Worship Media Arts

Big Ideas, How-To, and Articles on Worship, Media and the Arts

How To Make Better Song Lyrics Slides for Worship

There’s nothing more tedious in media ministry than the weekly ritual of preparing song lyrics. Yet even this task normally given to newbie volunteers, interns, or the church monkey can become an important part of creative worship with a few simple rules.

1. Three to Four and You’ll Score. One or Six Don’t Mix.

Try to keep your song lyrics slides to three to four lines per screen. One or two lines, and you’ll turn the screen into a flipbook and create a guaranteed way for your congregation to miss half the words of the song while the operator has an ADD attack. Five, six or more and you’ll want to consider putting a number in the lower corner and designating someone to stand at the front and turn the screen over like a giant piece of paper, because that’s what you’re making it.

In the example below, the option on the left is clean and easy to visually process, but by splitting each verse of the hymn into five screens, it leaves a lot of room for error. And it’s kind of geriatric. The option on the right is safer in that regard, with the entire verse on one screen, but so much type is on one screen that it starts to look like hieroglyphics.

Fig 1a: One Line Fig 1b: Whole Verse
Figure 1a Figure 1b

Three to four, or at most five, lines per screen is a happy medium between these two extremes. For this hymn:

Fig 1c: Screen 1 Fig 1d: Screen 2
Figure 1c Figure 1d

2. Look After Widows and Orphans in Their Distress.

Betcha didn’t know there’s a rule for song lyrics in the Bible. It’s true. James 1:27 (NIV) says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” You may have thought this is a call to moral purity. No, it’s something much greater – don’t put a single word on a separate line when preparing song lyrics!

“Widows and orphans” is a phrase in design circles that refers to those words or short phrases that are left abandoned by their surrounding paragraphs. Look at these poor widows in the example below:

Fig 2a: Widow
Figure 2a

The better option is to cut the line at the phrase, which makes better sense from a design perspective, and musically too:

Fig 2b: No Widow
Figure 2b

See, aren’t those happy little words now?

40 Comments so far »

  1. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on May 2, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

    What do you think? Leave a message if you have something to say about this article. No registration is required to post a comment, but we will moderate for spam and obscene language, so your comment will be delayed in posting until we clear it.

  2. Barbara said,

    Wrote on May 4, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

    Great Article!!
    How do I convince the preacher he should cater for thevisual learners in his congregation? Singers of ‘item’ songs have the same problem.
    An article addressing these attitudes would be helpful

  3. Jay Friedman said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 5:35 am

    These guys are right on with the suggestions here. I attended one of their workshops and have been using these simple ideas ever since. The people DO notice the difference when you put a little extra effort into the slides. The whole idea of a metapor works great too!!
    Thanks MO Guys

  4. Betty Rawlings said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 6:16 am

    Wonderful information…thanks!
    You’re awesome!
    I appreciate your work!

  5. chuck said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 6:22 am

    Good info overall. I noticed you made the perfunctory slam of power point. Have you checked out the newest version of ppt? They have made huge strides in the text, word art areas with nice slections and variations in shadows, reflections, glow, etc.

    I’ve even gone back to using ppt for a lot of my slide/cue titling (otherwise I use Photoshop Elements or the limited titling in Media Shout).

  6. Jason Knippers said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 7:02 am

    Great article! However, I disagree with point #1. I do believe that two lines of text for a graphic can be done well, without making it look all psycho. A very soft cross dissolve on the text (if your software is capable of this)can lend to an easy to read layout without driving the congregation into ADD mode.

    Also, for those using Imag or also projecting their lyrics out to their broadcast, two lines are often necessary to facilitate the broadcasted image.

    I will be passing this article along to all my “church monkeys!” 🙂

  7. Bonnie Greene said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 8:31 am

    Most of these principles will be helpful to me in training new people as they develop slides for music in worship. However, there is a school of thought that was overlooked. That one rests on the thesis that a central driving metaphor for the service will allow more people to engage God more deeply and comprehend the central message than multiple, unrelated images.Like other churches, we’re trying to adapt our congregation’s culture for people who are visual, auditory, cognitive and kinesthetic learners.

    Because auditory and cognitive are the default in the protestant tradition, we tend to go overboard in loading on the visual–just to compensate. The problem we’ve run into is that the visual messages are increasingly more powerful. So people feel bombarded by visual messages that have little to do with the service’s focus. The driving gospel metaphor gets lost in the shuffle.

    The article used the criteria “boring” for song slides that don’t have pictures behind them. I don’t think that criterion is helpful in thinking about worship flow. I’m the first person to root out “boring” in our services, but as a worship producer and designer I’ve had greater spiritual impact by using a subtle background for songs and placeholders and concentrating excellent visual metaphors on non-musical parts of the service: message, performance music, communion, meditations, scripture texts, videos, etc. People pay attention to the driving metaphor because it’s not cluttered up with other visuals that are unrelated.

    For what it’s worth! God bless,
    Bonnie Greene
    North Bramalea United Church
    Brampton, Ontario

    For what it’s worth.

  8. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 8:50 am


    PowerPoint “Word Art”. Isn’t that an oxymoron?! 🙂

    No, just kidding. Thanks for the input.

  9. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 8:55 am


    Nicely worded. Couldn’t agree more.

    Are you a newer participant in the Midnight Oil community? Most people say they’re sick to death of us preaching metaphor. We say it in almost everything we do. That’s why in this article we made a small mention of it in #4, and link to Digital Storytellers, where we spend an entire book on the subject.

    Thanks for carrying the torch for metaphor. Keep up the good work.

  10. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 8:57 am

    Barbara (#3),

    We like to suggest a simple axiom to help those in your congregation who don’t “get it”: Demonstrate, Don’t Debate. Create an effective use of visual learning, and gauge feedback, both from staff and lay people. We talk much more about this in our books and seminars.

  11. How to Make Better Song Slides for Worship « Making Disciples in an Emerging Church said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    […] 5, 2008 How to Make Better Song Slides for Worship Posted by wchaney under AME CHurch, COGIC, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), ChurchRevitalization, Emerging Church, Mainline Church, Methodism, National Baptist Church, Presbyterian, Progressive Baptist, United Methodist Church, Urban Church, Urban Ministry, Worship, Worship Arts | Tags: Article, Technology, Worship, Worship Technology |   HOW TO MAKE BETTER SONG SLIDES FOR WORSHIP […]

  12. Gene said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 10:23 am

    Another great article, guys. The only place I vary much from it is that #7 (readability) trumps #8 (font choice). Maybe after we improve our lighting and get a new projector I’ll be able to use different fonts for lyrics, but for now I pretty much have to stick with Verdana bold for lyrics and liturgy to make sure the sweet little old lady in the back can read it.

  13. Anthony Coppedge said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 11:35 am

    Dudes, this is textbook example stuff!! Well done! You’ve just written the definitive primer on text treatments on screens at church!

  14. Carmen Leeson said,

    Wrote on May 5, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    Reading your article and responses gave me this idea: I use Easy Worship, one of the things I would like to do is have lyrics fade from one point on the screen and appear on another. These articles gave me the idea to have my 1st screen with the first line, the second screen with the 1st and 2nd line, etc. for 3rd & 4th lines. I’ll get the effect I want that way. Yes, it will mean having good timing in advancing the slides, but for my team it will be do-able. Jesus said the rocks would rise up and praise Him if the people remained silent, the monkey’s should be able to do this if they step up to the calling of the ministry! Carmen

  15. Jabi said,

    Wrote on May 6, 2008 @ 2:26 am

    song lyrics are a very interesting and helpful topic. I especially loved the “veiled” attempts at humour. they really helped drive the point home.

    will try it out.



  16. John Battern said,

    Wrote on May 6, 2008 @ 9:02 am

    On target as usual guys. I’m definitely passing this one on to my worship coordinator.

    Chuck is right about PPT 2007. It is so much improved, I don’t feel like I must create every sermon slide in PhotoShop.

  17. Kris said,

    Wrote on May 9, 2008 @ 10:10 am

    Wow. It’s really cool to see that some of things I’ve been doing instinctively actually have merit! Thanks as always for the great information and instructions!

  18. mediaministry.org » Blog Archive » How to Make Better Song Lyric Slides for Worship said,

    Wrote on May 10, 2008 @ 10:14 am

    […] I have been writing lately but it has been pages so I?m just going to write it all out and then break it up for bite size consumption. Meanwhile there has been a lot of great stuff that has been crossing my path that I want to share with you from others. The first is from the MO Guys about how to create song lyric slides for worship. Enjoy! There?s nothing more tedious in media ministry than the weekly ritual of preparing song lyrics. Yet even this task normally given to newbie volunteers, interns, or the church monkey can become an important part of creative worship with a few simple rules. 1. Three to Four and You?ll Score. One or Six Don?t Mix.Try to keep your song lyrics slides to three to four lines per screen. One or two lines, and you?ll turn the screen into a flipbook and create a guaranteed way for your congregation to miss half the words of the song while the operator has an ADD attack. Five, six or more and you?ll want to consider putting a number in the lower corner and designating someone to stand at the front and turn the screen over like a giant piece of paper, because that?s what you?re making it. Click here to read the rest of points 1 through 8 and all the illustrations. […]

  19. Ernie Stevenson said,

    Wrote on May 10, 2008 @ 10:23 am

    Great stuff guys! I have been teaching some of this for a while but now that it is on the internet maybe my church monkeys and worship pastor will actually believe it. :>)

  20. Joel Osborn said,

    Wrote on May 14, 2008 @ 8:28 am

    “The only place I vary much from it is that #7 (readability) trumps #8 (font choice).”

    Actually #7 (readability) trumps all of the others. With images and sermon slides, legibility isn’t as important.

    But with songs and other worship elements, you don’t want them straining to read at all. You don’t want anything getting in the way of them fully participating.

    If that means (on a weak projector) using while bold Arial on black backgrounds, then that is the way you should go.

    But you should also start a fund for a better projector so that you can start using more appropriate backgrounds that will tie the song and theme together. 8-{)>

  21. Brian said,

    Wrote on June 17, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

    A comment and a question. Comment is item #1 above. Besides the visual design reason for not putting only one or two lines of text on the screen at a time, there’s also the theological reason. Typically the second line of the song has something to do with the first line. And the third line has something to do with the second line. And so on… By chopping the song up into teensy pieces, it’s much harder to recognize the message of the song itself.

    Question is about fonts. Trying to get items #8 and #7 to agree. While I agree completely that *display* graphics do have a particular font that “fits” the graphic and is a part of the design, for song lyrics, that’s not the case at all. Because it really is about the little old lady (#7), fonts for lyrics are fairly restricted. Do the MO guys have suggestions for fonts that can be read from the back row of the sanctuary? Besides the obvious like Arial, Calibri, and Verdana, I’ve really liked Eras Light ITC (nice tall lowercase letters) and Cambria (a happy medium between a serif and sans serif font). For announcements, I prefer serif fonts like Galant and Roomy.

    As another comment, unless you’re in a zero ambient light environment with a very high contrast screen, my experience is that upping the opacity on the background image (as in figure 7d above) is essential, or else the image distracts too much from the lyrics. Stroke or shadow just isn’t enough to ensure maximum legibility.

    And as a final comment, can’t say I’m that much more impressed with powerpoint 2007 than the previous ones. I still have trouble formatting across multiple slides. When you discover on the last verse of a song that you’ll need to reduce the font size to fit it on, how do you change the font size for the twenty previous slides (as suggested in item #6 above)? I’ve never been able to get “format painter” to work nearly as well as I think it should. And I can’t believe that powerpoint 2007 *still* can’t run a video behind text. I can’t remember if MO offers moving backgrounds, but I’ve got some from bluefish. PP requires that *every* slide have the video imbeded in it separately, so that the video starts over every time you bump to the next screen of text.

    Oh, so that was three comments and two questions. :>

  22. Joel Osborn said,

    Wrote on June 30, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

    I’ve not used PPT 2007 a lot, but the only thing I’ve seen that I really like is the ability to add a stroke around text and a lot more control over shadows.

    You should really do yourself a favor and take a look at worship software, SongShow Plus, MediaShout and EasyWorship being the main three for Windows and ProPresenter for Mac. That will let you enter text by verses and then set your formatting for slides separately and have it automatically apply to the entire song or even program/script.

    If you don’t have the money to get one of those (they all come with free 30 day trials) you can use EasiSlides or OpenSong for free.

    Either way, it saves you a lot of time in set up and you can use those motion backgrounds as well. (PPT still does not support text over video without a separately purchased plug in).

    Didn’t mean to get on my soap box. Just wanted to let you know there are good alternatives to Powerpoint.

  23. skstarkiller said,

    Wrote on January 27, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    Would you ever just lower the opacity of your primary background image to use in worship or do you always create a complimentary image?

  24. cvacher said,

    Wrote on January 29, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    Thanks guys – some good stuff here. Nice to be reminded about the importance of each of the visual pieces (text, font, background) working together.

  25. revcm said,

    Wrote on February 4, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

    Great aritcle. We are about to have a training seminar and I will use this information.

  26. Judy Parkey said,

    Wrote on March 8, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    Any comment about http://www.paperlesshymnal.com ? We currently will have an interim pastor until June. He REALLY wants me to project “the notes” on the screen. He thinks “the people” will much prefer this to just the words via easyworship I am currently using. I am willing to do it as an experiment but shudder to think of redoing every song in my easyworship library. I have tried to explain to him the font work will NOT be even close to being the same. It will make the music director-organist much happier as she can not fathom how anyone sings without notes. I make every effort that the song lyrics look good, with an appropriate background. All I can see is this being for naught with a ppt projection. Any one have experiences to share?

  27. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on March 9, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

    Hi Judy,

    My question to your pastor is, what is wrong with the hymnal in print form? Even for people with vision problems, large print volumes are available. Musical notation is much easier to decipher on page than it is far away on a screen. Those who like to sing “with notes” can use the books. Those who don’t want or need notes, and especially those for whom notes are like a foreign language, get to focus on the words themselves and not get lost in all of the extra markings on the screens. This way, everyone wins.

    Don’t despair, Judy. Someday the screen will be seen by all as the visual medium that it is, and not a giant, suspended piece of paper!

  28. Projecting Font - The Church Media Community said,

    Wrote on June 3, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    […] another article on the subject, from Midnight Oil. How To Make Better Song Lyrics Slides for Worship __________________ Joel Osborn Milton SDB Church My Blog You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. […]

  29. Elmer Perry said,

    Wrote on August 27, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    Nice food for thought. Now, to put it into practice.

  30. ProPresenter 4 Coming Soon! | Midnight Oil Productions said,

    Wrote on September 2, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    […] (As We Know It)The MO Guys on The Back to Work Saleosborn4 on The Back to Work SaleElmer Perry on How To Make Better Song Lyrics Slides for WorshipHARVEST VISION on Flame Thematic Intro Video Sample Visitors Online05 visitor(s) onlinepowered by […]

  31. Better Design Through Visual Consistency | Midnight Oil Productions said,

    Wrote on September 8, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

    […] Osborn4 on Technorati ConfirmationProPresenter 4 Coming Soon! | Midnight Oil Productions on How To Make Better Song Lyrics Slides for WorshipDaniel Hahn on The End of Worship Media (As We Know It)The MO Guys on The Back to Work Saleosborn4 […]

  32. Andrea Davis-Griffin said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

    This article is really helpful and hiliarious too, thank you for your caring help and humor.

  33. Eric Findlay said,

    Wrote on March 20, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

    While I think most of the article is great, I have two comments.

    Firstly, I think that points 4, 7 and 8 should be combined into one about readability. In my opinion and experience, images as backgrounds, even if they have a “plain” section for the lyrics, are distracting from the message of the song. It also makes it hard to pick colours that are readable over the whole image. You were discussing continuity of slides in terms of font size, but it should really be extended to include font face and colour, as well.

    In my church, pretty much everyone (young and old) preferred when we switched to white text on black slide, because it was much more readable, and allowed them to focus on the meaning of the words to them with no distraction or image dictating what the meaning should be.

    Secondly, you forgot transitions, word art and plug-ins. Nothing is more distracting and annoying in a worship service than the “wavy water reflection” plug-in, the red-to-yellow gradient tapering into the distance of “Superman” style word art, or crazy transitions (checkers, screen flip, diamonds, word zip) between slides. You don’t need them, as, again, it distracts from the song and the lyrics. Just go with a plain cut.

    If you’re not convinced about the transitions yet, here’s another reason. Time it and see how long it takes to fully switch slides. It’s usually 1-3 seconds, which means that you have to switch slides while people are still reading the last line, and you still miss the first couple words of the next slide. This is especially evident in fast songs such as “Rising” or “Prince of Peace” that have lots of words. If you just use a straight cut, it happens much quicker, and you can wait until the last word of the slide is sung and still make it for the first word of the next.

    Remember, it’s just a slide, not a work of art. The focus is on the words of the song and on worshipping God. It needs to be functional over all else, ie: readable, both within slides and between slides.

  34. Joec said,

    Wrote on May 7, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

    Thanks MO Guys,
    This is great and will be wonderful for the new crew at our little church.
    Just last week we had a full discussion on now to display lyrics.
    Now I have it is writing from the media Gurus.
    Thanks again,
    Joe C.

  35. Don Johnson said,

    Wrote on May 29, 2010 @ 7:09 am

    This is always good, whether or not it is a few years old.

    One issue that I haven’t seen addressed here is the practice of centered text on a slide versus left-justified text.

    I have always been taught that centered text (especially in song lyrics, and even moreso with new songs) causes people’s eyes to work harder to locate the start of the next line when compared to left-justified text.

    I have been successful in placing the text left edge in various parts of the screen, and think it looks cleaner than the staggered edge of centered text.

    What do you think?

  36. osborn4 said,

    Wrote on June 2, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

    I think the left hand rule is more for a page full of text, rather than a screen full.

    I usually center, but will left justify or right justify depending on the background. Some of the right justfied stuff looks pretty freaky, if the line length varies greatly.

    But I really like the look of centered text. And as long as we stick by the 7 x 7 rule (no more than 7 lines of text with no more than 7 words on each line), we’ve been ok.

    Actually, we generally don’t have more than 4 lines of text, but sometimes more than 7 words. I like for the worshippers to not have to search to find thier place, if they reopen thier eyes to grab the next words.

  37. Ray M. said,

    Wrote on September 30, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

    I see several references to church volunteers as “church monkeys”. Is that what you leaders really think of your helpers? As a volunteer myself, I find the use of that term quite disappointing.

  38. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on October 2, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    Absolutely not Ray. Right in the first paragraph we distinguish between valuable volunteers and what appears to be, at least to one reader, a lame attempt at humor with a reference to the “church monkey”. The reference connotes no one at all; it’s just a device to refer to the most basic level of knowledge and skill. We could have easily have said a caveman, as in, “so easy a caveman could do it.” But then we’d offend the cavemen of the world.

    For the record, we value volunteers highly. Any church would grind to a halt in its ministry endeavors without the dedicated service of volunteers. Shoot, one of us – Jason – is a volunteer at his church, in the area of worship design.

    Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to clarify.

  39. pamsyx said,

    Wrote on November 24, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    Would like to email great article to our tech team but I keep getting an image verification error

  40. jhing said,

    Wrote on December 13, 2010 @ 4:05 am

    cool.. can you please email me more loop videos to be use for our praise and worship concert next two weeks thank you i find your videos very good.

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