For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about getting started in church communication. Mostly we’ve focused on marketing from a broad perspective, but today we’re going to get a little more specific and talk about getting started with visual worship. What’s that? Primarily it’s about creating an environment for worship. One of the forerunners in the field of worship lighting and environmental projection is Camron Ware. He’s on a plane every week helping churches learn more about improving their space and designing visual worship systems. Before city-hopping as a consultant he was on staff at a church as the visual and lighting director.
In some churches talking about making changes to the space is a good way to get excommunicated. How do you deal with churches that don’t want to change?
Camron Ware: I lovingly thump them a little and say that we are a visual culture! We as the church should absolutely be the leader in arts, visuals and creativity (like we once were). Normally when I talk with a church that doesn’t want to change, it’s usually just one to two people; not the overall heartbeat of that specific community. In those cases they usually come around once the church sees how visuals and media can truly impact and add to the corporate worship gathering.
Visual worship often feels like a new idea with all the technology involved, but it’s really not, is it? How can you connect churches with those historic roots?
Camron: Visual worship is ancient. Like I mentioned earlier, the church used to be the leader in use of visuals (stained glass, architecture, paint, mosaics, etc.) The old cathedrals that used the building itself to tell story is a far cry from our “modern” church buildings with muted colors and flat walls. The re-introduction of visuals in the church really came about once projection and lighting technology became practical for us to use. We can now change the look and feel of an entire space with a simple push of a button. Environmental projection gets its root from those old cathedrals, so the concept is old, but the technology is relatively new.
I often call environmental projection “post-modern stained glass.”
Visual worship also feels like something that has to be expensive because it involves technology and changes to the physical space. How can you do visual worship on a limited budget?
Camron: It doesn’t have to be expensive at all. The beauty is that visual worship can be done with simple colors, or a still image on a screen, or even the orientation of the chairs/platform in a worship space. If you’re on a limited budget, I say look at what you have already. Most church have some kind of projector and screen to show lyrics, so I say start there! Use still background media well; media that tells a story to fit the worship music and the message. You can also add colored stage lighting to bring in color and emotion.
No seriously, next to no budget. What could a church do with a few hundred bucks to improve their visual worship experience?
Camron: I often get emails from churches all around the world that are meeting in a classroom with white ceiling tiles and fluorescent lighting. I tell them to turn off the cold, white lights and go get some floor lamps. Start by warming up the environment.
What was your first great success with visual worship? What made it work so well?
Camron: I think it was the Names of God clip I made a while back, and using it with environmental projection. I don’t consider myself a media producer and had no idea what I doing. But the simplicity and power of having names and attributes of God in white text, slowing scroll up against a black background has become one of my most powerful personal moments.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Camron: While using environmental projection, the biggest struggle for me is not using projection. Sometimes the best thing to do in worship is to turn it all off. I’m constantly learning that it’s OK to “go to black” and have visual stillness at certain moments.
What’s the biggest headache with visual worship and how can newbies get over it (or get used to it)?
Camron: Lovingly I say “Stop using motion backgrounds the whole time!” I’m personally a bigger fan of using still backgrounds in worship, with sprinkles of motion video during worship to add energy. My biggest frustration with “us” in the church, is that we over-use media. The best way I can challenge churches is to use visual stillness, and remember that the visual media can be just as important as the worship songs themselves. It’s going to take time and thought to pick the right visuals that fit your church community.
It seems like we’re talking about the vibe of a space and that’s kind of elusive. What are some ways less than obvious ways to improve the vibe?
Camron: Think of how you feel when you walk into a hospital. Cold, white, sterile. Now, think about how you feel when you walk into your local coffee shop. Warm, inviting, communal. Why do you think most ‘modern’ church buildings look like Starbucks?
The openness of your facility, the color of carpet, the orientation of the pews/chairs, the brightness of the windows, the color of the walls, the smell of coffee brewing, the sound of uplifting music playing in the lobby, the clear signs pointing you where you need to go… all those things and more can contribute the vibe of your church.
If you’re looking for more help on getting started, check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series. Another resource that might be a big help is our new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It covers a lot of the basics, from big picture strategy to practical stuff like sound and the vibe.