by Amanda Q. (Christ in Media partner)
I found out about the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas from my Facebook feed on the morning of October 2, 2017. The very next day my feed included a video featuring Pastor Tim Hartwig and this heading: “When disaster strikes, is God in control?” It struck me that this message, while always relevant, was particularly timely. I also noticed that the video devotion was very well-produced—the light was beautiful, the image was clear, and the piece integrated background audio and photographs. This video had been shared by Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), and it was my first experience with the Peace Devotions project. Take a look at the video:
In the weeks that followed I noticed more 2-3 minute videos featuring either Pastor Hartwig or Pastor Matt Moldstad. While a few of these videos are informational (e.g. “What does God say about Tattoos?”) most messages are Gospel-centered. “We wanted to make videos where the Gospel predominated,” said Pastor Hartwig. “The message is that God loves and forgives in Jesus time and time again.”
The Peace Devotions series was the brainchild of congregation member and local business owner Matt Wiechmann. His vision was received enthusiastically by all involved. The project received initial funding by the ELS and is overseen by the congregation’s Gospel Outreach Committee. Video equipment is generously provided by Bethany Lutheran College, Matt Wiechmann, and Peace member Philip Wels, who helps to shoot, edit, and post the devotions. While Matt volunteers his time to help with the shoots, the funds are dedicated almost entirely to the costs of labor associated with post-production. Since October 2, a new video has been posted every weekday. All videos are archived at www.peacedevotions.com.
“One of the reasons we started this project was the explosion of social media. We felt it was necessary to reach the people of our place and time in history. It may be an optional ministry in the sense that we don’t have to do it, but there are many aspects of our culture today that suggest it really is a necessity.”
– Pastor Tim Hartwig
Technology and production specialist Philip Wels echoes these sentiments. “The internet is not a very comforting place,” he commented. “There’s a lot of hatred, anger, and fear out there. One of our goals is to bring peace and comfort to an otherwise turbulent newsfeed.” This certainly resembles the experience I had on October 3, though the topical nature of that particular video was largely coincidental. Anyone in the business of creating content can relate to the difficulty of generating five videos a week. Pastors Hartwig and Moldstad allow the church year to influence the messages, though many are designed for long shelf-life. The team typically films 10-12 videos at a time.
“Everything on the web is moving toward video right now. It’s easier than ever to create video content and the technology keeps improving. As Christians, this is great! We’ve been called by Christ to spread the Gospel. Today we can hold up a smart phone and reach a thousand people with the message of forgiveness.”
– Philip Wels
While the Holy Spirit’s work of spreading the Gospel is not quantifiable, our work as digital evangelists is aided by the stats. The devotion videos posted on Facebook during the month of October have an average “Total Reach” of 7,500 people per video. This translates into an average “Unique Reach” of 4,200 people per video. To date, none of these videos have been boosted (paying Facebook to put the videos in more newsfeeds). The team is smartly establishing a baseline for organic reach so that when/if the posts are boosted they’ll know how much of a difference it makes.
As the initial funds allocated to the project run out, the Gospel Outreach Committee is exploring other sources of funding. The team remains engaged and inspired, looking hopefully towards the future of the devotion series. Casting a wider net by getting more pastors involved is one way the team is looking to make the creative model more sustainable (Pastor Brad Kerkow has begun to make appearances). “Each time we record there are new challenges to tackle and new things to try,” commented Philip.
If you are considering taking on a similar project, Philip would be happy to talk it over with you and offer any advice that he can. He also recommends the recent series on video produced by the WELS Tech Podcast.
If you would like to support the Peace Devotions project, follow Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church on Facebook.