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Making the Ancient Come Alive in the Present

Our church purchased an LCD (liquid crystal display) projector two years ago. As we incorporated this new technology it was important to us that it would not distract from worship’s narrative but support it as we made the ancient come alive in the present.

More often than not, in churches that use them, presentation technologies enter and exit the service. That is, the LCD projects a few songs, fades to black, comes back on to project the sermon’s bullet points, and fades to black again. Using technology in this way risks reinforcing the perception that a service is basically an assortment of songs, readings, and prayers with a sermon thrown in.

But worship isn’t a spiritual variety show; at least, it shouldn’t be. The movements of worship are interrelated, forming a coherent narrative. At the beginning of that narrative worshipers gather; at the conclusion we are sent out with a charge and a blessing. What happens in between prepares us for that sending. We hear the good news and are sent to live it out in the world.

It is not easy to lead people into the liturgy’s unfolding story. Too little guidance from the worship leader leaves people adrift. Too much guidance, on the other hand, can bog down the service; the congregation winds up merely following instructions rather than actually worshiping. A good worship leader avoids either extreme, providing both the overt and subtle cues that allow congregations to immerse themselves in the narrative.

Strange as it may sound, we have found visual projection to provide appropriate worship leadership. In conjunction with the efforts of liturgists, preachers, and musicians, projected visuals can help bring coherence to disparate parts of the service and draw the congregation into worship’s narrative.

Despite the limitations of print media, what follows attempts to illustrate some of what we have attempted since installing an LCD projector a few years ago.

PowerPoint slides from our Pentecost season liturgy contain a black strip with white text along the right-hand side—at first it reads “The Spirit Gathers Us for Worship”; then changes to “The Spirit Restores Through Confession.” This puts immediately relevant content (that is, what we are doing right now) within its larger context.

A print article such as this can’t illustrate the way we use animation to make the transition from Gathering to Confession, Confession to the Service of the Word, and so on. On the slide that introduces Confession, for example, the words “The Spirit Gathers Us for Worship” fade out and “The Spirit Restores through Confession” fade in, followed by “Call to Confession” and “Prayer of Confession.” This subtle movement indicates that we are making a significant transition—more significant than that made from Gathering Song to Greeting.

“Fade” is just one of PowerPoint’s many animation options. However, when words pinwheel onto the screen or bounce into position, PowerPoint begins to resemble an overbearing worship leader, drawing attention to itself rather than leading people into the narrative. For the most part, stick with “fade.” It possesses a quiet dignity other animation effects lack.

Over these past few years we have also worked to integrate presentation technologies into our overall visual worship space. The picture below shows what the slides look like in the context of the sanctuary. (The words in the panels around the screen come from Joel 2:28-29.) Integrating the screen into the space as a whole again serves the goal of coherence. Projecting images that relate to the banners, vestments, and other visual elements reinforces the sense of connectedness in worship. In other words, it is not merely an aesthetic concern. A coherent visual space creates a context conducive to a proper hearing of the words and performing of the actions of worship. It helps us to enter the narrative.

Certainly, presentation technologies provide opportunities to do new things in worship. But that is not the point here. Rather, let’s use these technologies to help make ancient things more accessible.