By Rev. Jon Hoin
I never really thought I’d get into making podcasts or video content. My preference has always been in-person interaction with some mild public speaking; I think most people would describe it as teaching. Whether a Sunday school lesson, coaching session, or plain conversation, teaching is my favorite medium of expression. As a United Methodist Pastor, in-person small groups are my bread and butter. I can only imagine utter disbelief if you’d told me a year ago that my favorite ministry task would become recording and editing our weekly podcast Logos(ish). Yet, podcasting has become my favorite medium for proclamation.
In the Beginning…
“I never thought I’d be a televangelist.” In March 2020, the running joke among pastors in rural South Carolina was that they had all had to learn to use YouTube and Facebook to broadcast their church services. Churches that had no web presence, many of whom may not have even known the internet exists, all of a sudden had websites and social media accounts. Pastors were exhorting church leaders to purchase cameras, microphones, and more in order to make the leap into the new era of digital media.
My personal experience in March of 2020 was a bit different. Many of our church members are elderly and tech averse, and Covid-19 had halted in-person worship for the season. So livestreaming on Facebook was not going to be a particularly helpful solution to our problem. The Lutheran pastor down the street began live streaming on YouTube, but he also printed out his sermon each week and mailed it around with that week’s paper bulletins. There seemed to be no other options that would bridge the gap.
As I began to give up hope, the owner of our local radio station approached me about putting together some programming for Sunday mornings. He handed me a microphone from an old Guitar Hero set, and he said log on to the station at eleven and just start talking. We were in business. Everyone alive today knows how to use the radio. I pulled my wife, also a UMC pastor, in as a conversation partner, and we started to chat each Sunday. After a few weeks, we wanted to be able to do a little bit more. Better music was at the top of the wish list. Next on the list was better audio quality and sound design. We wanted to eliminate those little pauses that would happen as we handed the microphone back and forth. Somebody else to talk to also ranked high on the list since we tended to fall into the same conversation patterns.
Zoom found its way into the news about the same time. Conversations about the platform often turned on its features, including things that made recording audio and video a snap. So with carefully managed privacy settings, we started recording our audio using Zoom and then sending it to the radio station as an mp3. With the remote platform, we were able to add friends into our weekly sessions, and then one afternoon somebody asked, “Hey, can we turn this into a podcast?” And thus Logos(ish) was born.
A Medium for Proclamation
If I had to compare podcasting to a “regular” church activity, I’d compare it to preaching. We started Logos(ish) going into the Fall of 2020 with four regular contributors. Our plan from the outset was to adopt a trial and error approach. We’d find someone to talk to about something they were passionate about, read something beforehand if something obvious was available, and then record the conversation. The initial plan was to keep the podcast fairly open-ended with religion as our topic of choice. Since all of our regular contributors are Methodist pastors, and since we live in the United States, our first set of episodes were full of reflections on Christianity. We plan to broaden our horizons in 2021, but even the episodes only tangentially related Christianity have felt holy.
To be sure, Logos(ish) is hardly normal preaching. Most churches celebrate their Sunday mornings with a church service that includes a sermon of some kind. In fact, the United States probably has more churches that focus on sermons in worship than churches that follow the more sacramental focus of historic Christianity. Practicing clergy will tell you that preaching is a strange blend of poetry and philosophy with theology. Sermons can often be used as an educational tool, but they are also a rhetorical one. Sometimes they even drift into something more sublime, but they occur almost universally for fifteen minutes, on Sunday mornings, preached live, and by a single person.
Rev. Dr. Tom Long’s four essential ingredients for the sermon event are a congregation, a preacher, a sermon, and the presence of Christ. Thus, the sermon event need not take place in a church or on a Sunday morning. It need not even be live. It’s just a performance shared by some people and made holy by divine presence. Sermons should teach us, shape us, and move us to action. So why limit them to Sunday mornings sometime between eleven and noon? Even the practice of limiting the sermon to a single authoritative speaker could be overly confining.
For me, recording Logos(ish) has become a new type of preaching that fills the gaps left when proclamation only happens on Sunday morning, comes from one person, and takes the form of a fifteen minute TED talk. New guests and content push us to learn, and they challenge our assumptions forcing us to refine and reconsider theological ideas. Each new episode asks us to be relevant to a more general audience than the folks living in our denominational envelope. Podcasting lends itself to a conversational format, which means we get to be more human and less polished. Our speakers are more diverse. There is a spontaneous shared joy that is hard to match in the format of a fifteen minute monologue.
I think the Church will benefit if more people use podcasting to supplement their preaching. Luckily, starting a podcast is not much of a challenge. Barriers to entry are low, and educational materials about podcasting are mostly free. Our start-up costs for the first month were the cost of three microphones, one for each host’s household, and a subscription to PodBean. If I were handling it on my own, our startup costs would have been about $70.00 the first month and $10.00 each month after that. Otherwise, the only necessary costs are time and creativity. Editing can be quick and cursory or slow and meticulous.
It all depends on your goals for the podcast. For most small to medium churches, it may be enough to record their pastor’s sermons and put them out into the aether. Others may choose to experiment. Podcasting offers enormous potential flexibility with respect to format and content. Potential guests are often generous with their time and wisdom. Our starting goal was primarily educational, and as a result, we have tended to talk to academics, writers, and clergy. Our format is very simple with a topical conversation sandwiched between some humanizing segments where we ask guests to introduce their story and share what is bringing them joy. With this simple setup, I have been encouraged to preach in new ways, and I think the Church will mostly benefit from others willing to try podcasting as well.
How to start a your own podcast:
Figure out something to say and how to say it. What is your podcast going to be about? How long will it be? Will it be divided into segments? Will it be a free flowing conversation, or will it be a slick highly edited production?
Figure out how you want to record it. There are any number of tools out there for recording. Zoom, Skype, Zencastr, Squadcast, and in person are just some of your potential options. Each one has benefits and drawbacks including variable technical demands. Most of the remote options just require some software and a mid-quality USB microphone ($60-$100), but internet speeds can be a challenge.
Figure out how you want to edit. There are so many free podcasting tutorials on YouTube. Just pick an editing program and start searching. If you have a Mac, GarageBand works well. Audacity and Adobe Audition are common options for PC users. Your main editing concerns will be leveling out your audio and eliminating quirky spots with strange background noises. Of course, sometimes a little background adds some character. You’ll want to make sure your audio track meets loudness standards (-16 LUFS for stereo and -19 LUFS for mono).
Start podcasting. Record some episodes. Upload them to a podcast host (Podbean, Buzzsprout, Anchor, etc.). Share them with your friends and intended audience. Look into other means of distribution (like local radio). Don’t forget to keep learning as you go. Figure out how you are going to integrate it into the life of your church. Will it supplement Bible studies? Will it disseminate church announcements? Will it help the pastor blow of steam?
About the Author
Rev. Jon Hoin is a United Methodist Pastor in Elloree, South Carolina. Ever since he was young, Jon was fascinated by world religions and religious ritual, which is good because he is married to the amazing Rev. Sara Relaford, who has very strong opinions about a variety of nerdy religious topics (re: Greek and Hebrew). Jon’s other interests include Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kendo, and Kickboxing; nature, hiking, and canoeing also provide outlets for his wanderlust. His longtime passion for evolutionary biology causes him to over-analyze the behaviors of the family cats and dog. If you can’t find him at the gym or in the woods, then he’s probably playing some overly complicated board game in a poorly lit room or reading science, science fiction, and fantasy literature.
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