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by Joan Huyser-Honig

Now that so many church members have digital cameras and so many congregations can project images, the possibilities for using photography in worship have soared. Here are tips from congregations that use photography to build community and to picture the entire world as belonging to God.

“Specific, concrete reasons”

“I think a photo works well when you intend to be specific and concrete,” says Steven Koster, English language minister for Back to God Ministries International.

When praying for a person—a particular missionary, politician, soldier in deployment, or student away at college—a photo “helps God’s people remember them as people in need of the Holy Spirit’s guidance,” he says.

Showing photos or brief videos or slideshows during the offering helps people understand more about the youth group trip, orphanage, or international ministry they’re giving to.

“Yet another time I use photos is in preaching, when I want to root biblical stories in a historical context. So when talking about Jesus calming the storm, I might show a map, or a landscape of the Sea of Galilee, or a photo of a common fishing boat discovered through archeology. Those were real people in a real boat in a real storm. A photo helps make that concrete,” Koster explains.

He encourages worship artists to “crop, zoom, blur, and rotate images to achieve your liturgical goal. If falling water would work better than a wide shot of Niagara Falls, but all you have is a vacation snapshot, feel free to edit the image to suit your congregation’s need,” he says.

Expect new insights

Asking worshipers to provide photos from their own lives can encourage new insights.

Before a “Loving our Neighbor” sermon series at Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oaklawn, Illinois, worship coordinator Diane Ritzema asked for photos that illustrated the neighbor theme. Members brought in more than 60 pictures of people they’d met on mission trips as well as people they know around the world, in the congregation, or near their homes.

“We compiled these onto four large pieces of black butcher paper and hung them in the foyer with the title ‘Who is My Neighbor?’ Since then songs such as ‘Jesu, Jesu,’ ‘The Servant Song,’ ‘Mighty to Save,’ and ‘God of the City’ have taken on new meaning,” Ritzema says.

During a series on family as explored through the story of Joseph, Ritzema requested family portraits to display in the sanctuary. “We used one during a time of confession to tell about a hurtful thing that had happened just prior to the family picture being taken. We talked about how we hide behind smiles and formal clothes on a daily basis—when we really need to bare our souls to God in confession,” she says.

Perhaps your congregation worships in a space that feels cut off from the outside world, whether by stained glass or black box designs. If so, Scott Hoezee, suggests using PowerPoint technology and slideware to bring in images of the natural world. Hoezee is director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Consider including images such as fossils, a double helix, pregnancy ultrasounds, or health and technology workers—so worshipers remember the vast scale of creation and redemption. Imagine singing “God of Wonders, beyond our galaxy, you are holy, holy. The universe declares your majesty…” while projecting Hubble space photos or the Eagle Nebula to show how spacecraft and powerful telescopes help humans “see beyond just the stars at night."

You can use photography in worship even if your sanctuary doesn’t have a permanent screen. Various churches have used photos printed as a bulletin insert, shown photos blown up to 8-by-10-inch-size, displayed pictures on computer monitors scattered around the worship space, or set up portable screens. Others display pictures in the worship space, lobby, or outdoors.

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