Video Technology and Preaching

Go into nearly every contemporary church today and you’ll be greeted with more than a pulpit and a praise band. Somewhere there will be a video screen. Even the most conservative and now even the smallest congregations are on the video bandwagon, using video to project song lyrics, sermon outlines and scripture, and announcement graphics. In larger multi-campus arrangements, the video screen is also central to the teaching time.

Pastors usually fall into one of three camps when it comes to video during the teaching time. They are either embracing and using it, tolerating but not married to it, or could care less about it.

Use what you have. If you have video equipment it makes sense to use it. I would not have blank screens at any point during a service, even if you are just putting up a picture or a Scripture, or the sermon title. One church where I served had large stained glass windows, so I had a similar stained glass image for the video screens to go to if we had no other picture that fit the moment.

Song lyrics are screens are almost a given. If you use song lyrics, make them big and easily readable from the back row. Consider too the use of Scripture on screen and what is on the screen before and after the services. For the video element of the service, you have to think through the entire worship and teaching time, intentionally putting something on the screen the entire hour. A blank screen will draw more attention and questions than one with something on it. If you can retract your screen when not in use, do it.

Interestingly, there was some research done a decade ago that indicated people remember the lyrics of a song less readily singing on a video screen than they do from a hymnal. Perhaps that stat was developed by hymnal salesmen, but if you think about this, it’s true. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me the names of the songs we sang in worship last week, though I can remember many hymns I grew up with years ago.

Don’t overuse what you have. Some video systems allow “motion backgrounds” behind the song lyrics. I’m not sure how really useful that is—I tend to find it slightly distracting. One issue with video is that you can find yourself in the valley of “eye candy” very quickly—choosing to use video that “looks neat” even though it is not really adding anything to the worship experience.

I’ve used those canned videos you can buy and download online before for sermon bumbers and illustrations. Occasionally I think they’re useful. Each and every week? Eh—not so much. Don’t feel you have to use video actively throughout the service. That still image of the stained glass I talked about? It was never a distraction from the message or the teaching time. When video can add, let it add. When you begin to do video for video’s sake, back off.

Don’t become dependent on what you don’t have. The first video system I put in a worship center in 1998 had a projector the size of a desk that weighed 600 pounds and cost $100,000. It put out 1500 ANSI lumens. For those in the tech world, you know you can buy a projector that bright today that fits in a laptop bag and costs under $1,000. So the technology in some ways has become less expensive, but you can spend quite a bit of money on video equipment.

When you go to a larger church and see multiple screens, and cameras putting the pastor’s face on the big screen, and plasma screens on the stage with cool video loops running on them, the temptation is to go all out. Let it be just a temptation. Always view video as a supplementary resource. It is not absolutely necessary for your worship or your teaching. It’s a great tool to have, but I have enough faith in God and His Word to tell you without reservation that if your church doesn’t have video equipment it will not hold you back.

Determine what you need before you buy. If you buy video equipment today—say, a projector and a screen and a computer to run it, then there are a few things I would recommend. First, go widescreen HD. Just about everything you buy now is in widescreen format, so buying the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio equipment isn’t wise long-term stewardship. Next, get a good computer—running two screens of graphics (the computer’s screen and the projection screen) takes a beefy machine. Finally, don’t use Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s just not made for a worship environment that needs flexibility and on-the-fly change capability.  Get Mediashout or ProPresenter or one of the other great worship presentation tools.

Oh, and don’t forget ambient light in the room. I don’t care how bright a projector you buy, you’re going to have major issues if your worship center has large open windows on both sides that let lots of natural light in. Video works best when you can control the room lighting. Also, plan to set aside about 10% of your total video budget for content in your first year. So if you spend $10,000 on projector, screen and computer, plan to put away $1,000 for video content. In this way you will also be stewarding the use of your equipment as well as the purchase. Last tidbit—buy a spare projector lamp when you purchase the projector, and always keep a spare on hand. Who wants to have it go out on a Sunday morning and not have a replacement?


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.