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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Using Multimedia in Your Local Church

This Saturday my dad, brother, and I will be leading a workshop on Using Multimedia and the Internet in Your Local Church to help worship leaders, bulletin/newsletter creators, webmasters, and others learn more about how to create audience-friendly presentations, websites, and other materials. I'm going to be focusing on various aspects of design, photography, and Photoshop basics.

This is going to be the first of, hopefully, a number of sessions that we will be holding around the area. We're already talking with a couple of other pastors who would like to host one on their respective districts.

I remember reading somewhere about the debate between traditional vs. technically enhanced worship. I agree that there are definite advantages and disadvantages to each but I don't think either should be disregarded.

Personally, since I am surrounded by technology the majority of the time with work and my home entertainment system and my iPod hooked into my car, I enjoy those moments when the technology is turned off and I am reminded to just breathe and be. One of the things I didn't like about my college worship experience was the fact that we broadcast our services on the Boston NPR station. Sure it was fun when I would be leading a portion of the service knowing that I was being broadcast over a large market. However, we had everything timed out so it would all fit into the hour-long time slot. Silence doesn't make for good radio, so every time there would be a time of "silent" prayer, either the organ would be playing an underscore or the choir would be singing something equally melodic so the station wouldn't think they lost signal. At times, it felt more choreographed than worshipful. There needs to be enough openness and flexibility to allow for the quiet times and to allow for the movement of the Spirit.

With that said, however, I am a very visual person. Though I can get a lot out of a speech/sermon/presentation that is only spoken, I prefer to have things reinforced visually. Whether it's bullet points, images that illustrate the theme, or the like I find that I am more engaged and have a higher rate of retention when I am visually as well as aurally stimulated. I've been to Christmas Eve services, in particular, where having the words to hymns projected has been quite important. Not only can it act as another means of dressing the sanctuary, but members of the congregation didn't have to juggle a lit candle in one hand, a hymnal or bulletin in the other, and the cranky kid at their side.

It also helps the whole process of singing. Instead of burying their faces in a hymnal, thus muffling the sound and directing it at the floor, the congregation is forced to look up and project the sound outwards, filling the space - and freeing their hands for clapping, etc.

But there needs to be a balance between the two. As with most things, if there is too much of one element or another that element begins to get in the way of everything else. Multimedia projection and presentation is at its best when the effort and transitions and integration is seamless and, in some ways, invisible to your average congregant. If it's jerky or jolting it gets in the way - much like a service that has abrupt segues from one portion to another.

When it's done right, the use of projectors and screens and PowerPoint and all the rest will enhance the experience more than detract. Of course, for some, anything new and different will be threatening and "inappropriate for worship." It's a valid opinion. But those who are closed off to trying new things will probably always have something to complain about anyway. Multimedia is not a fix for everything, and it can't entirely replace solid preaching. It's just another tool in the toolbelt.