Art & Design — Solving Problems, Looking Good for God

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“What is the end goal of...design? Make sure you look good for God.” This is a quote from an article on art in the church that I recently read. How are you using technology at your church to “look good for God?” In reading about art and design, I was surprised to find many artists saying that design should solve a problem, not just look good. I had not thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? What problems are you solving with the art in your church?

One place art and design are used in churches is in the slides projected on the screen. This is a place where art and technology come together. With slideshows, our “problem” is that we need our congregation members to be able to sing the songs using the lyric slides, and to see the other slides—slides accompanying the sermon, or shown before, after and during the service—so that those slides’ message is received.

Some of you may be using your technical as well as creative abilities to make slide shows for your church, or serve on the team that oversees this. I’ve seen many guidelines about what should and should not be done with worship slide shows. Here are a few that I personally ascribe to, specific to song lyric slides:

  1. Solid backgrounds with contrasting text - A simple black background with white text is easy to read and a practical way to solve the problem of making sure everyone can read what’s on the slide. You can get pretty much the same effect with other colors, such as dark blue with gold text or other combinations, but the basic premise is the same. This is not to say that images cannot be used, or animated backgrounds, but the contrast between background and text must be there for readability.
  2. Line breaks or phrasing that follows the breaks in the melody or reading - It gets confusing to sing or read along if the text does not show the natural pauses of the music or reading. Line breaks are the best way to accomplish this.
  3. Limit the number of lines on each slide - If a slide is crammed with text, people lose their way. As much as possible, too, you want to group the lines on the slides in a way that goes along with natural breaks in the melody or reading. If it means more slides, so be it. Better more slides than muddled, confused worshippers. Where you move to the next slide is important, too, as that may cause a longer pause.
  4. Quality images - Images are powerful. The quality of an image includes more than just its graphic quality, or its ability to be seen. You might have a very clear, visible but awful image. Here is another place where the art should solve a problem, not just look nice or fulfill your personal preferences. An image that clashes with the words or the message can be jarring. You want the image to help your church members worship, not distract them.
  5. Test and proofread - It’s so important to run through the slides before the service and make sure everything is visible and fits correctly. It’s also important to proofread the slides. How embarrassing is it when the singing suddenly dissolves as people try to compensate for a missing word, or they sing the wrong word because of a typo?

Those are some basics. The Reformed Worship magazine has many articles on images, art and design in worship. One of the most succinct, practical guides for projection that I've seen is this article by Dean Heetderks. Do you have more guidelines you follow?

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A great resource for principles and suggestions on "slide" design is: A Guidebook for Visual Worship by Stephen Proctor. You can purchase it here.

Also, as a comment, I'd like to see us think more in terms of communicating visually as opposed to simply putting text on a screen in a way that is readable. Certainly text communicates, and it would be hard to sing a song without the words, but it seems the "problem" we are trying to overcome is more profound than "we needed the words and we didn't want to get a book out." I would contend that the "problem" to solve is our disconnection from our God, and that good visuals, whether on the screen or in the stained glass or projected on the walls help us experience God in a way that words alone cannot.

Just my $.02

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Great input, Robert. It sounds like you've got a lot of expertise and insight on this topic - thank you!

What a good point that there is a different "problem" than just clear words. I love the idea that we can use our visuals, as we try to use all our gifts, to help us -- and others -- experience God more fully.

Thanks a million for those $.02.  :)