How to make great missionary update videos

Joel Upton

Out of sight can very quickly mean out of mind so regular communication is vital to a healthy partnership. Today, more than at any point in history, the options for how to share updates from the field are vast: WhatsApp, Twitter, email, snail mail, Facebook, Zoom – between them, Crosslinks mission partners cover most options. 

I've been Crosslinks' content producer for a little under a year and already I've seen the power of video to help mission partners engage their partners in the work God is doing. If you want to go and do the same, read on for my top tips for creating great videos. 

You don't have to be a professional to make a great video 

One of my most exciting moments at Crosslinks was when we encouraged a camera-shy couple to put together their first video. Once we sent it out, they were overwhelmed with positive responses from churches and partners back in the UK. Since then, they’ve sent regular videos and we continue to hear comments back (For example, 'It’s been wonderful getting video updates and we’ve shared them with the church every time we’ve heard from them' and 'Thanks for this video – it's lovely to see our friends looking so well.')

What should a missionary video look like? 

The simplest option is to speak directly to the camera. It's a format similar to how it would be if you were with them in the room speaking from the front. Photos, maps or other video footage can be added in, to help paint a picture of your context. 

The next option is a vlog – similar to what you might see on YouTube. It’s shot using selfie mode while walking or out of the home somewhere. It’s a great way to give a snapshot into family and ministry life and adds a little flair without needing any extra equipment. The informal format mean it’s easy to record and share regularly across social media.  

What should you talk about in your update videos? 

Tell your partners about yourself, how you’re doing and what it's like in the culture you’re serving in. Even if the mundane, everyday stuff doesn't seem that exciting, it’ll be really interesting to friends and churches back home because it's different and unknown. Speak about your commute, what food shopping is like, or where you go to relax. The medium of video means that you can visually show these things and give people a much clearer view of your context than words in a prayer letter ever could. 

The best strategy is to be intentional about capturing photos or videos during your working week – these snapshots into your life are a great way to make your partners feel much closer to you, without needing to board a plane. They say that the best camera is the one you always have so take advantage of the phone in your pocket to capture snippets throughout your day. Aim to do this regularly, taking a few video clips every month. 

Share about your ministry and don't be afraid to be honest (although remember this is being shared publicly). Trust us, your partners aren't only interested in the big impressive wins, they care about you and what you're going through. If life is tough and there is little visible gospel fruit, tell it that way. Aim to include a story about someone or something that happened recently, to get your partner engaged and eager to keep watching.  

You can also use your video update to raise funds. Asking for financial support via video will draw your partners into the need and show them what you're speaking about. 

How long should videos updates be?

There are so many stats out there about how short our attention spans are – the most recent one I heard said that the camera angle or scene needs to change every 10-seconds! But you don’t need to hold rigidly to this in your video updates – after all, you’re talking to a warm audience that cares about what you have to say. I recommend aiming for three to four minutes – perfect for sharing in a church service or for someone to quickly watch as they flick through their emails. 

How often should missionaries make a video update? 

I'd recommend you feed in regular video updates between your three-times-a-year written prayer letters. Use once a month as a target but it's always better to start small and build up to it than not do anything. And remember, we're not looking for studio quality videos here! 

Technical tips for making a great missionary video 

Hopefully, you're now with me on the importance of making video updates and what to include in them but you still might be feeling like you don’t actually know how. When it comes to filmmaking there is a ridiculous amount of gear, technology and jargon out there but don't let it overwhelm you. I learnt quickly in my journey into video production that you can always make something great with the tools you already have. So don't fret about the kit and always remember, we're here to support you. I thoroughly enjoy taking your seemingly random clips and turning them into something which will encourage churches in their gospel partnership. If you shoot the footage, I'll edit it all together for you. 

These tips will give you a little knowledge and some idea on the basic equipment you need to get you recording video updates today. 

  • Camera: There is a camera out there to suit any budget and if you're looking to buy something specific then get in touch, I relish chatting cameras! But for this purpose, your smartphone is enough. It already has a good point-and-shoot camera with a decent microphone and it's simple to use, plus you're probably already pretty familiar with it. To take your smartphone up another level I'd definitely recommend purchasing a smartphone tripod, like these from Joby. If the idea of vlogging takes your fancy then a smartphone gimbal (like this from DJI) is an excellent step making your footage smooth. 
  • Audio: People will have more grace with bad video if the audio is good but if the audio is bad then, believe me, your viewers will not enjoy it, no matter how good looking the footage is. Smartphones have decent enough microphones but if you're outside or there is a lot of noise around, it's going to struggle. For any other camera, the in-built microphone will be terrible! Fortunately, there are many dedicated and cost-effective microphones you can buy for either your smartphone or camera. I recently bought this one for less than £10 and it has been perfect. If there are two or more of you speaking, I recommend a shotgun microphone, like this one from Rode. Aim to get the microphone as close to the subject as possible and make sure your location is as quiet as possible. 
  • Lighting: Bad lighting can make a £3,000 4K camera look like a ten-year-old camera phone. But by utilising the natural light around you and tweaking a few lamps you can have a wonderful looking scene. The main thing to remember is to have the subject well-lit without harsh shadows across the face. If you’re filming yourself outside, try to find a place where you and your background are both in the shade. This gives an even 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, use a large window as your main lighting source. Don’t put the window in your shot but instead stand facing the window at a slight angle for a great natural look. If there are darks spots behind you then use lamps to add some depth and interest to the background. How-To With Silent Images have put together some amazing videos to help DIY storytellers (like missionaries) make powerful videos with a smartphone.  
  • Background: Use your background to add a little bit of creativity to your video update – something more than the office bookshelf we’re all only too used to seeing on video calls! Choose carefully – if it’s too busy it will be distracting, if you're sat in front of a white wall it’ll be too blank. When on shoots with Crosslinks I'm often teased for overusing the word 'depth' – but depth is important for a good looking scene! Create some distance between you and the background to make the scene more visually interesting and less suffocating. 

Finally, remember your partners want to see you 

After reading this you may now be feeling slightly overwhelmed! I've tried to cover a lot of bases in one article but I want to encourage you not to worry too much about the camera, lighting or background. Your partners want to hear from you, see how you're doing and find out how they can pray for you. A quick, simple video, shot on selfie mode on your phone will go a long way to engage your partners, so just start recording. 

Crosslinks is here to support you, so don't feel you need to get it right the first time. We can edit videos for you so if you mess up or think you can say something different, take a breath and start that line again. Try to have fun with it, the most important thing is that you look natural.  

And lastly, remember you're sharing about how God is at work in your ministry, so relax and smile!

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Joel Upton

Joel runs Crosslinks' social channels and creates videos and online media to help connect you with our people and projects. He lives in Sussex with his wife, Alexa, and their four children.