Let Your Congregation Determine Your Multimedia Toolkit
Wait … come again? The title is… what? How is that going to work?
Is it the congregation’s place to say what software I should use? Or if I should use a motion background versus “IMAG”? Do they know the ins-and-outs of an HD system better than the person on staff who was trained in the ways of the visual Jedi?
Perhaps the best way to clarify what I’m suggesting is this: Your congregation shouldn’t necessarily determine what specific multimedia tools to use, but how you are using them, and more importantly, whyyou are using those tools to begin with. It’s the most freeing and creative approach you could ever take with your visual worship ministry.
“Why use visual aids in a church? Each user must know the answer to this question if he/she is to use visual aids correctly & effectively.”
– Earl Waldrup, Using Visuals Aids in a Church
Because we live in a world where resources and tools are falling from the sky like manna from heaven, we need to understand that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should. To truly determine whether or not a tool in your arsenal is effective, you need to hear from your congregation.
I’d love to share some stories about my own church, Journey (in Franklin, Tennessee) as one example. My goal and hope here is to provide some inspiration, and perhaps you will be able to take away some principles and apply it to your own setting.
The culture at Journey is very relational. We don’t have a large staff, and our congregation is around a thousand people. Our creative team (that we call “Cartography”) is made up of a few artists and storytellers, some of who are staff and some of who are volunteers. The Cartography team meets weekly to brainstorm creative worship expressions for our Sunday Gathering, including everything from the songs we sing to the images we put on the screen.
Part of our process is determining what’s currently in our “toolbox,” as well as what tools we would love to have one day. Tools range from songs, moments of reflection and silence, interactive art stations, main screen projection, environmental projection, artwork submitted by artists in the congregation, communion, offering, non-linear worship environments, video interviews, and the list goes on.
Many of the Cartographers have been exposed to new tools and creative methods for leading worship because we travel for work. Naturally, we bring some of these to the table for discussion. Some work, and some don’t.
For instance, when I go to a conference or show up as a guest VJ at a church and we sing a song about who God is, I project this simple yet powerful motion graphic called “Names of God” that my buddy Camron Ware (visualworshiper.com) created. Various names of God, all in different white fonts on a black background, scroll slowly up the screen. It’s a very powerful expression of visual worship, especially when using “environmental projection.” But it doesn’t work at Journey.
Camron Ware “Names of God”
It’s hard to explain that gut feeling you have when you know something won’t fly. For some reason, motion backgrounds and cool digital effects just aren’t needed for our diverse, artistic congregation. But when our pastor Jamie George led us through a study on the names of God last fall, we still wanted to somehow visually engage our community but in a “Journey way.” So we created tons of standing picture frames with clear plexiglass and wrote various names of God on each one with a white marker. This way, the portraits of names served more as a static layer and a way to invite people into a soul environment.
Journey’s version: Names of God
For projection, we use almost every tool the media presentation world has to offer. We run ProPresenter 4 with the Advanced and Edge-Blending Modules, which is hooked up to a Matrox TripleHead2Go to achieve a seamless triple-wide image on a large scrim backdrop. We use three Hitachi ultra short throw projectors so there are no shadows of band members. And then…we pick one .jpg image adapted from original artwork created by an artist in our congregation, and we leave it up for the entire month. Why? Because we know that throwing a bunch of motion backgrounds at everyone would be detrimental to the atmosphere we want to create. Remember, this is a VJ writing this to you! I’m all about some motion backgrounds, just not at Journey. We highly value art and imagery, and we’ll use the most cutting-edge tools to project that art in the most excellent of ways, but it looks nothing like what you would expect. And it’s taught me a lot about loving a community more than my own creative abilities.
The Cutting Room Floor
Another example I’ll share is when we decided to create a cool animated sermon intro video to transition us from the sung worship to Jamie’s message. In theory, it sounded cool, and a gifted animator in our congregation donated his time to help us create the perfect piece we had envisioned.
We rehearsed it a few times and pulled it off without a hitch. But when we played it during the Gathering, it just didn’t feel natural. It felt as if we had applied the brakes to the spirit of the room, and the emotion of the atmosphere was thrown off. Instead of analyzing it internally, we went to trusted friends in the congregation. Some agreed that it was distracting. Some thought it was cool and executed well. And some were neutral. Honestly, it was a toss up. But we had a gut feeling that there was more potential for distraction than enhancement, so we pulled it. Our decision was rooted in our congregation’s input.
So you can see how, in the end, our congregation helped us determine what our multimedia toolkit should look like. We’re learning that just because a tool is effective somewhere else doesn’t mean it’s going to work in our own setting. It’s all about contextualization.
Often, what we think we are communicating and what others perceive we are communicating are very different things. The only way to really find out what our congregation is thinking is to simply talk to them.
At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. Embrace the tension, dive into conflict, and initiate honest conversations. Be vulnerable. Listen to their story. And love well. Gone are the days where it’s only the pastor’s job to do this. We are all ministers … including singers, artists, and techs. And it’s in our love and openness with each other where we will rediscover the reason why we are using the tools in the first place.