be on your way to great looking video.
If you’re filming yourself outside, try to find a place where you and your background are both in the shade. This gives a nice even, flattering light. If you are in the shade and the background is in the sun, or vice versa, the shaded area will be too dark and the bright area too bright.
If you’re filming inside, let a large window act like your main lighting source. Don’t put the window in your shot but instead stand facing the window for a great natural look.
Then use lamps to fill in the dark spots behind you and to add some interest points in the background.
Pro tip: your computer monitor makes a great light source. Turn up the screen’s brightness all the way and make a blank Word document full screen for a nice, soft white light!
Basically with lighting, make sure the subject is well lit, whether that’s with the sun or some household lamps. Be aware of harsh shadows caused by direct sunlight or a lamp that is too close to your face.
The background can tell the audience a lot about your story, so pay attention to what is behind you in the video. A plain white wall can be quite bland, but choosing the right location will add a lot of interest to your update video.
For our updates from Zimbabwe, my wife and I used various backgrounds to give some context and visual interest. We recorded in front of a large tapestry hung on our wall, in our living room, by our garden, and under our front porch. This gave our supporters something interesting to look at, and gave them some clues on our daily life and Zimbabwean culture.
Be careful here to not make your background too busy. It’s distracting if there is too much going on behind you. You might want to tidy up your living room, move furniture or remove flashing lights from behind you.
Don’t place your subject directly in front of the background wall. Give some separation or depth from what’s behind you. This keeps the shot from feeling suffocating and adds visual interest.
Finally, film in a quiet location. A busy nearby street, an air conditioner, or TV in the next room will be extremely distracting for viewers. People shouldn’t have to strain themselves to understand what you’re saying.
Editing your missionary support video may seem intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple to get started. Yes, you’re going to have to learn some software, but really, editing is about taking all the elements (footage, photos, music) and turning them into a compelling story that someone will want to watch. It’s a digital jigsaw puzzle. Start small, learn the basics, and you can add complexity to your projects as you go. YouTube is a great resource for learning a new editing software and I’d suggest you start there.
These are some of my top picks for video editing software:
- Adobe Rush, $9.99/mo, (Desktop and Mobile) — For users who want an easy editor with lots of options, this is the all-in-one video editing app is a great option. Wherever you are, from your phone to your computer, you can shoot, edit and share high-quality videos.
- Animoto, Free, (Desktop) — Animoto has a simple drag and drop video maker and has great templates to help get you started.
- Davinci Resolve, Free, (Desktop) — If you’re ready to jump into the world of professional editing, this is the way to go. The learning curve is quite steep, but you get powerful tools to make your video pop. It’s wild that Resolve is a free program, since you get professional editing, color and sound tools.
- Adobe Premiere Pro, $20.99/mo (Desktop) — Premiere is the most expensive option in my list, but it’s what I’ve used to edit with since 2012. It’s packed with enough features that Hollywood uses it, and Premiere plays nicely with other Adobe applications like Photoshop and Illustrator.
- Quik, $2.99/mo, (Mobile) — With the Quik app, you can create awesome videos with just a few taps. Choose your favorite photos and video clips then let Quik work its magic. In seconds, it finds great moments, adds beautiful transitions and effects, and syncs everything to the beat of the music. This is best for creating montages or highlight reels.
Music adds so much to your video, but you need to be sure you’re following copyright laws. You can purchase yearly music subscriptions from places like Art List or Epidemic Sound, but YouTube now supplies its users with free music. Learn how to use this free resource here.
Don’t worry too much about the camera, lights, and equipment. Your supporters want to hear from you, see how you’re doing and pray for your ministry. Even quick, simple video updates shot in selfie mode on your phone go a long way in connecting with supporters, while well-polished and thoughtful videos can leave a lasting impression.
Don’t feel like you have to record yourself perfectly the first time. You’re editing the video later, so give yourself grace, have fun and don’t be worried if you’re on take 12 — it happened to me all the time.
Don’t be nervous. Yes, it’s strange to talk about yourself and your ministry in front of a camera, but remember, you’re sharing what God is doing! Supporters will love to see your face and hear how God is working in your ministry. Have fun, relax and be sure to smile.
Finally, use the video professionals in your circle of friends. As a videographer myself, I’m always happy to lend a (free) hand to help missionaries and ministries tell their stories. Missionaries in the process of raising support should reach out to their church’s media team for help with a fundraising video. It never hurts to ask.
Creating effective videos as a missionary can wow your viewers. It’s a fun way to engage supporters and showcase how God is working around the world. Happy filming.