Presentation Software: Going Beyond PowerPoint
By: Eugene Mason
In the worship center of nearly every contemporary church in North America, you'll find a video screen and a projector connected to a resource that has become a vital part of thousands of worship services—PowerPoint. Song words and sermon outlines are the most common uses of video in worship. PowerPoint has transformed the way we worship collectively.
The "pros" for video support are tremendous. Music leaders find words on the screen keep the attention of the worshippers focused on what's happening in the room versus down in a hymnal. Pastors use outline points on screen to emphasize key points in their messages. Some would argue that it's also making us rely on simple visual cues versus intently focusing our attention.
There is evidence in both directions on the topic of video. Some suggest that while short-term attention is enhanced, long-term retention is actually reduced when we follow video in worship. As an example, we can all sing a chorus when the words are on the screen, but how many remember it when they get to their cars? On the other hand, there is contrary research to suggest that the combination of audio, visual, and written stimulus enhance retention significantly. For instance, seeing a speaker's outline while hearing him saying it and then writing it down increases long-term retention by as much as 70 percent, according to research by Purdue University.
Despite the detractors, the vast majority of researchers hold to the opinion that video support for learning is a good thing. Video in worship is here to stay, so we need to make the most of it. What does this mean? It's taking a serious and intentional look at what you are putting on your screen each service. Ask yourself if the video is adding to or detracting from the overall worship experience.
First, with some software packages, you can build a library of songs and backgrounds easily. In fact, several come with many hymns, choruses, and backgrounds already programmed in.
Secondly, these programs are geared to the last-minute nature of worship planning, allowing quick changes, even during the service. If the music minister feels a chorus of "Awesome God" coming on in the middle of a worship set, it’s no problem; you can just jump to that without leaving your presentation that is already running.
Finally, all of these programs handle video content more readily than PowerPoint. If you've ever tried to embed a video segment in PowerPoint, then you know it is subject to random crashes and hang-ups. These worship-oriented presentation programs are more adept at handling these large files and playing them without delays or glitches.
Keep a copy of PowerPoint around for those guest speakers and musicians who bring in their own material in PowerPoint format, but as for Sunday to Sunday, seriously consider going with one of the other more powerful and practical alternatives. It is well worth the investment.
Many companies now make still images for worship specifically, and there is a broad range of suppliers for other types of images. You can quickly build a library of basic images and backgrounds on which to draw for your services. Start with simple associations, such as crosses, sky images, sunsets, stained glass details, and other religious symbols. Then begin thinking about abstract ideas or metaphors that you can express visually. What does praise look like? What about holiness, or servanthood, or joy? You have a tool that allows you to begin expressing these ideas through pictures. Video screens can do so much more than give people the next line in a song. It can literally transport them emotionally and psychologically through images.
When you switch from a computer presentation to a videotape, you are switching between two types of video signal (VGA for the computer, and NTSC for the video), which are incompatible with each other. As the video projector switches between these various signals, there is an inherent delay as it "releases" one signal and "syncs up" to the new signal. I cringe when I see these "hiccups" appear during a service, as they are distracting and among the most vivid examples of how video can pull worshippers out of the moment when it is not executed professionally.
You can significantly improve switching between sources by placing a seamless video switcher in the system. This could be a production switcher, such as the kind used with video cameras and video sources, or a "matrix" switcher, which is used in conference room or boardroom settings. In addition to providing a seamless "wipe" from one video source to another, most switchers also have an option to fade to black, allowing you to cue material before it appears on screen. Some switchers also include scan conversion, which take your computer output and other video sources and convert them to the same format. If the switcher does not have this capability built in, you'll need to scan-convert all the signals that are not compatible before they go into the switcher.
Always, always, always check out a taped video segment before the service. Cue it up, mark it, and run it through completely. Check for any tape glitches and make sure the audio level is set properly. I've had several occasions where an excellent videotape segment was ruined because it was not cued. Rewinding a tape in the middle of a service is a horrible feeling, especially if the sermon or other portion of the service depends on the footage. Everyone has to sit and twiddle their thumbs for 30 seconds. Ouch! Do not let this happen to you. Check, double-check, and re-check everything ahead of time.
Eugene Mason has more than two decades of experience in ministry communications and technologies. He is the founder of Communicorps, an online communications and technologies resource for Christian churches, www.communicorps.org.