Worship Media Arts

How NOT to Think of Screens in Worship



Screens In Worship


Screens- many of us use them every week in worship. In the last decade, churches large and small have embraced visual technology to the point where they’ve almost become standard fixture along side pews, organs and altar tables. But do we really understand how to use them properly?


When I began my work as a media minister 16 years ago at a large well-known church in Ohio, leaders were just beginning to think about using screens in worship. For more than half of those years, my focus was mostly on convincing pastors, musicians and laypeople that screens had a place in the church. Things shifted several years ago. The the majority of people I speak to at seminars and in my consultation work have installed screens and are now trying to figure out why they haven’t magically transformed everything about worship. The fundamental problem is that we don’t fully understand the medium.


If we’re honest about it, many of us installed screens so that we could get rid of our hymnals. The funny thing about that is that most of the time, we hang on to the printed hymnals and the screen is just a repeat of a technology we’ve had at our disposal in worship for ages.


Of course, there is a segment within the population of the church thinks that the page is mightier than the fabric. In other words, the hymnal is seen as more holy or sacred than the screen. We end up providing both options to keep everyone happy.


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if hymnals are present or not. Truth is, the screen is underutilized and is often misused when we think of it as an enormous page-less book of songs.


The basic problem is that we treat the screen as if it’s a giant piece of paper. We put everything that used to be in the hymnal on it; we project bible verses, sermon points, and bulletins (announcements) on it; and the screen ultimately becomes a medium of support rather than one of transformative interpretive communication. Beyond random nature footage, out of focus lights, free floating particles, and other holy blobs of color, we are rarely intentional about the use of images on our screens.


The screen is NOT a giant piece of paper! A better metaphor for the screen is that of a canvas where we can paint powerful pictures that draw people in at a heart level. Image is an interpretive medium, with the power to help people see “more” than they otherwise could. The screen is like stained glass that we can change out every week.


We live in an image hungry, screen obsessed culture. From smart phones, to tablet devices; giant flat screen TVs, to movie screens; image is all around us – and we love it.


A 2005 study revealed that 65% of people are visual learners. The same study found that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text, and that 90% of information that comes to the brain is visual. Visual learning improves learning and retention by 400%.


Since image is the native language of the brain, it actually takes more mental energy to process and convert text into images than it does to simply take images and interpret their meaning. We also tend to have a more difficult time retaining what we read versus what we see.


When used properly, the screen is an incredible catalyst for growth. It can improve learning, create deep moments of connection and it greatly increases retention. The right images, when given the proper context, have the ability to lock a truth into our minds for a lifetime. When those truths take hold, they lead to personal faith development and a desire to change the world through missional action.


Here are 5 ways you can use the screen to be more visual in worship:

  1. Visual scripture – Rather than putting text on the screen when scripture is read, try using a single image that captures the story.
  2. Visual Points – Instead of typing characters on the screen, what are visuals that can say the same thing in the native language of our brains?
  3. Show, don’t just tell – If you’re telling a great story, grab an image (or images) and show it as you’re telling the story.
  4. Use b-roll – B-roll is the technical term for the footage you see running in the background during a news report that shows the scene where the news took place. I’ve seen pastors effectively use everything from an Olympic snowboard race to people on a mission trip run in the background in the background during sermons.
  5. Use the screen as a backdrop – Like in the theater, use the screen to create a scene.This works well for biblical and other types of storytelling.


What can you do this week in worship to engage and inspire the mind by painting pictures that will last a lifetime?


1 Comment so far »

  1. Diana Davis said,

    Wrote on December 17, 2013 @ 8:54 pm


    Thanks for this reminder. We have a screen at John Wesley that is really too big for the space. And a misunderstanding of how to use it. While I am not yet ‘official’ in the capacity of media coordinator, I am on my way. I always appreciate this reminder!

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