Visual Worship, Part 3 | Imagery

Lighting and visual media are incredibly useful tools in the hands of the worship leader, producer, and planner.  In part 1 of this blog series, I discussed whether or not these tools are necessary, and in part 2, I wrote about the use of lighting.  Today, I want to talk about the use of imagery in worship – both videos and stills.

For most of us (unless we’re pastoring or leading in larger facilities with a lot of projection capability), this really means presentation backgrounds – the imagery that you show behind song lyrics – with the occasional stand-alone video or still image.

Here are some best practices I’d suggest for backgrounds:

  1. Think about colors. Your service should have a color palette that is established with the use of your stage lighting and graphics. This makes for a visually cohesive whole. Here’s what I don’t mean: everything the same color. Talk about overwhelmingly monotonous! Two to three colors is best – ones that work together well.*  If it looks obnoxious to you, there’s a good chance it will look obnoxious to your congregation.  Learn about color theory if you don’t know it already.  Here’s a great article on the subject by Camron Ware of visualworshiper.com. For sermon series, I’d suggest an ongoing graphical and lighting theme to tie the whole thing together.
  2. Think simple. Stills or motion backgrounds with lots of colors can be garish and can backfire on you if you’re trying to create a cohesive theme.  Too much motion (too fast, too big) can be distracting to say the least.  Simple motion gives the feeling of energy without pulling the congregant away from the lyrics.
  3. Think abstract. With a few exceptions, I generally stay away from recognizable imagery – especially photos or live-action video.  There’s a certain cheese factor to a lot of these type of images, and something easily recognizable can be distracting. Abstract imagery gives a sense of something, a mood, without presenting an object or place to latch on to.  You really only want your congregation to latch onto the words. Close up shots of waving grass, a somewhat blurry sunset through the trees, rippling water – videos like these can be the exceptions because, though they are real things, they are presented in an abstract fashion that makes them better for background use.  A wide shot of a landscape distracts because it’s so easily recognizable.
  4. Think in stages. There are natural phases to your worship service. Use the imagery to help define those stages.** Let’s say the “gathering” (or opening or call to worship) portion of your service consists of an opening song, a welcome, and an opening prayer.  You might use the same background imagery for each of those elements, or at least stay with the same color, then shift to another color or imagery selection with the next stage of the service. Typically in our services, there will be an unbroken string of two to three songs that we will tie together visually in this way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’s helpful to you. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. I look forward to them!

*Regarding lighting, the folks I’m addressing here are those who have very basic lighting systems. The smaller to mid-size church with a simple setup and one person overseeing the musical and visual parts of the worship ministry. Hopefully, if you have a more elaborate lighting system, you have people who really know what to do with it and can move beyond these simple uses.

*Check out Constance Cherry’s book The Worship Architect for more info on this.

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