Is IMAG for worship a bad idea?

I recently came across some tweets comparing worship and rock concerts that suggested IMAG during worship glorifies the band and not God, and stating that IMAG for worship is a bad idea. Now this may come as a surprise but I am all about discouraging people from investing in IMAG, it’s expensive and requires a great deal of skill and team building. But when room size dictates IMAG, I would never go as far to say that IMAG is not a good idea for worship.

I have always said that Bad IMAG, if it is directing or gear, will always take away from an experience but good, well done IMAG only enhances the experience, and yes the same principal applies at a rock concert the same way it does at church.

One of the best worship leaders I have ever worked with isn’t known for his amazing singing voice, in fact, his voice has always been a constant battle that he has tried to improve. But the reason I love working with this guy is because he doesn’t hide behind his voice, because he can’t, instead he LEADS people into worship with the expression on his face, his passion and by pouring out his heart with a presence that says come sing with me and praise our amazing creator! He is a true worship LEADER! And the best part is, he pours that same leadership into his band and fellow vocalists so they do the same.

In a large room, it’s hard to connect with what is going on on stage when you can barely see the stage, getting a great shot of him allows him to lead the congregation in worship, and be more effective in doing it. And as a director, when I am choosing shots, I have leaned away from shots that don’t show people leading such as tight guitar shots during a solo, I have my ops pull out to see there faces and body movements because most the guitar players see that solo as a form of worship and express themselves while doing it. If a musician or vocalist isn’t worshiping and displaying leadership, I just don’t take a shot of them, and the same in the opposite extreme if the are glorifying themselves rather than God, then they don’t make it in the screen. It all starts with are your worship leaders leading? Maybe you need to get new leaders.

We use IMAG for the same reason we have a PA, so people can hear and see. There is a reason why we do IMAG, because without it, people can’t see, they can’t connect and they can’t engage! And to say that IMAGing worship is a bad idea, then you could almost say that during worship you should mute the PA. Now I understand that there are some rooms out there where IMAG is an option and less of a requirement, and in those cases, sure just IMAG the message. If it isn’t needed it isn’t needed, but in the larger cases where it is needed, don’t just write it off, just make sure your doing it well.

I feel as veteran Christians we have this assumption that less is more with worship. A real Christian loves acoustic unplugged sets because it eliminates distraction. And for some that may be true. But I have also known people to come up to the audio booth and tell engineers that its too loud every time there is more than 1 electric guitar is on stage. I know of one engineer that would always purposely run it lower just as an experiment to see if comments would still come in, and they would. We make connections in our minds associating two different things with a predetermined conclusion of our desires rather than look at the purpose and reason behind the things we don’t like. Or sometimes we blame our issues on the destination rather than the source.

Is IMAG right in all scenarios? No, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong in all.

About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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14 Responses to Is IMAG for worship a bad idea?

  1. Since I am the one who tweeted that statement, I think it’s only appropriate that I comment.

    First off, let me say that I very much appreciate your post & hearing from someone on the other side of this debate.

    I also love that someone is passionate about this particular layer that exists in so many modern churches. You seem to view video directing as a form of leading visual worship.
    We need more of this in the Church!

    As for my tweet, “…why IMAG is a bad idea for worship.” I agree that it’s too absolute; this issue is not simply black & white & has a few shades of grey to it. I guess a better tweet would be “…why IMAG can be (& many times is) a bad idea for worship.”

    Let me explain.

    I agree that large venues can be enhanced by IMAG; I think that line is generally around 1500-2000 people in the room. Many of the events I produce & VJ are in large houses of worship, arenas & convention halls. We use IMAG, & it enhances the event. We’ll even use IMAG during portions of the sung worship times, & I don’t think this is a problem.

    In these large venues, providing a visual connection to the worship leader, singers & band is important for building a relationship & establishing trust with the congregation. I’ll even use IMAG on the 1st song or two as the WL is welcoming people & inviting them to enter in. So many times IMAG can help with this.

    I have also been in large settings (5000+ people) where we didn’t use any IMAG during worship; we used powerful visuals instead. Nobody missed the IMAG! Even the leadership made it a point to tell me how refreshing it was & that they realized it’s not important to see the worship leader/band at all times. The worship leader was most excited about this. And this was in a very conservative context, too.

    You don’t have to see the worship leader (all the time) to engage. We can feed the congregation’s eyes more than images of what/who is on stage.

    Where I see IMAG becoming a problem is when the worship leader/band becomes the main visual focus, & the screens continue to show the worship leader’s face during songs of adoration. Once we have awakened to God’s Presence among us, & especially when we sing songs directly to & about God, I don’t need to see the worship leader anymore.

    I find that other images (other than his face) do a much better job at directing the gaze of my soul towards God & His beauty. Many times these are shown on a center screen while smaller IMAG screens are off to the sides. And even then, I’ll switch to other visuals on the side screens as the worship time progresses & deepens.

    As passionate & expressive as the worship leader may be, I think showing him on screen as a model can sometimes be dangerous; it subtly communicates “this is how you should worship.” And I’m uncomfortable with this.

    Worship should be so much more than passionately & emotionally expressing my faith, so I don’t need to see someone else do this all the time. In fact, seeing someone else worship (especially all the time) is a huge distraction for me.

    But, it can work both ways…rarely. Worship is all about posture…even with the body.
    Seeing Matt Maher lead worship at World Youth Day was very inspiring.

    The cameras showed him on his knees, with his back to the crowd, facing upwards toward the altar (where the Pope was facing). IMAG reinforced a humble posture before God.

    But here’s the deal… Matt wasn’t the focus. Neither was the stage. It was the altar. The Cross. And the Table. That was the central, visual focal point of that gathering.

    IMAG doesn’t have to be about the band all the time. (One of my favorite video directors, Nick Rivero, has shown/taught me a lot in this area.)

    But I rarely see this in modern worship. Usually band is center stage &, though our hearts/motives are usually good, everything about our space contradicts the “worship shouldn’t be a concert” mentality. And most of the time, IMAG does not help solve this problem. It only MAGnifies it.

    I’m not completely against IMAG in worship. But I am against the worship leader/band being the main focus. And unless IMAG is done really well & doesn’t become the main visual in the room, then IMAG will by default make man (not God) the center of our “altars.”

    The (visual) medium is the message. Our rooms & visual layout subtly communicate more than we know.

    “When the worship leader and the Object of our worship occupy the same visual space, the worshipper is easily confused– consciously or subconsciously– about Who the Center truly is.” – Glenn Packiam

    Sometimes the worship leader him/herself can be a powerful image, but it shouldn’t be the main one. And it definitely shouldn’t be the only one.

    For further reading on this, I highly recommend reading these articles & their comments:

    “What Does the Visual Layout of Our Worship Service Say?” by Glenn Packiam

    “Rock Concerts & Worship Services” by Thomas McKenzie

  2. I completely agree with IMAG for connecting people to who’s on stage, hence why when I IMAG speakers a lot, I just hold on a single shot, no cuts. I feel that “worship IMAG” has turned into a rock show of flashy shots, at times, and the focus becomes more about getting cool and great shots, not connecting the audience to the stage (I’m not implying that everyone is this way or does this).

  3. Katanna says:

    So, if I may put words in your mouth, if you use words like “cool” or “engaging” or “entertaining” to describe IMAG that is a BAD idea, but if you use the word “lead” to describe IMAG it is a good idea. I can buy that! (This coming from someone who is strongly against IMAG… you didn’t change my mind, but you showed me a “use case” where I might agree with you.)

  4. Tom D'Angelo says:

    If I may, please allow me to offer a perspective not addressed directly above by Brandon, Stephen & Nicolas’ posts. In reading the preceding posts this topic might be easily become misconstrued as three well known, skilled, prominent, God-honoring artists arguing (or discussing if your prefer) if up-strumming a guitar is better than down-strumming a guitar, or if one manifestation of the Holy Spirit is to be valued higher than another manifestation.

    When I serve, whether as a Tech Director or a solo-instrumentalist, a lighting person or a choir member, a video editor or lead vocalist, a visual artist or an actor, a sound engineer or a dancer; I am ultimately involved in the creation of Art.

    Most of the examples of Art’s use in the Bible surrounds God’s and/or Man’s creation of a meeting place for Man to know, to fellowship with God. In reading about these meeting places we see the importance of Art’s use in how we perceive God and all His creation. We learn about style, form, design and function. Maybe most importantly, we learn about beauty. After all, the same God that paints sunrises and sunsets, who creates the joy a baby’s smile brings also engages us to create to! We after all are made in His image.

    “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Peter 4:10. “The LORD formed me from the beginning, before all created things… I as a master craftsman am His constant delight rejoicing in His presence.” Proverbs 8:22, 30

    Art is not simply or solely for our personal or corporate appreciation or entertainment. Art is also not simply a utilitarian vehicle to slap a Christian slogan or phrase on. Art, in all excellence, in various themes and styles pleases God! When we are involved in creating Art and offer the same as a sacrifice to Him, it pleases God!

    To make this point practical, I believe the use of I-Mag or not, live broadcast or not, video recording or not, sound reinforcement or not, lighting or not, graphics or not, a large praise-team on-stage or not, an organ unseen in the balcony or not, priestly robes or not, skinny jeans or not, contemporary or not, traditional or not, are just individual stylistic expressions, brush strokes, of the same Gospel story. The style of our Art can no more cause someone to accept Jesus Christ as Savior as reject Him. To believe that one style over another, one artistic medium over another, a brush stroke verses splatter could affect someone’s Salvation or relationship with Christ is preposterous and arrogantly elevates the importance of our participation in Art while simultaneously diminishing the power of the Gospel to something so fragile and impotent that it could be hampered by our feeble expressions.

    If we chose to employ an Artistic expression or style or any given vehicle or medium at all it should be to create better Art, to create a more perfect sacrifice to give to Him and thereby please Him. If God has called for Art to be used where He meets man, shouldn’t that Art be good? Shouldn’t it be as good as our resources and our skills will allow? More so, shouldn’t our Art be great?

    Lastly, I don’t want to minimize the importance of cultural norms and effective communication within a given culture. It would be possible for someone to misconstrue my thoughts above to imply that I do not value culturally relevant communication. That however would not be accurate.

    We all tend to choose particular styles, mediums and vehicles within the Arts to communicate to a given target culture. For some, particularly in years gone by, musical styles in the church were chosen based on what was thought long-standing church members wanted to hear. Some in arrogance proclaimed their preferred style as more Godly or spiritual. Now, some churches have changed the style, medium and expressions of their Art to better communicate, to cater to unchurched people.

    When well done, the message of the Gospel has not changed, just the expression or the style of the presentation has.

    In this context, can I-Mag be a tool in effectively communicating to some cultures? Absolutely! Does recognizing this and catering to this culture in that way diminish or detract from the Gospel? No more than a church having cushioned seats instead of hard seats or air-conditioning or heating does. Cushioned seats, air-conditioning, heating and near-by parking lots are all concessions to given cultures.

    Does the church without air conditioning preach a truer Gospel than the church with air-conditioning? No. Does the church with I-Mag present a lesser Gospel or distract the congregant’s attention compared to a church with no projection? No as well.

    • Tom – I really appreciate this comment & agree with a lot of what you say. So much of this is up to preferences, style & what speaks best to your unique local culture. One approach is not more/less Biblical than the other. If God can cause the rocks to cry out, He can certainly speak through anything, even various production styles.

      Even when we mess up or have it all wrong, He still speaks… to all of us… whether we’ve been following Him for years or are years away from following Him. So there is a ton of grace here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying to do the best job we can to keep our congregation’s eyes on Christ.

      Something inside me feels like this is more than a stylistic or preference issue… that this has more to do with FORM and less about style.

      With worship music, there are tons of styles…none is more “right” than the other. But I believe strongly that the FORM & content of today’s modern worship is severely lacking. It’s not that it’s wrong. It’s just not very whole.

      “The emotional bandwidth of modern worship is very narrow.” – Jeremy Begbie (professor at Cambridge) … so much discussion is taking place these days. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Bottom-line, our approach to (modern, contemporary) worship needs to mature, broaden & deepen. Not our STYLE…but the FORM.

      the IMAG discussion is just one of many layers in this discussion.

      It’s not that it’s wrong and sinful or unbiblical… it’s that it has a tendency to promote an unhealthy FORM of worship that uses the liturgy of the world & ends up making celebrities & rock stars out of ministers (whether that is their motive or not). And over time, this can unintentionally create an environment that produces unhealthy worshipers.

      God still speaks. God still saves. People still worship. God works through our strengths & despite our weaknesses. It’s not up to us or our art…but He does invite us to co-create art with Him.

      What I’m submitting is a desire for stronger, healthier liturgies… verbal & visual.
      The current stage/audience posture of today’s modern worship services concerns me. I don’t see it as a mere style or preference. Nor do I see it as sinful.

      I want to see the Church create art that points our eyes to Christ & not to man. I think our hearts are in the right place, but many of the forms we’ve borrowed from the world’s liturgies seem to contradict our message.

      If we sing “It’s not about me, it’s all about You…” but visually we proclaim that it’s all about the band…I see this as a problem. Not a stylistic preference…but a problem. Because the form of our (visual) worship does not seem to line up with the words we sing.

      I think we’re all still heading in the same direction…which is pointing to Jesus… an image can do this… and the body language/facial expressions of a worship leader can do this… but I feel we need a slight course-correction in what our screens are showing all the time.

      IMAG is not wrong. But anything that makes the band & leader the only visual focus during worship, well, I strongly believe that this can, overtime, create an unhealthy worship environment. And much of our technology contributes to this. I’m not against technology, but I want to see us using our screens, projectors, lighting, stage & cameras better.

      And right now, when I see the picture of today’s popular modern worship service, we have a long ways to go.

  5. Camron Ware says:

    Great convo. IMAG itself isn’t BAD…but how we use can be confusing to people…whether they realize it or not. BUT…the same can be said about ANY technology.

    I resonate with what Proctor said. Sometimes the FORM of our worship does NOT reflect our hearts.

    I saw a church one time in a Sunday service that was singing “Be the Center” (“Jesus…be the center”) and they had a giant screen in the center of the stage, with a particle motion background swirling around. They had a cross…but it was off to the side of the stage, not even lit.

    I laughed. I mean…good grief: what does that say to an un-churched person simply observing our corporate worship gathering? Are we really SHOWING what we believer/sing about…etc…

    I totally also get the fact that IMAG (done well) in worship CAN be an art form. It can be an act of worship even for the IMAG director, camera ops…etc. I feel like when I run lighting it’s a form of my worship…but others would disagree.

    Is there an blanket answer? Probably not. Realistically, my best guess is that it depends on each individual church community, and what THEY decide on.

    I will say this though: I have never met a worship PASTOR (Notice… I did not say BAND LEADER) that said “Put my face on the screen.”

  6. Wow. That is one of the most amazing conversations I have ever read.

  7. It’s exciting to see this as a live conversation today. Ten years ago our conversations revolved around “how”. “How” do we afford it, staff it, convince our leaders to let us do it. As technology has gotten cheaper to own and easier to use, it’s right to be asking “why”. It’s healthy to question our methods and our motives from time to time. It’s part of owning what we do and keeps us flexible enough to change when the time comes.

    A couple years ago, we pulled back from using IMAG and some other “concert-y” elements at our church. It was a tough move and I lost some really good volunteers in the process, but it was the right call for our community at the time. We thought we were creating a better experience by focusing the audience’s attention on the stage, that the energy between the music leader and the audience would promote a better, truer, more heartfelt expression of worship. The problem is, corporate worship isn’t about just me and the band worshipping Jesus – it’s about the whole church doing it together! Drawing the focus away from the stage and letting people see each other, although awkward at first, made a big difference in overall participation and engagement.

    Our church needed to refocus. For us at the time, pulling back IMAG was a major part of the solution. That’s not where everyone is at, for sure. And who knows, we might go back and start doing it again someday! I wrote down some of that story for safekeeping on our music and tech blog

    I have taught conference sessions and trained teams to do live video production and I love being behind a switcher more than almost anything. Seeing professional video technology become affordable for churches has made the last decade one of the most exciting times to be in church tech! But there is a dangerous pull in our modern Christian sub-culture to simply take something the world does and use it in church – no questions asked! We used to ask questions, back when this whole rock-concert church thing got started, and I think we were better off for it.

    My hope for our church and the bigger body is that we would continue to find leverage in our culture. And the only was to do that is to be different. When the people you’re reaching think church is boring and you show them a church that’s exciting – you have leverage. When the people you’re reaching think church is fake and all for show and you put on a service that’s heart-on-a-stick authentic – you have leverage. Both examples are perfectly legitimate, but I think the latter represents young people today. That’s certainly the case here in Canada.

    Brandon, thanks for putting yourself out there by writing this post and opening it for comments. Seriously – well done.

  8. nate says:

    I love this dialogue! Great thoughts all around.

    I think one of the reasons this conversation resounds so loudly within each of us, is that ultimately, we all desire to use art and the various tools we have at our disposal in a way that helps share the Gospel and, specifically, the story arc of the service/event. Simply put, our goal as worship leaders (spoken, sung or visual) is to share God’s Story with worshippers young and old (spiritually and physically).

    One of the biggest hurdles we face in today’s church is architecture: the way our buildings are built and furnished. For hundreds of years, and continuing through today in some traditions, you can walk into a cathedral mid-day and catch glimpses of God’s Story without a spark of electricity or the presence of another person. The Story is told through the stain glass images illuminating the room, the icons of of the Via Dolorosa adorning the walls, the altar surrounded by 5 crosses inlaid on the floor with our crucified Lord behind it, and even the cruciform-shape of the entire room.

    Unfortunately, the architectural design of most evangelical churches is more akin to a convention center. Turn off the lights and take away the people and many times you’ll have to search for a bulletin or hope there’s an on-site bookstore in order to learn the reason we gather there on the weekends. And heaven help you if you can’t read.

    Obviously, there’s some exaggeration there (and yes, the children’s wing generally has a huge mural of Noah’s ark – post-landing, pre-drunken stupor), but my point is that without the use of architectural and environmental narrative, its generally left up to the giant digital canvases adorning the front walls of auditoriums to tell the visual Story. And with the ultra-visual culture we live in, sometimes the visual theology we share on these canvases can speak louder than a homily.

    I guess my point is, the modern church has chosen to remove all traces of visual narrative from our sanctinasiums, choosing to replace them with a digital canvas as a primary focal point of the room. I think we’re therefore compelled to closely examine how our use of the screens helps to share the Story. Sometimes it may mean using film footage & imagery. Sometimes it may mean using IMAG. It may NOT mean using a closeup of our worship leader’s fat noggin, subtitled ‘You are the only one I need’. And it probably NEVER means using a Thomas Kinkade picture underneath lyrics for ‘This Is My Father’s World’.

    But I digress…

  9. Peter Sonnek says:

    Great conversation. The recent growth of online and satellite campuses gives this conversation even more weight. Ignoring your opinions about online church, worship and teaching from a screen requires that we be even more intentional with what we send to our online and satellite worshipers, guests, and church members.

  10. Brian Gowing says:

    Great discussion topic!

    I hardly use IMAG. Definitely don’t use it for worship no matter how soulful the worship team gets. I will use it mainly on the speaker but only if there are enough rows that can’t see the speaker or their props properly.

    My reasoning, and the reasoning of most of the teams that I work with, is that showing the worship team takes away from the words and the music. We keep our backgrounds simple and abstract, for the most part unless there’s a graphic that adds something to the impact of the song.

    I will do IMAG if we have a special guest singer, such as a kid, or someone that I feel the audience needs to see their facial expressions to become involved on a more intimate level with what’s going on.

    As several others have noted quite capably, I use IMAG only if I feel that it will directly impact the congregation more than just a screen. If it doesn’t fit with the service it doesn’t get used. I view IMAG no different than any other tool at my disposal, similar to lighting or helping with the dynamics of a song or using a different mic depending on the singer. I definitely don’t want it to be a gadget that’s cool to use.

  11. brhoda says:

    I just want to say first off that I enjoy a good debate. I have a good friend who is my exact opposite in the industry. I’m a Ross guy, he is a Grass guy, I like this camera, he likes that camera. It seemes that everything regarding gear, process, perspective, ect, we are opposites on and although it really made me angry at first, I learned to value it because, he would do 1 of 2 things for me: 1) Opened up my thinking to new possibilities, or 2) confirmed more of what I believed. We all need an opposites in our lives to keep us honest and humble.
    A lot of the topics that have been brought up have been focused around art. But something that hasn’t been pointed out is the fact that as much as art can make an impact in people’s lives, it will ultimately affect everyone different. Some art can make a positive impact as well as a negative impact to different people. But, art will never impact anyone more than the artist that created it.
    In the end our art is OUR expression towards God, and nobody else’s. Others can appreciate that and in many cases it can draw them into God, but still others can look at that same art and be turned off by it to the point of being cynical towards that art form. It’s happened to me.
    If we were to take this conversation down to the nuts and bolts, even a pitch black room with a lit cross could not be what someone needs to draw into God. Someone consider the darkness as something representing evil. Or more personally for me, I have worshiped to a CD before and been distracted because the song is a different version than what I am used to hearing. I have seen white text on a black background and got distracted because I didn’t like the font or the formatting of the text. Anything can distract us from God, and we can make anything an idol and what does it for me could break it for someone else. So if we constantly view technology and art in worship as something that will prevent us from pointing others towards God we are putting ourselves in a loose, loose situation. And as professionals in our fields we are constantly in a battle to find the lessor of evils, find the majority. Which is always a challenge when wanting to continue to move forward rather than stand still. Which is what I believe every professional wants in this industry.
    All we can do in the technical arts is to do our best to not distract people from Christ, to have a purpose to what we are doing and do our best to draw people in. However, we will never win everyone, nor should it be our responsibility to win everyone. At the end of the day it is a personal relationship with Christ, and I find if I can’t engage in worship, or if I am idolizing something or someone else, than it is a personal reason that is preventing me from pursing Christ, not an experiential one.
    I agree that we need to point people in the right direction, like Cameron said about not having the Cross lit, that is not sending a great message, but we need to not be so focused on those things, but rather God. Symbols are great, but not required. Remember, the cross is actually a bad symbol turned good.
    For me IMAG is great, but not required. The room has to dictate it first, and it has to be done in a way that enhances, not takes away. There is nothing I dislike more than Bad IMAG or overly flashy IMAG. But for some people IMAG will distract and for others it will enhance, they will connect with the worship leader and be inspired to enter into worship. And yes, every worship leader I know hates being on camera, and I think that is a good quality, because it means they aren’t in it for a performance and instead they are in it as their art of expression towards God. But most also understand that the camera is a great communication tool to lead and help them enter a congregation into worship just as much as the PA. It may not be more important but it is still a good tool. And who says even in the largest rooms that all music needs to be IMAG’d. Not doing IMAG for a song or two can still be great, as long as the worship leaders have had a chance to lead and for people to connect (Again, purpose).
    In facilities that need IMAG that end up getting rid of it for worship is primarily because of poor execution, crappy gear, directing, camera work, you name it. I have never had IMAG executed extremely well where someone was like, “let’s get rid of it!” it is only in the times I have failed miserably where those comments have been given.
    Most people invest in technology at first because they think it is cool, which is why so many churches doing IMAG get rid of it, because they did it for all the wrong reasons. I have seen facilities do this with PA, Lighting, EP, and Video. They do it because it seems cool at first, but in the end that isn’t the reason to do it and it will come back around. This can leave people cynical towards these technical and artistic areas. If you do it with a purpose, for a reason beyond the artistic expression of “Wow, and Cool”, that is when it lasts and makes a true impact. That is when there is potential to draw people in rather than away.

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