Each weekend, we gather as a family around the TV, or tune in on our laptops or log on to The CHC App on our phones to enjoy church service. The kids log in and join in the Harvest Kidz services and quizzes. Even Grandma gets to enjoy the Dialect Church messages. Everything looks smooth and seamless, but have you even wondered what goes on behind the scenes to make the webcast happen every week?
A few weeks before the Circuit Breaker, City Harvest Church moved all its services online. Weekend service, Church Wide Bible Study (CWBS), Chinese service, Dialect service, JAMS service, Harvest Kidz—all have been engaging the respective members through online means.
Although CHC has been webcasting its weekend services since the mid-2000s to meet the needs of members living overseas, affiliate churches and other friends of the church, going online with the various COVID-19 restrictions has proven to be a completely new ball game.
In this current period of Phase Two, filming of the services has resumed at the church’s Jurong West premises. City News speaks to the different departments of the church to bring you a behind-the-scenes look of what you watch on screen.
WHERE IT BEGINS: EVENTS DEPARTMENT
Events Manager, Alicia Leo is like the “Jarvis” of City Harvest Church, the all-seeing, all-knowing entity who is aware of all that the church is doing at any one point in time. Her duties include scheduling and coordinating with the various departments that are involved in the online services.
She gives City News a lowdown of a typical week. “Preliminaries like the Welcome, Announcements and Offering are recorded every Tuesday. The English sermon is recorded one week ahead, on Friday; and Praise and Worship on alternate Fridays. Our Chinese sermon is also recorded one week before, on Saturday, and Chinese Praise and Worship on alternate Saturdays.
“On Thursday, there’s a review of the edited service with our executive pastor, Sun Ho and creative director, Mark Kwan, to make sure everything looks good. While the review is going on, I send the service file for interpretation into Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese and Japanese.
“By Friday, the interpretation files are sent to audio to fit into the video timeline, and then that’s sent to Media team to export into various formats for Facebook, YouTube and The CHC App by Saturday. This cycle happens every week.”
Alicia shares that one of the challenges she faces is coordinating the different schedules of all the personnel involved, as they have their regular work on top of Zoom meetings that could happen at any time of any day.
THE PRODUCERS: MEDIA DEPARTMENT
Most of the videos you see online are produced by the CHC Media team. This department does the heavy lifting this season when all services have gone online—the church is heavily dependent upon them. We speak to media producer, Danielle Ho, to find out how going online has impacted her and her team.
“Instead of working during the live services only on the weekends, it takes an entire week to put together the online service,” she reveals. “It’s more complicated now as it’s like producing a TV show. Everything can be edited, unlike a live show, so the expectation of perfection or excellence is higher.”
Adhering to the rules also means a limited crew at every shoot. Danielle has formed teams of five—three cameramen, one producer and one tech crew member—for each service recording.
Filming takes place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as the Media Department supports the English, Chinese, Dialect and Indonesian services. While filming is happening, editing is also concurrently taking place to make sure each service gets its finished product in time. For example, after filming on the previous Friday, they edit the Praise and Worship segment, and the sermon for English service. On Tuesday, Visual Communications passes the Media Department all the visual elements including text, animations and videos, for insertion into the final product. Once that’s done, the file goes back to Visual Communications to ensure that all elements have been inserted correctly. On Thursday, they upload the completed service for review and then make changes accordingly. Then on Friday, filming starts again for the next week.
For the Media team, the biggest challenge is to get into the groove of things as they are at the end of the “food chain.” Danielle recounts one harrowing incident: “There was once when an episode of CWBS was filmed very late. We edited it overnight and the service recording only got to IT manager, Ong Pei Pei to be uploaded just one hour before the live stream was supposed to start. Instead of sending the file, the editor handed Pei Pei the physical thumb drive for uploading! There was so little breathing space that we were not even sure if we could upload the Bahasa or Japanese interpretation!”
On the positive side, Danielle is grateful that the last few months has given the Media Department the opportunity to work even more closely with Sun and Mark, as well as the various departments of the church. The tight timelines have necessitated a streamlined workflow between the departments, creating stronger bonds.
THE SOUND OF IT: AUDIO DEPARTMENT
Working in tandem with the Media team is the Audio Department. Audio engineer Lee Shuxia said that in this period, everyone in their team is needed to do post-production work. As such, they have had to brush up their editing skills through internal training.
“At the beginning, the struggle was the ever-changing schedule,” she recalls. “We want to have a clear idea of when we need to work, the timelines and deadlines. But when we couldn’t fit one item, everything had to be shifted. This was the constant struggle during Circuit Breaker: we would fix a timeline but the next day, we would realize we couldn’t follow it and we had to change. We changed so much that it got to a point we just stopped making schedules, because the workflow is too fluid.”
“Change is the only constant,” says Shuxia. “Our new norm is: ‘Once you get used to the norm, the norm will change.’ During the Circuit Breaker, the new norm was pastors recording their sermons from home and we would do the sound editing after. By the time Audio Department got the formula right for that, restrictions were lifted and we could record at Jurong West. So, we set up Jurong West for preaching. When we figured that out, the regulations changed again: now we can have singing. From five people, it became 10 people, and now, we can have 30 people!”
She reiterated: “Our new norm is that, there will always be a new norm!”
VISUALLY ENGAGING: VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS
If you watch any of CHC’s services, you will have noticed the interesting array of verses, quotes, pictures, videos and animations that are displayed, mostly during sermons. Made possible by the Visual Communications team, these elements make the topic more engaging to the viewer.
“We support the English, Chinese, Dialect and Indonesian services,” says visual executive Rayvin Hsu. “There is a larger workload now during lockdown, because, besides all the visual elements for the services, we now have to prepare Keynote slides for the teleprompter for every preacher.”
Unlike in live services where the Visual Communications team keys in the elements on the spot during sermon, it now requires more time to generate these elements after the sermon has been recorded. After creating the elements, the team has to indicate on the script where each element goes, so that the video editor knows where to place them.
Senior visual designer Jeffrey Choong recalls one nerve-wrecking experience, “There was one sermon that had a lot of changes after the review. It was already Friday and judging from the amount of work needed, I decided that it would be more efficient to do everything from scratch. I worked through the night and when I sent it out, everyone had a heart attack when they realized the whole file had been changed. That was the one time that I felt like the battle was so difficult as I had to make a hard call.”
However, the Visual Communications team has found a new kind of synergy now, working closer with other departments. “Now I understand how the Media team’s software functions, so I would think how to lay my elements to speed up their work process,” Jeffrey explains.
FACILITATING LIVE EXCHANGES: SERVICE ENGAGEMENT
If you tune in to watch CHC’s weekend services through Facebook, YouTube or the CHC App, you will notice some lively conversation going on before and sometimes during service.
Though this group doesn’t have an official name (yet), each weekend, a team of seven CHC staff and six greeters go live across the three platforms during service to engage people tuning in. The idea originated from Sun in a bid to engage and meet the needs of church members, by addressing queries and praying for them. People regularly tuning in come not just from the church or Singapore, but across the globe, including the United States, Brazil, Ireland, South Africa, Colombia, India, New Zealand and Taiwan.
Each week, senior editor in the Communications team Serina Perera prepares references for appropriate responses for the social engagement team on duty. She shares some highlights.
”I think when people chat and say they are from far out countries, it’s quite exciting to know that people watch our services as far as Trinidad & Tobago, Argentina, Brazil, Zambia… Also when they ask for prayer and we are able to engage them and pray for them, it’s good that they know they are not alone.”
LISTEN TO THE HAND: TALKING HANDS MINISTRY
CHC’s Talking Hands Ministry serves churchgoers who are hearing impaired. It has a group of dedicated volunteers who interpret the service for their members through sign language and they have continued to do so during this season.
The staff and volunteers have been signing live via Zoom for their members during Saturday services. Saturday’s interpretation will then be recorded and uploaded to their Facebook page.
Head of the ministry, Anson Ang relates the difficulties they face. “If the connection is not strong, our signing will lag. The deaf might not understand what was conveyed or they might get tired watching it. Another challenge is trying to keep up with the preaching as, unlike during live service, there are no fillers from the audience like clapping or responding with ‘Amen’. That being the case, the preachers tend to move faster, which means we have to sign faster without stopping.”
OTHER SERVICES REACHING OUT ONLINE
Other ministries like Harvest Kidz (HKz) and Jesus for All Minds (JAMs) are also actively engaging their members through their weekly programmes.
Harvest Kidz uploads a service recording which includes one song and one Bible lesson every Saturday on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. They conduct 12 Zoom services every weekend for the various age groups as well as four Zoom services for children in the outreach program.
Harvest Kidz volunteers are still very much involved in ministering to the children through calls and Zoom services during the weekends. Programme development manager for Harvest Kidz, Connie Yong, tells us about volunteer engagement during this time.
“Since the start of COVID-19, the staff has been recording video and voice devotions that are posted in our Facebook group for volunteers. In fact, we meet up even more now, through Zoom. COVID is not stopping us from connecting with one another through Bible study, birthday celebrations and fellowship.”
Similarly, JAMs service also records and uploads weekly service on YouTube and Instagram. Zoom services with JAMs members on alternate weekends are conducted as well, so that the ministry can stay connected with its congregation.
However, not all the members are tech-savvy enough to access the video or join them on Zoom. JAMs Pastor, Pastor Lily Yong shares,” We try to connect with them by visiting or calling them to check on them and their family. Before Phase Two, we mailed out care packs and snack packs to them as well.”
She adds that during this season, the JAMs team needs to think out of the box and use various objects or props for the online lessons. To help to speed up and smoothen the filming process, every lesson is scripted, so they cannot be spontaneous unlike in a live service.
The Dialect service has been actively creating programmes to engage its congregation online. On top of weekly YouTube sermons and fortnightly YouTube devotion, they also have Zoom service every Saturday where breakout rooms are utilized for the members to share, discuss and pray together. The ministry also collected pre-loved devices such as smartphones and tablets to download the sermons for the elderly who are not tech-savvy and who do not have Wifi at home.
The pastor of Dialect service Pastor Maria Tok says, “Singapore is currently going through a digital and technology revolution. It is especially difficult for the elderly in their late 70s to 80s. Some of them live alone or do not live with their family. As such, the staff and volunteers have to be constantly updated on what is happening, and be on hand to assist our members to ride on this technology wave.”
CHC’s heart values are being lived out week after week during this pandemic: the staff is loving God wholeheartedly and loving people fervently through adapting and making online service as engaging and interactive as possible. They have been finding needs to meet as well. Thanks to these behind-the-scenes heroes, church members are able to enjoy a wonderful and engaging worship experience each week.