Why We Project the Scripture Readings

FullSizeRender 5Earlier this year, my church began projecting the text of our scripture readings on Sundays. In our Anglican service, we have at least two readings from Scripture at each service. There are Bibles in the pews, and most people can now access a Bible on their own phone/tablet, so why project the Scripture text too?

We have at least four reasons:

1. Our international/English-as-a-second-language community has asked for it. Those who don’t speak English as their first language still really want to follow along and be engaged in our services, in English. The readings are difficult for them, because by the time they find/turn to the scripture that’s being read, it’s over! Seeing the scriptures read while they’re being projected is an immense help to those for whom the English language is still new.

2. We want people to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures as much as possible. The Bible is the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The more we can get people hearing and reading the Word of God, the better. There is power in actually reading the scriptures together. Hearing them is absolutely essential. We think reading them is essential too. Besides, getting the scriptures to be readable by lay people (in their homes, much less in church services) was a pretty big part of the reformation, and we think that it’s still important today.

3. We project almost everything else in our services, except for some of the liturgy the pastor prays before communion (since it’s printed in our Liturgy Books in the pews). By not projecting the Scriptures, we might inadvertently send the signal that they’re not as important as the song lyrics, creeds, prayers, responses, etc., when, in fact, they’re more important than all of those things combined.

4. We consistently attract non-believers, or new believers. We hear reports every week of people coming to church who have never been to church before, or haven’t been in decades. Through the Alpha course, and through relationships, we are regularly seeing a smattering of people in our services every Sunday who are non-Christians and/or non-churched. They don’t know what the big numbers mean (i.e. a chapter), what the little superscript numbers mean (i.e. the verses), or when Jesus is talking, or when he’s telling a parable, or whether “the Word of the Lord” is in the Bible, or just an extra thing we add. They are complete newbies to the Bible. How wonderful! Projecting Scripture makes it accessible, more follow-along-able, and less intimidating.

We want to encourage our congregation to read along on Sundays, either in the Bibles in the pews, or on their phones/tablets, or on the screens. Or all of the above!

In the words of Thomas Cranmer:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Oh Magnify My Face With Me

1On Monday I posted “Are We Headed For a Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship“. In addition to being the longest title for one of my blog posts over, it’s also garnered the most discussion. It’s been a good discussion, and a few people kindly disagreed with a few of the things I encouraged worship leaders to do: lead their original songs in moderation, keep the lights in the room up, and get their faces off the big screen. I wanted to explain more of why I think worship leaders should get their faces off the big screen.

In case you don’t know, in many evangelical churches (and conferences) around the world, particularly large ones, the screens are used not only to project the song lyrics, but also the people on stage. During the sermon you’ll be able to see a magnified image of the preacher. And during the songs, you’ll be able to see a magnified image of the worship leader, and the band members, with occasional close-ups (perhaps) of the drummer, or the electric guitarist’s hands, or the bass player’s tattoo, all while the lyrics to the song are projected on the bottom of the screen, in one-to-three line segments.

Here’s why I think it’s a bad idea for the worship leader’s face (and the musicians too) to be projected during worship.

It constantly keeps you in people’s consciousness
Throughout the time of singing, everyone in the room is constantly aware of you, your movements, your mannerisms, your outfit, your sweaty nose, and your personality.

It forces people to look at you
They have no choice but to look at your face. They can either close their eyes or look at your face. What if they don’t want to look at your face? Too bad for them.

It detracts from the focus of the songs
For about 15 – 25 minutes each Sunday, worship leaders have the weighty privilege of deciding what to focus their congregations on. If you happen to employ your screens during those 15-25 minutes, the odds are that your congregation will focus on what’s on them. Gospel-drenched, God-glorifying, Jesus-exalting lyrics? Or your face?

It makes you even more of a celebrity
People are conditioned to treat a person on a screen as a celebrity. Worship leaders are already on enough of a pedestal as it is, that having a congregation stare at their magnified face can only make it worse.

It changes the way you behave (and not in a good way)
I’ve led worship in settings where my face is projected and it just plain out feels awkward. Oops I just licked my lips. That looked weird. Will this shirt look good on screen? Oops they just caught me looking over at myself. Oh wow I really am losing my hair. For goodness sake, there are enough things for us to worry about while leading worship, that how we look on a massive screen shouldn’t be one of them.

It changes the way your team sees themselves
Now your worship team is thinking about all of those same things. They already feel self-conscious enough, and now they have to worry about looking camera-ready. That Mom who just gave birth four weeks ago, that electric guitarist who spilled coffee on his shirt, that drummer who sweats profusely in the shape of a T-Rex on his back, now they’re all thinking about their appearance. 

It prevents you from decreasing
It’s awfully hard for you to decrease when your face is the size of a Honda Civic.

It ensures that you are central
For the duration of the sung worship time, your face is the number one trending topic in the room. 

It necessitates breaking the song lyrics up
The context of the lyrics we’re singing matters. “Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin” makes more sense when we can see what precedes it: “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me the guilt within”. It’s helpful to let people see the different chunks of the song in context. It already flies by as it is, and even more so when we chop the chunks up even smaller.

It’s completely unnecessary
So your room is large. So people standing in the back won’t be able to see you very well during worship. So what?

Let me try to preemptively try to answer some questions/address some disagreements:

What about when you’re talking or praying?
This makes more sense to me. When you welcome people, or when you speak to them, or when you’re praying/transitioning in between or after a song, it can definitely be helpful for your face to be projected. At that moment you do want a connection. You do want people to pay attention to what you’re saying. You do want your leadership to be more present. But when the song begins again, the screen can fade to full-screen lyrics. At that moment your role changes and you need your face to disappear.

But why is it OK to project the preacher?
The role of a preacher is to preach the word of God. To communicate the Word of God to the people of God. It is very much a communicative role (duh). The role of a worship leader is not the same. Yes, it’s a pastoral role, but it’s not a preaching role (though songs do preach). Our role is the role of a facilitator. And an effective facilitator facilitates. Facilitating and communicating are two very different roles. Having your face on a screen indicates that you’re on the screen to communicate. Having your face off the screen indicates that you’re there to facilitate. So get your beautiful face off the screen and do some facilitating.

But people will feel so disconnected from the worship leader
First, so what. Second, that’s the point.

But people need to see who’s leading them
They can see you just fine. And if you want, they can see you projected during the speaking bits. But when the singing starts, they don’t need to see whether or not you shaved this morning.

But it’s so boring just to project lyrics
Then make sure you’re projecting lyrics that pack a punch.

So what do you do if your church is currently projecting your face during the songs?

Stop doing it
It’s not a good practice. It’s something that’s increasingly prevalent in large evangelical churches and conferences, and it’s adding to the trend towards performancism that’s resulting in tuned-out congregations. 

Use it as a huge teaching opportunity
Imagine a congregation hearing something like this:

“For years here at (insert your church name here) we have projected the worship leader and worship team on the screen during corporate worship. Our tech crew have done an excellent job at this, and we know that in this large room, many of you have appreciated being able to see what’s going on on stage. But, starting today, we’re not going to project the people on stage on the screen during worship anymore. You’re going to see full-screen lyrics. You might see the worship leader’s face when he speaks or prays, but when we start singing, you’ll just be seeing lyrics only. Why are we doing this? Three reasons. First, we don’t want you to think that you’re coming to a show on Sunday mornings. We want you to come to worship God. Second, we don’t want to distract you from the amazing truths we’re singing, or the amazing gospel we’re proclaiming, or the amazing God we’re encountering. And third, we want to encourage you to be more engaged with God in worship and less focused on who’s on the screen. So, we’re going to keep the lights up, we’re going to ask that you commit yourself to actively engaging in this time, and we’re going to pray now that the Holy Spirit would help this church worship Jesus with more and more freedom in the weeks and months to come.” 

Sounds good to me.

More Backgrounds That Make You Say “What?”

A few weeks ago I had some fun with some hypothetical backgrounds for worship song lyrics. My point was that most of the time, pictures behind song lyrics is more distracting than helpful, and I used some extreme examples to illustrate.

And I just can’t resist doing some more.

This first one is fairly self-explanatory. What on earth could make you hungrier than a nice juicy cheeseburger? This picture would help people feel hungry for God.

Just imagine how free these horses must feel when they’re finally allowed to run! Likewise, Jesus sets us free from sin.

From what some of the Christmas carols tell me, Jesus was born in a snowy, late-December Bethlehem. And the Bible says that angels announced his birth. So what could be better than a snow angel? It’s got the best of both worlds.

At the Worship God ’11 conference, Bob Kauflin mentioned that the second verse of the song “Our God” made him think of a Phoenix in flight. That really moved me. So here it is.

To be perfectly honest, the second verse of “Mighty to Save” has always confused me a bit. Am I giving my life to follow Jesus? Or am I giving my life to follow everything I believe in? Am I surrendering myself or am I surrendering everything I believe in? I don’t get it. Oh well. Here’s a picture of delicious chocolate cake.

Just in case people can’t picture what a shepherd looks like, I moved the lyrics around so we could help them out.

Nothing gets me worshipping better than seeing a picture of people with their hands in the air.

And finally, is there anything more beautiful on this planet than a triple rainbow?

Backgrounds That Make You Say “What?”

I tend to think that when and if churches project song lyrics during a worship service, they should take some time beforehand and pay attention to the little details in order to remove as many distractions as possible.

I wrote about ways churches can practice “projecting excellence” here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Some churches take the opposite approach and don’t pay much attention to the projection at all. In many of these churches, one hallmark of their use of backgrounds.

I’m all for using a background – if it works well and isn’t distracting – but usually have a hard time with different pictures popping up on different slides as if a picture of a man in a field of grain with his hands stretched to the sky is supposed to help me engage with God any better.

A friend of mine recently visited a church like this and it got me wondering. How tacky can you get?

Let’s explore.

Here we have the classic hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” over an ice sculpture of two swans, creating a heart shape in the middle. Poignant.

Or how about the chorus of “How Great is Our God” with some cute kittens to help you worship?

And what could help us think about how everlasting our God is more than the space shuttle shooting into space!

This picture makes me feel peaceful. And Jesus returning will make me peaceful. This is a great combo!

All kidding aside, what on earth could make you want to worship Jesus more than chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven?

God walks with me even in hard times. Blessed be his name.

That reminds me. Dogs are a man’s best friend!

I think I will save this one for the opening song next Easter. People will go crazy!

And finally, this one is self-explanatory.

On second thought… maybe pictures are too distracting as backgrounds. I think I’ll stick with simple.

Projecting Excellence – Making it Easier for the Congregation to Sing

I’m a big believer in making sure the lyrics that are projected during corporate worship are done so with care and excellence. If worship leaders really want to remove distractions, oftentimes one of the first places they could look is the screens. Lyrics that are thrown onto a slide and projected onto a screen with little thought given to how well they serve the congregation will usually communicate a certain degree of confusion and messiness.

I’ve written before on the importance of line breaks, font size, keeping things in context, typos, where to put the title, whether to use all caps, alignment, and copyright info. Today I want to touch more on the issue of line breaks – especially how to place line breaks intentionally to help the congregation follow along.

This Sunday at my church we’re teaching the song “Revelation Song” by Jennie Lee Riddle. It’s a beautiful song, and while it’s a very simple song, has some tricky parts.

Listen to the second verse – and while you do, read along to the slide below:

A bit confusing, isn’t it?

Now listen to the verse again but follow along to the slightly tweaked slide below:

In the first example, the lines keep running on even though there is supposed to a break in singing. In the second example, where the melody line rests, the line breaks. It’s easier to follow along and prompts the congregation to either keep singing or take a break.

While most people in the congregation might not be able to point specifically to the line breaks as helping them learn the song – it can actually help a great deal whether they realize it or not.

It takes some forethought and someone who cares enough to listen to and sing through the song, to make the slides present the lyrics in a way that will serve the congregation. It will make a difference in how comfortable your congregation is with joining in on songs, especially new ones. 

Song Sheets Can Be Your Friend

A lot of worship leaders are under the impression that in order for people to “really worship”, then the words to the songs must be projected. Projecting lyrics can become not only a non-negotiable, but also an idol. PowerPoint will make our service more alive! MediaShout will get people’s hands in the air! Song sheets are the enemy!

I’ve come to learn that sometimes, song sheets can be your friend.

Now don’t get me wrong – I prefer projecting lyrics to printing them for several reasons. Here are just a few:

  • It gives me flexibility to make last-minute changes
  • It allows people’s heads and eyes to be lifted up
  • It frees people’s hands to be expressive (as the bible encourages)
  • It saves money by reducing the cost of paper, copying, and ink
  • It makes lyrics easier to disseminate to large numbers of people
  • It prevents waste of un-used paper
  • It avoids the problem of not printing enough copies of the lyrics
  • It helps promote unity in the congregation by physically pointing people in the same direction.

Most worship leaders would agree with those pro’s of projecting lyrics. The problem is when the pro’s of projecting lyrics blind us to the con’s.

The cons range from the practical:

  • The ceiling is too low
  • The church can’t afford a laptop and projector
  • The room is too bright
  • The sight-lines aren’t good
  • You’re leading in an open field

To the pastoral:

  • Some members of the congregation have threatened to leave if a screen ever appears in the general vicinity of the church
  • Projecting lyrics is more of a distraction than an aid

Worship leaders need to be able to be honest and objective enough to know when projecting lyrics would be a hindrance to people singing to God. In those instances, song sheets can be your friend.

In what we call the “main sanctuary” at my church, projecting the lyrics is a no-brainer. The screens, projectors, and computers are all permanently installed in the room and easy to use. But in our “historic church”, a civil-war era colonial-looking building, there aren’t any screens or projectors installed, and until we find a way to do that without disturbing the beauty of the space, projecting lyrics requires a good deal of work. After a couple years of going through all that trouble, I finally realized it was more trouble than it was worth. Deciding to just go ahead and use song sheets has been incredibly freeing.

Sometimes if the song sheet is for a home group, or a staff meeting, or an informal gathering where I’m just leading a couple of songs, I’ll put the songs on one half of a 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper. This way I can get two song sheets out of one piece of paper, and it’s not very big.

Other times, if the song sheet is for something more formal, like a healing service in the historic church, we’ll put a nicer looking heading on top of it so that it feels more official.

Here’s how I format the song sheets to make them not only readable but pleasant to read:

  • 12 or 14-point font
  • A readable font that has a bit more character than Arial or Times New Roman. Not too much character to be distracting, but just a little bit
  • Bold-ed song titles
  • Italicized chorus
  • 8-point font for the copyright information at the bottom of each song
  • One 6 or 8-point line between the sections of the song
  • Two full lines of 12 or 14-point space between each song

It’s totally fine (and understandable) to prefer projecting lyrics to printing them. I certainly do. And I look for ways to make rooms more conducive to doing so, since I think the advantages of projecting lyrics are worth some work. But, from time to time, the advantages of printing the lyrics are too great to overlook.

Projecting Excellence – Obeying Copyright Laws

Since this blog started in July, we’ve looked at a number of ways we can serve our congregations more effectively by making sure our projected lyrics are projected with excellence. So far we’ve covered line breaks, font size, keeping things in context, avoiding little mistakes, where to put the song title, not using all caps, and alignment.

One important topic we haven’t covered yet is what to do with the copyright information (i.e. author, copyright date, publishing company, etc.). This may not seem like the most exciting topic in the world – but it’s important that in everything we do, including trying to obey copyright laws, we’re seeking to honor God. There are rules to follow here, and choosing to ignore them or continue to be ignorant of them is a problem.

Step one: Get a CCLI license. Every church should have its own license, which costs a small annual fee, allowing it the freedom to duplicate song lyrics and music, project lyrics, record services, and more.  It is against federal law to copy song lyrics or music in any form without permission. This license is the easiest way to get that permission.

Step two: Before projecting lyrics to a song, find out the (1) song title, (2) author’s name, (3) year of copyright, (4) copyright notice (i.e. company), and (5) your church’s CCLI license number.

Here’s an example of how it should look from the CCLI website:
“Hallelujah.” Words and music by John Doe. © 2000 Good Music Co. CCLI License # 0000.

It’s not very difficult or complex.

Step three: Put all of that information on the bottom of the first slide of the song. It’s not necessary to put it on every single slide, and I’ve found that having it on the last slide means that the congregation begins to think that whenever the copyright information appears it means the song is almost over.

Here’s how it looks on our slide for the first verse of Stuart Townend’s song “Beautiful Savior”.

And a close-up.

On our slides, the font size for the lyrics is 38. The font size for the copyright information is 12, and centered in its own text box. This way it’s readable, fits on one line (most of the time), can be moved to a different slide if needed, and isn’t distracting.

You can read more about this in the FAQ section of CCLI’s website. Click here.