I’m old enough to remember worship without projection or large displays. Oh, there were times when a really progressive pastor would lug a clunky overhead projector upfront and supplement his message with rough words or pictures drawn on clear sheets of plastic called “transparencies.” The bulbs were hot, and the fans keeping them cool were loud. And then there was the problem of the transparencies sliding off the glass at precisely the wrong time. Look around, I’m sure there’s one of these gadgets stuck in a basement storage closet somewhere in your church.
Forgive me for sounding harsh, but I don’t think we’ve come very far from those days with our newfangled projection systems. Sure, our words and pictures are better quality, and now those beyond the first three rows of chairs can make out what’s being projected. But if we’re honest, this improved technology hasn’t lived up to its promise.
So, we’ve spent big bucks installing these systems and have learned how to run them. What will it take to use them in ways that enhance worship rather than detracting from it?
Now, I like big type as much as the next designer-guy, but sitting in church last Sunday, it occurred to me that the scale of elements in our worship space were out of whack—mostly because of the big, bright screen. Granted, text needs to be large enough to be readable by people of all visual abilities, but the screen as a whole doesn’t always need to be the star of the show.
What if we thought about that gargantuan panel of pixels as “b-roll”? In film, b-roll is footage specifically shot to supplement the main action onscreen. Despite what we might have put into them money-wise, what if we relegated our projection systems to support status only? That is, what if we began our worship planning work with non-screen materials, and after the plans are set we ask ourselves if or how projection can enhance them?
What if we included smallish icons or symbols on screen to show which parts of the service involve us talking to God, God talking to us, or us talking with each other?
What if we decided we were going to project only one image for the entire worship service—be that a piece of art, the Scripture text, or a piece of music. And if we’re going to dwell on it, let’s not choose something too simple. Respect your worshipers’ ability to wonder about and appreciate images that are more complex than a little butterfly on a daisy, as lovely as that might be.
Like the changes that central heating or electricity or sound systems brought to our worship, it’ll take some time to figure out the best ways to adapt our projection practices as well—but please, let’s not wait too long to start thinking deliberately about how to do it.
For more on projection in worship, read Steven Koster’s articles in RW 76 and RW 81 titled “Leading with Light.”