encourage full engagement

In “empower participation…” we looked at worship leaders as the people most likely to be fully participating (at least during the part of worship they are responsible for), because they are engaged in a physical action, in speaking or singing, in looking and hearing, in thinking and feeling, all at once — while the average person in the pew is probably only doing about half of those things at any given time.

We have an opportunity, as leaders of worship, to put that full involvement within the reach of all the people in the pews by inviting them in and showing them how. It begins with what we do or do not put on the screens.

At each point during a service, we have a choice between projecting text, a video feed, a still image, or nothing. The choice we make shows what we think is most important for people to see, and it communicates (non-verbally) what we expect people to do. Some examples:

During the prayer of the day, we could project the text of the prayer, a video feed of the person praying, a piece of art evocative of the day’s theme, or nothing at all. Showing the text of the prayer encourages people to say along (silently or aloud) the words of the prayer. Showing the speaker encourages people to connect with her on a personal level, to see her eyes and expression. Showing the right piece of art encourages people to reflect on the nebulous ideas wrapped up in the words of the prayer. Showing nothing — giving them nothing to look at — encourages people to turn inward.

Or during a hymn, we could show the text (or text and notation), a video feed of the choir, a piece of art, or nothing. Showing the text encourages people to sing along. Showing the choir encourages people to watch the singers perform and feel the emotions stirred by their performance. Showing the art, again, encourages people to reflect on whatever that art might say to them (coupled with the words and notes of the song). And showing nothing still encourages people to turn inward.

None of these choices is inherently good or bad; it’s all just a matter of knowing what we want to communicate and choosing the projected medium that works the best.

If we are interested in physical engagement specifically, let’s look at some of the physical actions we can invite people to do. There are some activities we participate in: opening the hymnal to sing, turning to a neighbor to offer the peace, coming forward to receive a blessing. Some postural things: traditionally, we sit to hear the word of God, we stand to sing, and kneel to pray (with many variations). Some traditional symbolic gestures: making the sign of the cross; folding hands or placing them together or lifting them up in orans. Or less traditional ones; one of my clergy recently wrote a body prayer that used that little heart shape you make by putting your thumbs together and your fingertips together.

We can show people what these things look like (with art or a video or photo, depending on your aesthetic):

Or we can tell people. We as slide designers have this great opportunity to spell out (especially for new and occasional attendees) exactly what the local conventions are, without interrupting the flow of the liturgy for spoken instructions.

I usually write these in a descriptive, rather than an imperative, mood. It really makes no difference to my worship experience whether you sit or stand or bow or cross yourself or whatever; I’m telling you so you know what most people around you will be doing. I prefer to save my please-and-thank-yous for “please pass the salt” or “please don’t touch me” or “please move to the exits in an orderly fashion.” So that’s my recommendation, and that’s what you’ll see in most of my examples.

Now, I’ve given a couple examples where we are looking at the presenter (the Gloria Choir, in one example, and me as lector/intercessor in the other). In terms of encouraging congregational participation, this is not the first path I would recommend; it gives the strong impression that “the congregation is there to experience the experience, and if they happen to [pray] along, then that’s great,” and if not, well, that’s fine, too — which is the very definition of performancism that Jamie Brown gives in his article “Worship at a Crossroads: Congregationalism vs. Performancism.”

If you feel strongly about using live video and you also feel strongly about not normalizing passive screen-watching in church, I get into that in “give everyone a front-row seat.” Projection is a tool; if we use it intentionally and wisely, it can say whatever we need it to.

original content on Liturgical Projection is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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