Stained glass is ancient multimedia. It told stories of God’s creation, humanity’s fall, God’s redemption, the final judgment and beyond. It told stories from the Bible. As the ambient light changed outside, so the figures would seem to come to life, animated as clouds would part and the sun would break through.
Even the very architecture, furniture, candles and clothing represented aspects of the Gospel.
Today, many of our churches have lost this visual aspect to worship.
I am not suggesting that we return to the days of ancient gothic cathedrals. As beautiful as these buildings are, they often involved great oppression on the poor in order to build an edifice for the ecclesiastical powers. Still, there are some ways to reclaim visual beauty in our churches without selling indulgences. Here are some ways we can reclaim this heritage:
· The power of the screen – in the beginning.
The price to performance ratio of projection systems is dropping all the time. When video projection systems first began to be used in churches, they projected dim images even when the lights were kept low. Worse, you could have bought a small house for what some of these systems cost. That is no longer the case.
Some large data and video projectors are so bright now they are nicknamed ‘light canons’. In a fully lit room they can display images of dazzling contrast, clarity and brilliance. While these systems are expensive, the entry level for a simple projector is about the price of a good desktop computer.
Most churches start with PowerPoint for projection software. This is a great place to begin. It is simple to use, gives you basic tools and places the broadest smile on the church treasurer’s face. The church probably owns this software already as it may have been packaged with your office suite.
However, the limitations of PowerPoint start to become obvious when you want to change songs on the fly, avoid typing your song lyrics each Sunday, insert a ‘surprise’ scripture passage in the middle of the pastor’s sermon or want to offer more advanced features such as moving images behind song lyrics.
When you want to take the next step, there are many options available. Fortunately, most worship projection software companies offer free trials of their products. Here is a somewhat dated but helpful site to check some of these packages out: http://www.ebibleteacher.com/reviewworship.html
This blog will not discuss this area in depth as technology changes so rapidly. That’s why God created Search Engines on the 12th day (the 8th day her created a really good cup of dark roast coffee).
· The power of the screen – the still image.
Projection systems allow us to display announcements as people enter the sanctuary. We’re all used to the pre-roll of announcements and upcoming previews we see in movie theatres. Many churches are emulating this through projection software such as PowerPoint and through displaying in-house video productions.
There are many churches that have graphic artists in their midst. With their permission, you can scan their artwork or take a high quality digital photo and use this as modern and personalized ‘stained-glass’ in your sanctuary.
Children can participate as well. Ask a Sunday School class to draw pictures to represent a sermon theme or season of the church year, scan them in and display them for every child, parent and grandparent to see.
Digital cameras also open up the world of catching your church in action. Perhaps your youth group is serving the needy in a street mission. Interjecting these photos of the life of the church says, “We are a part of the ministry in our church.” It also shows the visitor how active your church is in the community as well as meeting the needs of the body.
The church usually begins with simple stock photography and generic clip art. This is understandable as it is generally the least expensive. We all drop in the scenic photos and graphics we all received with our office software packages. While these are fine to start, there are exceptional, jaw-dropping visuals that are available from many sources. I challenge churches to take their graphics to the next level.
· The power of the screen – the moving image.
Through simple computer-based editing suites and moderately-priced digital video cameras you can put together an in-house video team to enhance your worship through video. What would have been impossible for any but the largest mega churches to attain is now possible for some of the smallest churches. In fact, in practically every church there are people who are doing this already with their own home videos.
You can prepare weekly announcements such as ‘Sixty-Seconds at Central Baptist.’
You can also prepare videos of dramas shot on location, interviews, testimonies, or ‘Word on the Street’ presentations shot in your community.
There are several companies who offer short video clips for sermon illustrations, meditative video moments as well as video enhancements for worship songs.
Consider a combination of some you purchase and some you make. Personalize.
· The Post-Modern Paradigm and the Rise of the Visual.
John Naisbitt’s best-selling book, Megatrends, he spoke of the concept of ‘High Tech, High Touch’. As we expand our tool chest of high-tech toys, we long inside for a high-touch experience in the midst of cold silicone, brushed aluminum and depersonalization.
At the same time that text-messaging and push technology advances, the clustering in Starbucks™ grows just as rapidly. People need people. People also seek the musty ancient and the sense of community in the midst of the cold plasma screen.
The same has happened in the church. We want the latest and greatest in technology but we also long for the ancient. The late Dr. Robert Webber called this ‘Convergent’ and Ancient/Future.
Not everything in church should look like an Ikea™ store or the local shopping mall. There is a need for sacred space in all of our lives.
In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s the seeker model of church looked much more like a local concert hall, nearly devoid of any ancient symbolism. Current churches recognize than in our high-tech, high touch world there is also a place for elements that have stood the test of time. Candles, banners and ancient symbols normally reserved for high church ceremony are experiencing a renaissance in many churches reaching a culture that longs for roots.
Look around your church and ask yourself, “Does this just look like the local multiplex theatre or is there a visual sense of the holy when I walk in here?”
It is possible to create a sense of sacred space and yet be able to create an audio-visual explosion of sight and sound.
It’s important for our worship to be more than simply an aural fixation on music. When all our senses are employed in worship the potential for total engagement happens. Sight is a powerful sense that most people are gifted with. Let’s use this as we weave the thread of sight in worship, empowered by God’s story.
My next blog will cover audio . . . Stay tuned.