Worship Media Arts

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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?


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Come Home For Christmas

If you’d like to make this your theme for Christmas, check out the full resource here.



Not a Fit! How to Transition People to Their Sweet Spot


Have you heard the story of history’s worst art restoration?

Recently, a 19th-centurty fresco painting of Jesus that was in desperate need of a facelift, underwent an unexpected and rather horrendous restoration by a completely unqualified elderly parishioner.

The painting that hangs in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Spain was first thought to be vandalized, but eventually Elias Garcia Martinez came forward admitting the touchups were her handiwork.

The “restored” painting resembles a mutant Ewok or some sort of alien/bear hybrid. It probably goes without saying, Elias is not an artist, has no formal training and is in no way qualified to restore paintings.

She claims that she had permission from the parish priest. While that claim turned out to be false, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

The truth is, we often allow and even encourage people to serve in areas outside their areas of giftedness. When you’re assembling a new team, it’s hard to not have an open casting call; accepting anyone and everyone who might want to join. In an effort to not hurt feelings and offend individuals, we end up putting people in positions that ultimately are bad for them and for our congregations.

As Mr. Spock said in Star Trek II, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is a pretty harsh statement, especially for ministry, but I think it’s applies.

We’ve all sat through excruciating specials where soloists can’t quite hit their notes; we’ve all been present for the testimony that was scheduled for 2 minutes that went 12; we’ve all seen graphics designed by the church secretary or other staff members who have no design training. All of these things can have a huge impact on how we experience God in worship. The collective discomfort experienced in these moments of worship are nearly impossible to overcome in the span of an hour.

It is hard to utter the words, “you may not be a good fit for this”, but those words are sometimes necessary. Just because someone isn’t right for one opportunity doesn’t mean they won’t be great for another. 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 lays out a pretty good rationalization for why we’re really called to do ministry in our highest area of giftedness. The body of Christ is described as many parts that form one unit.

Every person has a part to play in the body. Sometimes individuals are drawn to do the work of a part that they’re not. The most difficult part is that people regularly think they’re gifted in ways that they’re not.

This happens in many areas from singing to media production, dramatic arts to “on chancel” roles such as worship hosting/acting as liturgist and so on.

So how do you help shift someone to where they need to be? It starts with sensitivity, prayer and careful communication.

First and foremost, just because someone isn’t right for one type of ministry, doesn’t mean that they’re not good for any ministry at all. They may just be a hand, not a foot. Our elderly DIY art restorer from earlier is pretty good at the broad strokes. She might be perfect for painting the fellowship hall a new color. She likely has other talents that could be used in ways that would create successes for her and for the church.

For years at seminars I’ve told the story of working with an extremely talented intern while on staff at Ginghamsburg UMC. Of the 7 interns I worked with, he was among the most talented of my tenure. The thing is, while a great guy, he was not the best communicator. When trying to use him as an extension of our design team, I found that he couldn’t properly communicate the ideas we were trying to convey. He had a hard time communicating to me what he was thinking as when he’d try and offer a counter idea.

I didn’t send him home, I just found other ways to use him. One of them was to give him all of the info for announcements. I knew he was an excellent artist and that he was highly creative. I basically said, “Do something creative with this informartion”. He knocked it out of the park. He created what may have been the best announcement graphics to ever grace the screen. It wasn’t that our intern wasn’t good for ministry, it was just that he wasn’t right for the worship design team where clear communication was essential.

I’ve seen music directors do similar things with singers. Not every singer has the kind of voice that can/should be featured. While some singers may sing relatively well, it might be that they best fit in a larger ensemble such as a choir or as a group of backup singers.

Clear communication is an important part of ministry and relationships in general. Sometimes when the answer is no, or when we have to deliver hard news, we avoid the problem. We may not pick up the phone when we see who is calling. We also might not respond to emails or texts or other forms of communication because saying “no” or “you’re not right for this” is hard. The truth is, the more you avoid communication with those you have to share “tough love” with, the more frustration and hard feelings build. You can make a hard situation harder by avoiding conflict and communication. Without meaning to, you end up disrespecting the person by ignoring them and you may just hurt them in the process.

What does a hard conversation look like? It’s probably going to be different based on personalities – Some people can handle being frank and direct, others need a gentler touch. Here’s a quick roadmap to for having these conversations and what to do next:

  1. Start with sharing your appreciation for the work they’ve been doing. Help them see you appreciate their passion and desire to serve.
  2. Share with them your vision for ministry and what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
  3. Gently help them see that your goal for them and for the church is to create a win-win scenario, making sure that they are successful in the area they serve.
  4. Be honest about where you see shortcomings. If you think it’s possible that with more practice, training and experience that they can get to where they need to be, tell them that. If they’re “a hand”, and they want to be “a foot”, help them see (in a respectful way), that they may be reaching for something that is outside their area of giftedness. Above all, affirm that their gift is of value. Have a plan in place to transition them into whatever would be a better fit.
  5. Don’t stop communicating! Once you’ve moved them to a new area where they can succeed, continue to reach out. See how they’re doing. Don’t cut them off.


I’m a firm believer that we can only accomplish the mission if we act as a body – utilizing everyone’s gifts. We were designed to work together. When everyone is serving where they should be, and things are in alignment, the body functions better.



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Tech Rehearsal: Why it Should be a Non-negotiable


Twenty to twenty-five minutes – that’s how long it can take to regain the attention of someone who has disconnected after a distracting moment occurs in worship. According to numerous studies, the average disruption takes about 20 minutes to recover from. Whether in the workplace, at a live performance, while watching a movie or TV show or while in the live worship setting, distractions create disengagement.

As a culture, we have a sort of collective Attention Deficit Disorder. It doesn’t take much to get us off track. An awkward transition between elements in worship, a muted or feeding back microphone, a misspoken line, a poorly timed graphic, a miscued video or worse, can all break the awareness of the presence of the Spirit in worship.

Recovering is tough, and in some instances can be impossible. Distractions mean missed opportunities for engagement in worship. Since worship ultimately leads to personal faith development and a desire to engage in mission, missed opportunities have a huge consequence.
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What’s already in your hand? Making Worship Better With What You Already Have



I was recently speaking at a conference in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist church, and had a little extra time on my schedule to meet up with a friend for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, so I was really looking forward to it. We set a time and location; all I had to do was show up.

I must confess, I’m completely directionally challenged. God blessed me with several gifts, but an internal compass is not one of them.

The way I’ve gotten around this issue for the last several years is to carry a GPS (in the form of an iphone) everywhere I go. My GPS app of choice is TomTom. The main reason for that is that, prior to the iphone, I carried around a TomTom unit with me. Basically I know the software.  That said, I don’t use the Apple Maps app very often.

I hadn’t updated TomTom’s maps in some time, and was headed off to meet my friend. When I got onto a toll road that was suggested by someone at the church I was speaking at, my GPS got totally freaked out. I was driving in what used to be a field or something because it was spinning around in circles and didn’t know where to tell me to go.

I went from arriving a few minutes late, to running very late. To make matters worse, with the GPS in a constant state of recalculating, had no idea when I’d arrive or if I was even going in the right direction. I called my friend and he said, “Don’t you have an iPhone 4S?” I said, “Yes, why?” He replied, “Ask Siri”.

For the uninitiated, Siri is Apple’s digital assistant application. Among other things, she’ll make appointments, find directions, read texts and dial numbers for you. In theory, it’s like having an assistant at your side at all times.

When I first got my iPhone 4S, the servers that make Siri work were so overtaxed by users experimenting, most of the time, Siri would just say to me, “I’m sorry Jason, I cannot complete that request right now. Try again later”. After a few weeks of this, I just stopped trying and I never did get into the habit of using the app. I’ve been told that things have improved significantly since that initial period.

When I asked Siri to find directions to the restaurant, she found them immediately. She mapped it all out for me, and all of a sudden I knew when I’d arrive and how I’d get there.

It occurred to me that I’ve been carrying around a powerful resource for half a year or more and hadn’t been using it at all.  It was always right there in my hand. Until that moment, I’d failed to recognize what I had with me all along. Since then I’ve used Siri to schedule appointments, look up movie times, call numbers and more.

Yes… I’m an Apple fan. No… this isn’t an advertisement for iphone 4S.

I began to think about how often we do the same thing in ministry. We picture bigger better things. When more creative and engaging worship seems out of our reach, or when we believe that we don’t have the resources to make it happen, we fail to recognize that what we need may be right in our hands.

Take for instance the “Children’s Moment” or “Children’s Sermon”. This brief segment of worship is built around the “what’s in your hand” principle. The person who preps the Children’s Sermon will often make a stop at the toybox, bookshelf  or maybe even a desk drawer. The next step is to build a relatable lesson around an object or story – one that the kids can grasp.

As a consultant, I can share with you one universal truth about the Children’s Moment: It is the single most engaging time in worship for children and adults alike. I’ve never seen adults strain their necks they way they do to get a better view of what the kids are seeing up close. Smiles and bright faces last from the time the Children’s moment begins until the time the kids are sent off to Sunday School.

It’s the most creative moment in many of our worship services. Why then do we finish and go back to less creative, boring “adult worship”. Why not plan the entire service like it’s the Children’s Sermon? The adults are just as engaged if not more so than the children, yet we limit our creativity to a 5 minute portion of the overall service.

I believe that the Children’s Sermon is a good model for what worship in general should look like. It relies on 5 fundamentals. They are:

1.)  It’s simple – one big idea.

2.)  It’s built around a metaphor – an object, idea, or story.

3.)  It’s creative – it uses things you already have to communicate truth in a more compelling way.

4.)  It’s designed for a specific audience – communication is intentionally designed for the target audience of children.

5.)  It’s participatory – there’s almost always a back and forth conversation between the preacher and the participants.

As you design worship in the coming weeks, think about what you already have at your disposal, and how you can use what you have to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.


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