By TJ Therrien
It’s funny how the littlest things slip through the cracks at church. A light flickering on the stage. A camera is slightly out-of-focus. An apostrophe is missed on the side screens. These things happen. It’s not the end of the world, but these details can’t be ignored. Every small detail has a large impact on the service. It’s our job to take people on a distraction-free journey every weekend so that they can draw closer to God.
One of the most overlooked details in a church service is literally right in front of us – the lyrics. Think about it. In a 15-minute worship set, our eyes are staring at the lyrics for at least 14 minutes (minus a 32-bar guitar solo). So why is it that we spend so little time designing the lyrics to look perfect each week?
It’s important to remember our goal when designing the lyrics: to make the words invisible. If the lyrics are distracting, they disrupt the vertical worship experience. The lyrics need to be read effortlessly. If people are thinking too much about the font, then we’ve missed. If people are wondering if that’s an F or a P, we’ve missed again. If the words are too big or too small, too wide or too tall, we must refocus our energy on making words invisible. How so? Here are five ways I’ve learned.
1. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Not everyone is an artist. Don’t be flashy. It’s not about how cool you can make the word ‘sacrifice’ look. If you’re calling too much attention to your lyrics, you may have gone too far with the design. Some people can get away with a sophisticated layout, but you better be good at it. It needs to look professional. If you’re an amateur, then keep it simple.
2. DITCH THE NOVEL
Two lines, tops. If you’re IMAGing worship, two lines at the bottom is the max. If you have more than two lines, there’s a good chance your words will take up too much of the screen or your font will be too small. For full screen graphics, four lines is the max. If you have more than four lines of lyrics on a single slide, I might as well have the hymnal in front of me. And even four lines is stretching it. I’m being generous here. It’s best to not overwhelm folks by showing them the whole chorus at once. Keep a clean look by showing less. It’s easier for everyone to read.
3. LET THE PHRASING BE YOUR GUIDE
Pay close attention to the phrasing of the song. When there is a phrasing break, that’s when you hit ‘enter’ and start a new line. It’s crucial to keep the phrases together. It makes a hard song seem easier when the words are laid out in a way that makes sense. Be very intentional about this. For example:
Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of Death
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of Death
Opinion alert: Centered justified is better than left justified. It’s cleaner, symmetrical, and just plain easier to read. This is for lower thirds and full screens. If you’re putting the words on the left side of the screen, then obviously left justified is the way to go.
5. SHADOW VS. EDGE: THERE CANNOT BE TWO WINNERS
I don’t care which you pick, just NEVER USE BOTH. You will be breaking a big rule in graphic design if you choose to edge your words AND throw a shadow behind it. This is a cardinal sin in churches today and we shouldn’t stand for it. If you remember one thing, it’s gotta be this. One or the other. Never, ever both. There are other ways to make your words pop. Experiment with the transparency or thickness of your edging or shadowing. I’ve found success with a white font, semi-transparent dark gray shadow with somewhat heavy thickness, then blurring the shadow so it dissipates in the background.
The best way to keep improving your designs is to keep learning from others. You and I will never be the best at this, but if we learn from each other we can find a way to make our words disappear. Remember, when the details are taken care of, we become invisible so that God can be visible.
(I asked TJ From Eagle Brook Church to write this. We worked together for many years and he always put a lot of attention into his graphics and it shows, I knew he would be the best guy to write on this topic)