How to take better digital pictures and not have any crummy digital pictures

Note: this article is not actually about taking pictures.

I got my first SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera when I was in college and have been a photography hobbyist ever since. When digital cameras came along I was an early adopter. We just bought our fifth digital camera. I got hooked on digital photography right away but wanted the power and flexibility of an SLR. When digital SLRs dropped under $1000 I was the first kid on my block to get one. I love it.

One of the things that makes digital photography great is that with digital photography you can take substantially better pictures and eliminate all crummy pictures. Imagine looking through a photo album and not one single picture is out of focus, or badly framed, or contains red-eye, or someone blinked. This really is possible with digital photography. Here is how.

Decide about how many pictures you want for a particular outing. I took the kids to the county fair the other night. For an event like that, let's say I want twenty pictures. What I want is twenty good pictures and NO crummy pictures. So, here is what I do. I take fifty pictures. Lots of shots I take two back to back shots. I take lots of pictures. Hard to capture shots--like a picture on a moving ride I take lots of. I take two or three times as many pictures as I actually want. Some of them I can tell right away that they are bad, so I just delete them on the spot. The rest I put on my computer. Then, I go through and delete all the bad ones. By doing this, you are guaranteed to have much better pictures and NO crummy pictures.

Of course, it would be possible to do this same thing with a film camera, it just cost a lot more. The great thing about digital photography is that once you pay for the camera, all the pictures are free. If you take very many pictures each year, the savings in film and developing can easily pay for the camera. I don't print most of my pictures; I just view them on screen.

One other great thing about digital photography. You can Photoshop the  pictures that are good, but just have some something wrong with them. It is a snap to reduce red-eye, bring down some blown highlights from an overly hot flash, or correct the color. In group pictures you often have a situation where everyone looks great except one person. With Photoshop, you can copy this person from one photo and drop them into another.

So, there are two great things about digital photography that allows us to take all better pictures and NO crummy pictures:

  • You can take lots of pictures and delete the bad ones
  • You can correct the pictures that are almost good.

This article, though, is not actually about digital photography. It is about your church, your class and how you can double. The principles above can apply to almost everything. In almost every arena you do better by trying lots of things (i.e. taking lots of pictures) and discarding all the things that don't work. Some things you try will almost work. They will be good ideas that just need to be tweaked (photoshopped) a bit.

Example #1: Sunday night

A lot of churches are struggling what to do with Sunday night. Often, the crowd is pitiful, the atmosphere is depressing and the experience is just not all that positive for anyone there. But, we do it because we always have and there are a handful of people who would protest if we didn't. We hear about a church across town that has replaced Sunday nights with home groups and we begin to wonder if we should consider doing that.

Normally, the process of change works something like this. A small leadership group--often the staff; sometimes other key laymen are involved--talks about it until they are convinced this is the right thing to do. From here on out, we have a series of meetings under the guise of discussing the idea, but actually, it is mostly about this group trying to sell the idea. The first meeting often goes like this, "We want to form a committee to think about the possibility of maybe sometime, far in the future, when most of us will be dead or gone anyway, considering doing something different on Sunday night." We are very careful not to use the word, "change" in that sentence. After a long series of meetings, discussions, phone calls, prayers, arguments, and misunderstandings, a decision is finally made. Then, this decision is announced to the congregation with this kind of tone, "Here ye, here ye! It has been decided that from now on and thus forevermore we will permanently and unalterably change the Sunday night schedule. We will no longer ever again have Sunday night service and will, instead have home groups. This idea has been discuss ad-nasium and need not, and shall not be discussed again. Hence forth shall it forever be. Amen."

This approach is problematic on several levels and almost never ends in a good result. Here is what I think is a better approach. It is taking a page from the digital photography play book.

Before the leadership core gets actually sold on the idea themselves, they would do well to field an experiment. Pick out one Sunday night one time and decide to do home groups on that night. Perhaps it is just a group fellowship night and every group is encouraged to plan a fellowship on that night. No grand pronouncements about the future. No, "Thus sayeth the Lord." No committees. No business meetings. Just one night take a picture of how a Sunday night might be without a worship service and doing home group instead.

It might be a bad picture. Delete the file and go on. It might be an OK picture that needs to be photoshopped. If it seems to hold any possibility at all, try it again in a few months. Ask people how they felt about it. Give it some time. Talk. Listen. Try it again. Try something slightly different. Try doing it for the summer. Try. Try. Try. Do this for the rest of your life.

Home groups

I am in a lot of churches that are experimenting with home groups. Not many are having a lot of success. The reason is simple, although home group churches won't tell you this. If you give people a choice between doing group at home on a weeknight and having to figure out what to do with the kids, versus a Sunday School style set-up where we all meet at the same time adjacent to (in terms of time and geography) the worship service and there is something for all five of my children, most people naturally prefer a Sunday School style setting.

By the way, I use the phrase "Sunday-School style setting" because many churches--it might be most churches I am in don't use the word Sunday School any more. They call Sunday School Adult Bible Fellowships, or Life Groups or Bible Studies or just groups, but not many are using the word Sunday School any more. In this context I mean the format where we all meet at the same time, with age appropriate classes for all kids and it meets adjacent to the worship service. People tend to prefer that, which explains why most Sunday School churches struggle with home groups. Home group churches will never mention this.

Still I am not against home groups, and a both/and approach is likely the best one. How do you go at it? One way is the way of the pronouncement. The smart people get in a room and discuss for days and then decide how it forever more shall be. Then they make a pronouncement. Far better to take some pictures. Try this home group. Try groups for different groups of people. Do a Purpose-Driven Life Style campaign where the whole church does home groups for five weeks. Take a picture of what church life would be like with home groups for five weeks.

This trip into home groups may do little more than persuade you that home groups are not all that and you are going to stick with Sunday School style groups. Or, the opposite may happen. You and your church may fall in love with home groups and you may want to go that way. It is going to be far easier to persuade the masses if the masses have tasted home groups and like them. A third possibility is that you will work out a happy marriage between home groups and Sunday School style groups.

One possibility is to do mid-week activities (Wednesday night) or Sunday night activities in home groups. Don't commit to forever. Just try it for one week of three weeks or ten weeks.

Dividing Classes

Dividing classes is often done by pronouncement. The smart people get in a room and decide what is best. Then, they make an announcement, "Hear ye! Hear ye! Starting three weeks from today we will henceforth and forever be a divided group." This is almost certain to turn out badly. Far better to take some pictures of what might be. Just for one week, divide up into groups of eight sitting around round tables. Just for this month, let's divide into three buzz groups. Just for this period of time, let's separate the groups by gender.

Creating new groups is all about leadership. Take a picture of what leadership might look like. Ask someone to teach a lesson for one week. Or, do a series for four weeks. Have a regular sub who subs even when you are there. If a whole lesson is too much, have someone lead a little part of it. Or, lead part of the group.

Keep the farm; plant a garden

A lesson I have taught my kids is this: work the farm, but plant a garden. The farm is the main thing. Keep it going because it is the main thing. But plant a garden. Try an experiment. Take a picture. It may work; it may not. You don't know. Try it.

Let me close with this verse:

"Be sure to stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow—perhaps they all will."
Eccles. 11:6 [NLT]