Churches in Holston Baptist Association able to utilize a drone for many ministry purposes
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
JOHNSON CITY — The Holston Baptist Association now has an eye in the sky, and it’s helping the association’s churches in a wide variety of ways.
Over the past several months, the churches in the Holston association have been using a drone — a small, remote-controlled “aircraft” that captures images and videos — to aid them in ministry purposes.
The drone is owned and operated by Jeremy Carlson, the communications director for Holston Baptist Association. Carlson has taken the device to several church campuses to assist with promotional videos, photos for social media and various other projects.
Some churches have also used the drone for more practical purposes, such as surveying the condition of the roofs on their buildings.
“We’ve had quite a few churches so far that have called us to utilize the benefit of the drone,” said Carlson. “It really is a great way for churches to show their ministry in a new and different way.”
Carlson’s drone can fly as high as 13,100 feet and features a 12-megapixel camera that captures full, high-definition images.
Carlson said the concept of using the drone for ministry purposes just kind of fell out of the sky, so to speak.
“I first thought of the idea after seeing different creators on YouTube using them,” he said. “I loved seeing the aerial shots and how they added so much depth to the story they were telling. I wanted to be able to add that same depth to what was happening in our association.”
Carlson’s drone is a “Spark” model made by the DJI company. The small device — which measures 170mm across diagonally and weighs only about 300 grams — is extremely easy to transport. “I can put it in a backpack or even in my pocket and go where I need to go,” Carlson said.
In order to let churches know that he could come to their campus and operate the drone, Carlson — fittingly enough — recently sent out fliers about his flier. Since then, he said he has received a steady stream of calls about the device.
“There is no charge to participating churches and I make no money (from) it,” he said. “I really use the drone as a benefit to our churches within the association.”
Carlson noted that the drone is “very safe” and has multiple sensors that will stop the drone if something is too close.
“The capabilities are great,” Carlson said. “The drone will establish a starting point when it first takes off and will return to that point on its own if I lose the signal to it or the battery gets too low.”
Carlson noted that there are many rules and regulations pertaining to the use of drones — and Carlson follows those guidelines closely in order to avoid getting a phone call and hearing the words, “Holston, we have a problem.”
As with any aircraft that reaches a certain height, the drone has to be registered with the FAA.
“Tennessee has specific laws that restrict where I can fly, such as certain open air events or near an airport,” he said. “It also can’t be used for any type of surveillance. As much as possible, if I do a promotional video, I will shoot when nobody is around to make things easier and safer.”
“Because the drone itself is mine, personally, it makes things a little easier as far as operating goes,” he noted. “If I were to use the drone for business purposes — such as real estate photography or monetized videos or as a news reporter — then I would have to get my pilot’s license under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule.”
To acquire that license, Carlson noted that he would need to pass a test that included sections on emergency procedure, radio communication and many more guidelines and regulations related to small, unmanned aircraft systems and flight operation.
For now, though, Carlson simply enjoys operating the drone — even though some other occupants of the sky don’t necessarily appreciate the company.
“Birds absolutely hate my drone,” Carlson said. “I have had to land the drone many times because birds were attacking it in open air. There have been multiple times where I have the drone flying over an open field with nothing around and as soon as I get the drone into position to take a picture it is swarmed by four, five, six and sometimes 10 or more birds.”
Carlson said he hopes the churches in the Holston association will continue to make the most of his offer to utilize the drone.
“The churches in our association have such a large reach in the neighborhoods and community that they are in,” he said, “and the (best) way to illustrate that is with an aerial photo.”