Longtime church member, Building Committee Chair, former Communications Committee chair, and a key member of the original First Church Television Ministry crew Barry Hudson says that he remembers very clearly his first meeting with Dr. Tim Bruster on September 1, 2003. “He was really surprised that we didn’t have a communications committee,” Barry remembers. (Shortly thereafter, Barry found himself chair of that committee) “At that time, we had a biweekly newspaper and a website that was token at best,” he relates.
Barry notes that although the volunteer-staffed TV ministry had been working for decades to reach people who could not be in the sanctuary for worship, under Tim’s leadership, this mission was expanded, redefined, and celebrated with two distinct equipment upgrades that allowed these programs to work together to accomplish the shared mission to reach and engage our “online congregation.”
Carolyn Stephens, longtime church member and former director of communications for the Central Texas Conference, says that when Tim first arrived, she was asked to help him get ready for possible upcoming media interviews. “I noticed right away that Tim was tuned in to the variety of communication needs of a large downtown church,” Carolyn says.
Barry agrees. “A big part of Tim’s vision — and the vision of the church leadership who at that time identified communications as one of the top three areas of focus for that iteration of our churchwide strategic plan, was expanding the role of communications and adding staff, budget, and focus to grow this program to what it is today,” he adds.
Later that same year, Melinda Smoot, a church member since 1984, learned of her church’s need and realized she could put what she knew in the field of advertising, public relations, and marketing to help build the program outlined by the leadership. “When I came to work for the church, I knew I had a big job to do, and I was from the very beginning equipped and supported in doing it,” Melinda relates. “Tim helped me recognize that what I was doing had another dimension to it — it really was a ministry.”
Teamwork Blossoms, Grows, and Evolves
Melinda goes on to say that every time she needed someone with a particular set of skills, the right person appeared — and Tim and the church leaders recognized the need and value they would add. This included a diversity of talent represented by current Communications and Media team members Richard McQuillar, Lisa Waschka, Austin Patton, Paul Hughes, and Ali Starnes as well as past team members Caroline Petty, Lisa Helm (today our Director of Welcoming Ministries), and Emily McDermott.
Today’s communications team has transitioned to the leadership of its new director, Clint Church. Melinda says, “Clint has already formed a similar simpatico partnership with the incoming senior pastor, Rev. Lance Marshall, as I shared with Tim. I have a deep trust that whoever and whatever is needed will continue to show up.”
The opportunities to communicate the gospel inside and outside the walls of this church energize me” says Clint. “The pandemic really highlighted the importance of clear and consistent communications through all channels (web, social, livestream, and online content). I came into a culture of excellence and I am thrilled to be a part of such a talented group of people working in the Communications and Audio/Visual Technical ministries.”
The A/V team, led by Technical Director Austin Patton, simply “made church happen” during the pandemic. In March of 2020, First Church along with the rest of the United States went into quarantine. It is astonishing how, in a few weeks-time, Austin and his team were able to adjust and make sure that our church was able to livestream worship services, participate in bible studies, and stay connected to each other even when we could not be in the same room.
Melinda explains that with so many different and distinct ministries within the Big Tent of our church, it was essential to maintain common connections so the work of each ministry would build upon and supports all the others. While the branding would make this connection visually via a branding “umbrella,” the website would serve as a “hub” that connects everything we communicate on behalf of our church and its ministries back to the website. The website also began to allow transactional interactions such as registrations and ministry giving, bringing efficiency to all areas of the church.
In 2012 First Church began to recognize new and strategic engagement opportunities via social media marketing. At that time, our existing Facebook community numbered 45, and we had 7 Twitter followers. Our YouTube channel was not yet visible, but rather served only as a storage site. Today, as Tim passes the baton to Lance and Clint for the next leg of the First Church communications journey, we have a 12,000+ Facebook community, 3,000 + Twitter followers, and 2500+ YouTube subscribers (and 5,396 posted videos to date), and 850+ on Instagram, with other platforms likely on the horizon.
Barry Hudson says that soon after his arrival, Tim became very aware that the TV equipment that had served our church well was aging and would need to be replaced to allow the church to be able to keep up with the rapidly changing times that were heading away from TV broadcast and toward livestream delivery.
In November 2006, under Tim’s leadership that helped secure major donor funding, our livestream transitioned from analog to digital. We installed cameras in Wesley Hall and began our weekly livestream. “Our objective is always to make online participants feel like they are actively involved in worship and for our church to share its message with those who can’t be there in person.”
Fast forward to March 2020, when the church was forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The world changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barry remembers. “When the church campus closed to in-person worship on March 15, 2020, FUMCFW was well-positioned to continue ministry to the congregation with livestreaming and pre-recording of worship services. Suddenly, the media ministry was at the forefront of everything the church did.”
As this load increased, our previously “state of the art” digital broadcast equipment was once again aging itself out of existence (the entire volunteer crew and staff AV team led by Austin Patton held their collective breath each Sunday morning as the old equipment booted up). As more and more viewers were coming to us via our livestream, most if not all of them watched in High-Definition television (HD), and the picture quality and stability were as dated as its infrastructure.
Under Tim and Lance’s leadership, Media Ministries was empowered to step up. A comprehensive proposal was brought to the Building Committee and then the Board of Trustees, ultimately being approved for a fall 2020 installation. Although equipment was beginning to be in short supply, our church’s existing infrastructure and preparedness for video ministry outreach during the pandemic allowed us to keep going throughout the installation. Soon we were able to enjoy the full capabilities of upgraded cameras, lighting, sound, and studio equipment while maintaining the integrity of our historic space.
Equipped for the Future
Our re-consecrated Wesley Hall also benefits from significant media updates. In its new incarnation as a more multipurpose space with an architectural redesign, this new media system upgrade outfits it especially well for all kinds of AV, sound, and lighting coverage, plus a variety of cameras that can be controlled from the studio’s master control station or right there in the space.
Our church is celebrating 47 years of continuous live broadcast — with our total for the livestream approaching the legendary number of years on broadcast television. “Tim’s leadership and support of our Media Ministries is just another example of his commitment to providing a number of different worship experiences so that we can meet people where they are and enable them to worship and be part of our community in whatever way they can,” Barry says. “Tim brought new vitality to our church in a lot of different ways that have made a big difference in the people we are able to reach and include — and nowhere do you see that more than in the continued evolution of our Media Ministries. We are positioned perfectly to provide whatever is needed in this next era of First Church Media Ministries.”