Projecting Excellence – Does Alignment Matter?

At my church, we’ve found that using 38-point white Arial font on a black background is the most readable way to format our song lyrics. We center the lyrics, paying attention to line breaks, grammar, margins, and accuracy. We don’t want the lyrics to be distracting either in their flashiness or messiness. We aim for readable and easy to follow.

In our services we employ a good deal of liturgy and corporate prayers that are projected. We’ve discovered that it helps the congregation differentiate between song lyrics and prayer text if the prayer text or liturgy is left-aligned.

Here’s an example of the first verse of Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name”.

Blessed Be Your Name good
Here’s an example of the “prayer for purity” that we use for communion Sundays.

prayer for purity

And here’s a little bit our baptism liturgy.

Verses 2 – 4 of Psalm 103.

Psalm 103
We left-adjust almost everything we project that isn’t lyrics to a song. When you’re reading, not singing, something, it’s easier when it’s laid out like in a book, a website, a newspaper, etc. Most things you’re supposed to read are left-aligned.

If you use your screens to project prayers, creeds, or liturgies, think about helping the congregation read them more easily by aligning them to the left. Yes, a very small detail, but we’ve found it helpful. Maybe you will too.

Projecting Excellence: STOP SCREAMING!

I recently read a story about a woman in New Zealand who was fired from her job as accountant with no warning. Her offense? Sending confrontational emails. Confrontational in what way? “…Words in red, in bold, and in capital letters.”

Capital letters? CAPITAL LETTERS?

You may not be aware that capital letters, or “all caps”, is the universal way to scream and shout at people in print, over email, or on the internet. Want to get a point across? USE ALL CAPS! Want to be courteous and professional? Don’t use all caps.

Needless to say, it’s probably not a good idea to scream at your congregation when projecting lyrics. Check out this sample of an all-caps first verse of “How Great is Our God.”

How Great is Our God UPPER case

A few things stand out to me:

  • Yes, it does seem like someone is screaming
  • The words take up a lot of space on the screen
  • Reading the lines seems like hard work

Now check out the same verse in the standard mixed-case (upper and lower).

How Great is Our God lower case

  • It doesn’t seem like anyone is screaming at me
  • The words don’t take up as much space
  • It feels more natural to read the lines

You might think all caps looks kind of cool and different. Unfortunately, most people find it really annoying and distracting. Mind your manners on this one and remove that potential distraction while you’re at it.

Handling Awkward Moments – When the Lyrics Operator Falls Asleep

SpaceBarWe’ve all been there.

You’re leading a song on Sunday morning when all of the sudden everyone stops singing. You look over at the screen and realize the lyric operator (or whatever you call the person who controls the projection software) has not advanced the slide. You start to sweat. You can feel yourself growing impatient. You look back at the person and they’re oblivious. You feel like screaming “PRESS THE SPACE BAR!” but decide (wisely) that’s not a good idea. Finally after what seems like eighteen minutes, the lyric operator wakes up and advances the slide and everyone in the room breathes a collective sigh of relief.

How do you handle this situation?

First, a few suggestions of what not to do.

Don’t allow yourself to get angry
I saw this happen once when I was visiting a church in the UK. When the slide didn’t advance, the worship leader stopped singing (thereby making everyone else stop even though they knew the song by heart), let out a huge sigh, looked back at the lyric operator and gave him the kind of glare that said “I want to kill you”. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, it embarrasses the lyric operator. Second, it magnifies the distraction, as opposed to minimizing it. Third, it could result in the congregation getting angry and wanting to kill the lyrics operator too. You turn a late-advancing slide into a major crisis.

Don’t stop singing if you’re in the middle of a verse or chorus
Nothing screams “we are completely dependent on the screens” like stopping during a verse or chorus that’s already started. Just go ahead and finish whatever section of the song you’re in, hoping that most people will either know it by heart, or just patiently wait until the slide progresses again.

Don’t take it too seriously
If it happens all the time, you’ll need to talk with your lyric operator and ask them to be a bit more attentive. But if it happens once, just let it go. As someone who has operated the projection software from time to time, I know how easy it is to forget to advance the slide when you’re singing along, when a member of the congregation interrupts you, or when your mind wanders. Extend grace to the lyric operator and don’t take it too seriously.

Now, a few suggestions of what you can do.

Offer a subtle prompt to the lyric operator by talking to the congregation
Instead of saying “Sally, will you please advance the slide?” – try saying “let’s sing the next verse together”. If that doesn’t work, try saying “this next verse says ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise…’” By prompting the congregation, you just might jolt the lyric operator back to life.

Offer line prompts to the congregation
With a gentle and calm voice, call out the line before it’s sung. If you sound relaxed and like this was planned all along, you’ll minimize how much of a distraction is caused by the late-appearing slide.

Make a small joke out of it
In my post “When is it OK to Use Humor”, I suggested that, on occasion, the worship leader can use humor to break tension. When a room full of people is staring at a screen, and staring, and staring some more, it might get a little tense. Instead of feeding into it by being tense yourself, you can break it by making a small joke.

I had to do this when I led worship for an event in Bedford, Texas, with a few hundred pastors and bishops in a big tent, singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign”. I didn’t have the words in front of me, and was relying completely on the screen, which wasn’t such a good thing when I couldn’t remember how the third verse started. Neither could anyone else. We all stood there for about 10 seconds just waiting. Finally I made a joke and said something like “what do you all say we try singing the next verse now?

On the inside I was begging the person to “just press the space bar!” but, by God’s grace, I was able to relax, make a little joke out of it, break some of the tension, jolt the lyric operator to life, and help the congregation feel comfortable.

Go back and sing the verse or chorus again once the slide comes up
If we’ve gone through nearly an entire verse or chorus without the right slide (and the slide finally comes up at the very end), I’ll usually say “let’s sing that again”. In a way, it kind of redeems the fact that everyone stood there waiting for it the first time through.

Just wait for a few measures
The lyrics operator might get the hint if he or she realizes no one is singing. If we’ve ended a chorus and the next verse hasn’t come up yet, I might just play for another measure or two. Oftentimes that does the trick.

Connect with the lyrics operator before the service
This is something I could improve in. Take a few minutes before the service to connect with the person who will be in control of the lyric projection and let them know of any repeats you know about, any new songs you’re teaching, etc. This will help them be more alert and aware that you’re depending on them – and the congregation too.

Ultimately, if your lyric operator falls asleep during a song, you have a split-second decision to make: How big a deal am I going to allow this to become? If you want to make it a big deal, then stop the song, look angry, embarrass the volunteer, and distract everyone in the process. If you don’t want it to be a big deal, just relax, keep leading worship, offer some more prompts than usual, and don’t overreact.

Projecting Excellence – Where to Put the Song Title

By now, I hope, you’re aware of the fact that I strongly believe worship leaders need to care about how the lyrics are projected. It’s one way to serve the congregation and ensure that as few distractions as possible occur during the service. All your hours of preparation and rehearsal won’t matter if the wrong song gets projected. You’ll be on your own.

I’d like to suggest that it even matters where you put the song title. This is a very small detail and I’m sure there are varying opinions on this subject – but here’s an example of a slide I think has the song title in the wrong place and why.

Creation Sings bad

Many churches do this on the first slide of the song. At the top of the slide, in big bold letters, the song title sits there and yells at you: “this is the title of the song we’re singing!” Here’s why I don’t think this is a good idea.

  • It makes the song title the most important thing and draws everyone’s focus away from the words they’re supposed to be singing.
  • It takes up valuable space on the slide.
  • It’s unnecessary.

The song title belongs in the “small print” on the slide. See the example below.

Creation Sings good
This is a better way to display the song title for a few reasons:

  • It’s not distractingly big or small. Yes, it’s small on the blog – but not projected on the screen (at least in our room). If people are interested in what the song title is, they can see it. If they don’t care, it’s not screaming at them.
  • It doesn’t take up so much space on the slide.
  • It doesn’t elevate the song title to such a high position of importance.

If your slides resemble the first example – with the song title front and center, underlined and bolded, loud and proud, I would suggest that it’s a distraction for people during your service. Make it smaller and put it lower and I would be surprised if anyone is disappointed.

CCLI has a great and easy tutorial on what information you’re required to project on your slides. Click here.

The song used in the slide is “Creation Sings the Father’s Song” by Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty. You can find more info about the song in this post.

Projecting Excellence Pt. IV – Little Mistakes Equal Big Distractions

It’s one thing to have glaring mistakes in your lyric projection, and another to have little ones. Big mistakes (i.e. missing verses, bad line breaks) should be easy to catch if someone is taking the time to look out for them. Little mistakes are harder to catch, especially if you’re the one who made the slides in the first place.

But the little mistakes can end up causing big distractions, especially to eagle-eyed members of your congregation.

Here are a couple of examples.

First, in this verse of Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name”, two misplaced apostrophes are the difference between a good looking slide and a slide that doesn’t meet elementary school grammar standards. The good slide is first, the bad slide is second.

Blessed Be Your Name good

Blessed Be Your Name bad

If I’m in the congregation and this slide comes up, my attention will (unfortunately) be drawn to the poor editing, not to the worthiness of God.

Here’s a second example, using verse one of another Matt Redman song, “Let Everything That Has Breath”. The first slide is correct. The second slide has two little mistakes. First, the word “you” is repeated twice in a row in one spot. Second, the word “of” is missing in the last line.

Let Everything good

Let Everything bad

These kind of mistakes can end up making people spend the whole verse trying to figure out what in the world they should be singing – and where they should be singing it!

Watch out for the little mistakes. It’s one way to care for your congregation and lead them in ways they’ll never notice. And that’s the point.

Projecting Excellence Pt. III – Keep Things in Context

A month ago I began a series that I’ll pick up on every once in a while titled “projecting excellence”. If worship leaders want the congregation to be engaged in worship, with as few distractions as possible, making sure the words are projected with excellence will go a long way. You can practice for hours, but if one verse is left out, you’ll be singing a solo. You can prepare all week, but if there’s a glaring typo, the congregation might be too busy snickering or too confused to know what they’re supposed to sing. Worship leaders should care about the big details and the small details.

So far we’ve looked at line spacing and font size. Today I want to look at the importance of keeping the lines of a song in context with each other. We’ll use Stuart Townend’s “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” as an example.

Here’s an example of how the first half of verse one is kept in context:

How Deep good

And now here’s an example of how the verse is unfortunately split up into two slides.

How Deep bad1

How Deep bad2

In the first example, a couple of things are happening. First, a complete thought is presented together – not split up halfway through. The congregation is given time to see, sing, and consider the truth the Father’s deep love is shown in him giving up his only son. Second, the congregation isn’t being bombarded with transitioning slides every 10 seconds. A slide with a complete thought is able to “sit” for a while.

In the second example, the two slides that split up the sentence, a couple of things are happening that I think are unfortunate. First, a complete thought is being spliced in half. While I’m not suggesting the average person in the congregation only has a four-second memory span, by the time the second slide pops up and we’re singing “that He should give His only Son”, we have forgotten that this is what shows us “how deep the Father’s love” is for us. Second, the slides are constantly being changed. This can become somewhat jolting for the congregation, not to mention the person advancing them!

When I’m leading a congregation in corporate worship, my hope is that they will be responding to the great truths we are singing. It helps people respond to great truths when they’re presented in a thought-out fashion. Try to make sure your slides keep sentences and thoughts in context. This is a small detail that can make a big difference.

Projecting Excellence – Part II

Last week I suggested worship leaders can’t be oblivious to what’s happening on the screen during a worship service, since even the little things can add up to create big distractions. Bad line spacing is one little thing, and the size of the font is another.

If your font size is too big, then you wind up with a slide that is screaming at people and is sensory overload:

How Great is Our GodBAD2

If your font size is too small, then you wind up with a slide that isn’t readable to anyone standing farther back than the first two rows, anyone with poor vision, or anyone who didn’t bring binoculars with them to church.

How Great is Our GodBAD3

A well-chosen font size is neither too big nor too small. It leaves a nice margin around the text box on all sides. It allows the text to fill up the screen nicely so that there isn’t tons of empty space, but it also allows some empty space so that your eye isn’t overwhelmed.

How Great is Our GodGOOD

Things to keep in mind:

  • Can you read the slide comfortably from the very back of the room?
  • Are the words too big? If you’re using a font size 42 and up, the answer might be yes.
  • When you look out on Sunday morning, are people squinting? Your font size is too small.
  • Are people moving their heads in order to follow all the words in the slide? Your font size is too big.
  • Ask some people what they think. Can they read the words comfortably? Ask them to be honest with you.

The size of the font that you use in your slides is not the most major issue you will deal with as a worship leader. But caring about these small details is one way to be faithful even in the little things.