Can We Worship Through Projection?

Published on March 1, 2017 by Laura de Jong  
Laura de Jong

I remember using an overhead projector in worship. My church had each transparent sheet carefully filed, and every Sunday we’d pull out the ones we needed and have them in a neat little stack and throughout the service someone would switch them out depending on what song we were singing. Each sheet had only words – maybe a small clip art image on the bottom. It was the precursor to projection, and there was a lot of debate about it. People missed having the notes in front of them – they wanted to sing in four-part harmony. And what do we do with our hands if we’re not holding a hymnal? Raise them??

Overhead projectors and early projection practices were usually a means to an end – getting words in front of us so we could sing. But the conversation, as well as the programs, have grown and developed to the point where we need to ask ourselves a question: do we see projection as a means to worship, or as part of worship? Put otherwise, do we consider projection a tool we use, or is it a well-thought out component of worship itself?

One of my favorite artists is Steve Prince. He has an image aptly titled “Praise Him,” and in it he depicts a woman, one hand raised, face turned to the sky in dreamy contentedness. I’m a visual learner, and so I connect with the piece – I feel her emotion, it stirs something inside of me. And I wonder, “Could showing this piece of art while hearing the words of assurance stir something inside of other worshipers?”

Or imagine you’re singing a song about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and so you decide to use an image of a tree as the background to your lyrics. What happens if, instead of finding a stock image online, you enlist someone to take pictures of recognizable trees around your school? In a subtle way, you are declaring that God is sovereign over all creation, including your neighborhood. The song becomes much more local and much less abstract, all because of picture choice.

Or perhaps you want to help people understand the flow of worship, the movement from gathering to confession to assurance to Gospel-proclamation to dedication to sending, but you don’t want to break up the flow of the service by explaining each element. Think through the different postures you associate with each of those sections. Perhaps it’s someone with arms extended for gathering, kneeling for confession, head raised for assurance, etc. Are there images or pieces of art that feature these postures that you could use as backgrounds? Or, better yet, is there a person or group of people in your school or church who could pose for photos to use as backgrounds? As the service progresses, the posture on the projection screen will become associated with what’s happening in the service, and over time, people will come to see worship as a journey.

Or…what happens if you use lots of images in worship, and then don’t? During the season of lent, some churches cover up their furniture with black fabric and only unveil it again on Easter Sunday, adorned with flowers. Could you do the same thing with projection? If you’re used to seeing something bright and colorful and aesthetically pleasing on the screen, what might the effect be if for six weeks it was just white lyrics on a black background? Would it make a difference in how you sing during Lent? Would it make worship especially vibrant on Easter when the color returned?

For many of us, projection is something we take for granted. But if we’re intentional about the images we use and how we use them, or what we project and what we don’t, or how words are arranged on a slide, there are so many possibilities for projection influencing our worship and becoming part of the worship. The psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” For those who are visually oriented, projection practices can be one way in which we praise with everything we are