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Projectors in Worship: Summary of a Survey

In the summer of 2003, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship studied the use of video technology in worship in West Michigan. Over 900 churches in Kent and Ottawa counties were surveyed, with a 36% response rate. The following summary includes the key survey questions, a summary of the response, and some additional questions for considering your own media program. For more information about this research, see www.calvin.edu/worship/research/visual_tech.pdf.

Question
How many churches use projector technology?
Data Summary
Nearly 60% of churches use some form of projector technology at least yearly, with 46% using computer-based projectors weekly. These numbers reflect a national growth trend, from below 25% in 1998 to somewhere over 50% in 2003.
Thinking Beyond the Data
The use of projectors in worship is a growing trend nationally. Has your church struggled with the idea? What hopes lead you to use them, and what fears hold you back? Have your hopes been realized and your fears addressed?

Question
What kinds of churches use projectors?
Data Summary
Mid-size churches were the most likely to use projectors, at or above 60%. Evangelical Protestants were the most likely to use such technology (66%), followed closely by mainline Protestants (55%). Roman Catholic (19%) and Eastern Orthodox (0%) had lower usage rates.
Thinking Beyond the Data
These data reflect different approaches to culture by various traditions. Believing that all congregations are called to make discerning judgments about culture, how is your church “in” but not “of” the technological culture?

Question
What type of technology is used?
Data Summary
Computer and video technology are used more (over 57%) than overhead transparencies and film or slides (37% or less). Overheads are most likely to be used in churches with less than 250 members. In the next year, more than 41% of churches expect to increase their use of computer projectors, but less than 8% expect to increase the use of overheads. At least 18% do not expect to increase use of any projector.
Thinking Beyond the Data
Over 80% of churches expect to use more projection in the coming year. When considering projection, what would be good reasons to increase usage? To decrease? What are some inadequate reasons? Why?

Question
What type of content is used?   
Data Summary
The primary use of worship projection is text rather than short videos or animation. Over 72% of churches use some text-only media weekly, and over 56% use text combined with graphics. Slightly over 14% use animation, less than 9% use live video, and less than 4% use movie clips each week. This emphasis on text suggests a role for media in worship closer to a print hymnal or bulletin rather than a movie, TV show, or even play.
Thinking Beyond the Data
Text projection is the primary use of projectors in worship and should therefore be thought through thoroughly. What can projected text do that paper cannot? What can printed text do that a projection cannot? When might no text be most desirable? Are there more ways to use the technology you already have?   

Question
What role do projectors play in worship?
Data Summary
When asked what liturgical role churches expected projectors to play in worship, over 75% specified “to encourage participation” and over 59% said “to convey information,” again replacing print. However, over 55% cited “to create an environment,” which is not a common role for print media. Less than 6% use projectors as a stand-alone worship leader each week.   
Thinking Beyond the Data
Creating an environment makes projectors different from print. What kind of worship environment are you trying to create? How is it related to the biblical purpose of worship? Does your use of technology fit with your worship space or does it “fight it”?   

Question
If not currently using projectors, why not?   
Data Summary
Churches that had not used projectors tended to be polarized, either opposed to or open to new technologies. Some had no interest; others were waiting only for the money. Budget, not theological or “political” considerations, was the primary reason for not using new technologies. Nearly 42% called “no budget” a very important reason, while over 20% cited “no interest” or “tradition” as very important. Less than 14% cited opposition from a minority of the congregation or lack of time as very important. When asked what resources might be most useful, increased access to equipment through cash or donation was called very useful by over 61%, while a discussion of the overall appropriateness of projectors was the least (over 10%). Resources of hands-on training and affordable services were only moderately useful.
Thinking Beyond the Data
Churches seem either to embrace projection heartily or reject it utterly. Does your church have a sense of the middle ground? Have you articulated why this medium is a better investment than some other initiative? Have you set goals for media and ways to measure the success of those goals? What investment besides more equipment would improve your worship and fellowship?   

Question
What is your purpose in using projection technology?   
Data Summary
Those churches that have integrated projectors cite contemporary relevance (50%) and evangelical outreach to youth (40%) and to nonmembers (35%) as very important reasons, echoing the wider movements of contemporary worship and church growth. Avoiding print (29%) and exploring visual art (26%) are moderate reasons. Only 16% called using members’ gifts very important, but 43% called it somewhat important. Interestingly, while equipment access is the highest obstacle to integration, it was cited as the weakest motivation (15%). Lack of equipment
prevents use of projectors, but having a projector does not motivate use.
Thinking Beyond the Data
Churches seem to assume using projectors will make them relevant. How does a projector make your worship relevant? Have you tested what kind of media youth actually respect? If you have a projector, when is it turned off? Why? Has your congregation considered any low-tech changes in worship?   

Question
Who are the key decision makers?   
Data Summary
Over 92% described the pastor as very or somewhat important in the initial decision to integrate projectors in worship. Over 83% said that a small group with technological interests was second in importance, along with the worship planning committee (76%). The church council (68%) and general congregational consensus (58%) played a secondary role in the decision. Interestingly, though evangelism is a key reason cited for integration, evangelism committees (28%) generally played a relatively weak role in the decision. External groups such as consultants (13%) and denominational agencies or bishops (9%) had the least influence.
Thinking Beyond the Data
The pastor is the key person in a media program, but some group of lay people is usually involved. Who drives your worship media program? Is the media aspect of
worship reviewed by your church council just like other aspects of worship? Who decides what goes on the screen and how the screen fits with the other elements of worship?   

Question
What types of training do you use?   
Data Summary
In developing a worship media program, churches rely on internal training. Most practitioners are self-taught, with over 90% of churches calling it very or somewhat important. Having church staff train others (70%) is secondarily helpful. Self-guided tutorials (49%) and having professional experience (45%) were moderately useful, while formal training classes were cited by 29%. Training in hands-on ideas and techniques were moderately requested resources for future usefulness, as are stock media goods and services.
Thinking Beyond the Data
Most practitioners receive little formal training, and almost never training in why media matters. What kind of training does your pastor, worship committee, technology operators or others need? Do your media technicians learn about worship rather than just media technology? Do your volunteers see the bigger picture of good and fitting worship? Do you have a process for ongoing learning? For internal discussion?

Question
What resources are needed to prepare each week?   
Data Summary
Media messages are usually prepared each week by two to four people in less than five hours. Volunteer time is often, though not always, a key resource; 18% use no volunteers while over 25% use all volunteers. More time from staff or volunteers is a commonly requested resource.
Thinking Beyond the Data
How are your volunteers recruited? Are projectors taking valuable time away from other ministries? Or do they enable participation of people who probably would not otherwise participate?   

Question
What evaluation does your projector program receive?
Data Summary
Most churches make some effort to evaluate their use of media technologies, most often on a yearly basis, including equipment, genre, liturgical role, and goals. Effectiveness is the most examined aspect, with over 25% evaluating it weekly, although it is unclear what constitutes “effectiveness.” In any case, projectors are strongly integrated into worship, with 58% saying the removal of projectors from worship would cause significant or substantial change to the way they do worship. Projectors are increasingly a defining force in how churches perform worship.
Thinking Beyond the Data
What parts of your media program do you evaluate? Your worship? How do you know if you are “effective”—or even what it means for worship to be effective? What would
happen if presentational technologies were removed from your worship? Do you evaluate not just whether people like media, but (more specifically) how it helps them worship or pray more meaningfully? Focusing on which uses of technology enable deeper worship can provide clues for which uses to develop and which to eliminate.
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For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.