why video in worship matters: an introduction

Posted by Craig Borlase on 9 September 2013

All this week we’re going to be focusing on the role that video has to play within the world of sung worship. Do you see it as a vital and valid extension of your creativity, or does the very thought of projecting images of your church leaders up onto the screen have bring you out in 1984-style cold sweats? 

We recognise that what works for one church will not necessary work for another. Budgets, church architecture, demographic and any number of other factors will all have a significant influence on how video can be used in your church.  But, we also hope that what follows over the coming days might get you thinking, talking and praying.

We hope that this week will help us all think a little deeper about the potential - as well as the pitfalls - that are associate with using video in church services. We want to hear from you, so jump in with any comments and share any links that you think others will find helpful. 

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll press play.


A Tale of Two Screens

When it comes to projecting moving images onto a screen (or a whole load of screens, or walls, or anything else you care to use) there are two basic types. 

Image Magnification or IMAG is what’s going on when close-ups of the worship leader, musicians and others are projected onto the screen.  The other sort - called anything from Motion Backgrounds, VJing to Visual Worship - is what happens when the moving images have been pre-selected and are chosen to enhance the music, adding texture and tone to the experience. Often using a mixture of abstract images, original content and even the odd movie clip (subject to copyright restrictions), Visual Worship has often been overlooked in factor of IMAG. 

Each have their pros and cons. IMAG allows those on the back row feel like they are right at the front (something which can probably be a bit of a disadvantage too, if you’re the kind of person who likes the safety and distance of the back row). It’s familiar - something that people are used to whenever they go to large sporting events, gigs or conferences. In large rooms it can convey a sense of the personal in worship, allowing everyone to see the facial expressions of those leading. IMAG sends a clear message out those in the congregation that what they are viewing is a model to follow. 

IMAG is not without its drawbacks, and helping church to look like a big sporting event, gig or conference can often enhance a spectator culture. IMAG is expensive and requires a degree of technical skill - from operating the cameras to directing and shaping the content projected. 

For the church that is new to any form of video, Visual Worship can seem far more daunting than IMAG. Who has the time to gather together enough images and backgrounds to last an entire worship set? And what worship leader has their song selection decided a week or two in advance of the service itself? Just as our taste in art and movies varies dramatically among friends, how can we hope to put up a selection of images that will keep everyone happy?

But then there are the advantages. Visual Worship is a largely untapped source of almost limitless potential. With technology improving and making video editing and projection far more accessible - and with a range of websites now catering to a growing demand for downloadable motion graphics and clips - many churches are finding that Visual Worship can add new sights to compliment the sounds of worship.

Marshall McLuhan - the man who, in the 50s, 60s and 70s had the foresight to predict so many of the ways in which technology would shape our culture in the 21st century - is well known for suggestion that ‘the medium is the message’. In other words, how we say something is even more important that what we say. So, in other words, it’s understandable why people can feel a little cynical when they hear a worship leader saying ‘It’s all about you, Jesus’ while their face is magnified to fives times the size and is projected on screens flanking the stage. 

But there’s great potential here too. We all know that music can help express the inexpressible groans of the heart, and so too can Visual Worship be used in ways that help draw our attention to God. Like the great Cathedral architects and artisans of old, those creating Visual Worship have the power to lift our eyes up and away from ourselves, and onto that which God has created. 

In a world where some are criticising the modern worship movement for embracing too much of the culture of entertainment and mock-celebrity that floods our mass media, maybe what we need is more video, not less. 


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