Visuals are everywhere in our culture and woven into our daily lives, and we are literally surrounded with media. I truly believe that we as the Church have the means, and the responsibility, to use visuals to bring glory to Him and do so in a fresh, creative way.
However, it has been my experience that many of our worship spaces are simply white or beige boxes devoid of any rich visual imagery that point to God.
Now, in that past couple of decades we as the Church have gotten a little better—our walls might be mocha instead of white with stained concrete instead of green carpet, but overall the concept is still the same: our worship spaces generally do not convey the richness and beauty of the Lord.
It wasn’t always this way—the Church used to be REALLY good at using visuals in our buildings and worship services, and I think we are just now seeing the pendulum swing the other way back to the use of culture-leading visual art in the Church.
Think about a cathedral you might have seen a picture of, or even stood in—the building itself is a palette full of color, imagery, emotion, and story. The architecture itself was art, the ceiling was a canvas, and the walls were both literal and figurative windows to God’s creation. Tapestries, paint, mosaics, and of course stained glass were used to convey the message and truths of the Bible and glorify God.
Environmental Projection: Modern Stained Glass
Ten years ago I started as the lighting and visual director for a church in Dallas, but like most churches, we never had enough budget money for what was needed to create a compelling visual environment. We also had a lot of beige walls.
I was always trying new things with lighting to try and fill our blank white walls, but it just wasn’t quite what my heart wanted to do. We had rented some projectors for a children’s event, and while I was packing them up I wanted to see what it would look like if I simply projected imagery all over our walls. After showing the leadership a presentation on what I called “Environmental Projection”, they asked how soon we could install it and use it every Sunday. Since then I have moved full-time to helping churches implement visuals and imagery into their worship services.
Environmental Projection ties directly back to those cathedrals, and I often refer to is as “modern stained glass.” It surrounds the congregation and engages us in worship in a subtle and beautiful way. There is something indescribably powerful about being with fellow believers in a room worshiping, and being surrounded with names and attributes of God that serve as a visual reminder about who He is.
However, because our canvas is now an entire room instead of just a square screen, using this can be dangerous. The term “less is more” applies so strongly that if it’s not followed, the projection can get very distracting and probably should be turned off. It’s not meant to “be watched” actually – Environmental Projection is there to create an environment, not be another video screen. Think of it as digital wallpaper—it is not a plasma TV on a wall that is bright and demands your attention but instead a dynamic piece of art that happens to be your entire worship space.
Projecting imagery on the walls is not the same as the visual media you use on your main house screens. I’ve found that textures and abstract art colors work well, as well as urban and nature-scapes. This is not a place to show your image magnification or sermon points, but a way to take your congregation to a place other than the four walls of your sanctuary. Stained glass imagery is my personal favorite, and rightly so since we are taking this concept directly from real stained glass and what it was intended for.
The biggest question I get asked is “How much does it cost?” Typically, a church will spend between $5-25k doing an entire system from start to finish. That’s a wide range!
Since Environmental Projection is 100% dependent on your worship space, every church’s hardware, content, and system is going to be unique. There are so many variables to consider when looking at doing the projection: your congregation, volunteer-base, the worship style, shadows, angles, install points, ambient light, wall color and texture, lighting, and current technology, just to name a few. However, I’ve found that it does NOT require projectors that cost tens of thousands.
Environmental Projection is 100% dependent on your room and there isn’t a cookie-cutter solution if you want to do it well. The only way to truly design an Environmental Projection system is to first see projectors in room first, with a designer who understands the worship aspect of projection and imagery.
This is not simply shining projectors on a wall—it has a deeper impact on us than you might realize at first. We are painting imagery onto the walls, masking out parts we don’t want the image on, and making it fit both technically and philosophically in your church community. Just as the worship leader chooses songs to reflect the message, the visuals in your church service are as important as those elements. It’s not only another instrument playing a part in your visual story on a Sunday—it can be a storyteller all by itself.
The people designing and running the projection are no longer simple “button-pushers” and the congregation is not simple “observing”. Environmental Projection engages people. It allows designers and artists to use their gifts to glorify God through photography, graphic design, and art just like the stained glass maker did in those old cathedrals.
It also allows the congregation to be taken to place other than just four white walls of a building.
Imagine singing God of Wonders and have the cosmos and galaxies surrounding the room. Imagine being surrounded by a forest during All Creatures of Our God and King.
Churches are now putting as much emphasis on Environmental Projection as they do their lighting and video system and that’s so encouraging to my heart because that’s how I see it too. If you’re going do visual worship in your church, do it well and with intention.
My heart is visual worship and the Church, and using projection and lighting to tell stories, create and change environments, enable artists to use their gifts, and glorify God. I hope this is encouraging and exciting; and if you want to know more please email me—I want to help in any way I can.