Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Video images in worship

We hold three Sunday morning worship services at Brunswick Islands Baptists Church, two traditional services in our sanctuary and a contemporary service in our fellowship hall. We added the contemporary service more than 2 1/2 years ago and from the beginning we utilized a big screen TV screen to display announcements, words to songs, and a presentation that goes along with the sermon. Last month we upgraded the screen in the fellowship hall to a large flat screen HDTV and we also added two such screens to our sanctuary.

Typically, as worshippers arrive, the screens are displaying a slide show that does four things: (1) welcomes them to the church, (2) welcomes guests in particular and informs them of the location of guest slips and guest packets, (3) announces upcoming events, and (4) displays some Bible verses supporting the worship theme for the day. These opening slides play in a continuous loop for 20-30 minutes until the service begins. During the service slides announce various worship elements, display scripture readings, show song or hymn words, and present slides supporting the sermon. The slides displayed during the service are changed manually either by a sound technician (or is it now a sound/video technician?) or by the worship leader.

The screens are an invaluable aid in our worship services for numerous reasons, not the least of which are retention and attention. Long years ago when I was studying to become a school teacher I was taught that repetition and the involvement of more senses helped learners to better retain information. With the screens worshippers now hear and see some information that they formerly only heard. I provide a "listener guide" with my sermons, a sheet listing key sermon statements with key words left blank. As the sermon progresses, these statements are flashed on the screen with the blanks filled in allowing worshippers to hear it, see it and write it down. All of this provides repetition of the material and involves more senses which should in turn improve retention. Furthermore the words on the screen are often accompanied by pictures which give the memory another peg on which to hang the material further enhancing retention.

The screens also improve the attention of worshippers. Members of the congregation can shift their focus between the worship leader and the accompanying information on the screen and thus hopefully avoid being "hypnotized" by looking only at the worship leader. Some years back I remember reading that postmoderns tend to need three simultaneous stimuli to keep their attention. At least during the sermon they have me speaking, the images on the screen and the listener guide that help to fill that need.

Besides weekly worship services we are using the screens in other ways. Our Vacation Bible School material included computer discs designed to put the song words and other information on the screens for the children. It was also set up such that we take particular digital photos of the children during a session and insert those photos into a ready-made slide template that is shown to the group at the end of the evening to reinforce the theme for the day. In addition to the Vacation Bible School application, the Music Minister here tells me that most cantata publishers now offer a disc with a slide presentation to accompany the music.

Worshippers in both the traditional and contemporary services love the screens. I was concerned that older members may have been reluctant to embrace the concept but surprisingly these members were among the most enthusiastic promoters of the idea before we got the screens and they have been the most complimentary of the screens since we added them. Seasoned members particularly voice approval for reading hymn words on the screen so that they no longer have to struggle to read them in the hymnal.

The screens do not detract from the aesthetics of our sanctuary, which was constructed in 1993. In at least one old and historic sanctuary in this area screens were installed behind doors that hide them from view when not in use. Others use projection systems with retractable screens that are easily hidden. We did go that route in part because it is more expensive, but even more important for us was the lighting factor. The images on HDTV screens can be viewed easily in the daytime with all the lights on, something that would not be possible in our sanctuary using a projection system.

For me the biggest downside to video in worship is that it adds to preparation time, whether it is the time of paid staffers or volunteers. In my opinion the dividends of adding the screens more than offset the time investment, but the time required to develop good slide shows is significant.

I'm waiting for someone to ask me why the screens have not made my sermons shorter. After all if a picture really is worth a thousand words then three quick slides should more than cover a sermon.

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