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To Entertain the Masses: The Proper Use of Media in Worship Settings

Entertainment can be a scary word to use with worship, but read on and see that it can be also be a great word to use with worship. Webster’s online dictionary relates entertainment to amusement, which may be why “entertaining” people in worship is sometimes looked upon with disdain. Worship is hardly intended to be amusement.

But Webster first describes the word entertain as “to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind”, or “to capture and hold one’s attention”. When a church welcomes people for worship on any given weekend, it is to capture and hold their attention with the Word of God (Jesus!) so that it (He!) may take root and by faith produce the fruit that God seeks. In this case, entertaining worship is precisely what we are looking for, and using various forms of media is a tremendous way to capture and hold people’s attention during worship.

Worship is to be focused on God, and we want to create opportunities for people to experience God through His Word and Sacraments and respond appropriately. It is definitely important that we hold people’s attention and get them thinking like the hymn writer: “and when I think that God his son not sparing sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.” Can you imagine showing a video of Jesus’ crucifixion to help worshipers grasp the reality of the Son of God dying for all sinners?  Can you hear sounds capturing the moments in cries and shouts and the insults heard flying during his trials and subsequent suffering? Oh, we can talk about it and that is fine. And yet we do much more when we use the senses of hearing and sight and the imagination of God’s people.

Now let’s be realistic; in some churches media has become the show and focus. It can end up being a distraction from worship if not applied correctly. But the same can be said about preaching, playing the organ, and reading scripture if not done well. Like good stories and styles of preaching, or various combinations of organ stops, media can greatly enhance worship. If these things help people of our day entertain thoughts of what the Gospel means and drives home the fact that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to death on a cross so that we could be forgiven and embraced as his children, then embrace media and use it to God’s glory.

My family recently attended services at three different churches over one weekend–each strong Jesus-centered worship event using media in a variety of ways to bring home the message. Saturday night the congregation participated in a service where everything (music, readings, prayers) was provided on the wall of the sanctuary, eliminating the need for any papers or books–a hands-free option. Sunday morning had a similar style of presentation, but with bulletins provided. The sermon included pictures from the Internet, presented through PowerPoint slides. Sunday evening worship started with live-feed video interviews conducted with youth prior to the service, eventually moved into a time of confession using a music video, and involved a pre-recorded video episode of the pastor in his car. Each service contained familiar marks of worship (invocation, confession, scripture, sermon, prayers, benediction), and yet all three involved media in different fashions to capture the attention of the worshipers gathered.  The media used made for strong worship experiences.

It doesn’t take a pastor who knows the technology to make media work, but it does take a pastor willing to work with the technology. It also requires people (preferably more than one) who know their way around computer and sound technology. With committed people and time, many sound forms of media can be successfully implemented into a worship service–and the parishioners who enjoy it may surprise you.

Many people (often older) enjoy being able to put reading glasses away and follow the service on a wall or screen. Parents are glad to have both hands available to corral (or feed) children. And did you know that by using technology you can hold an entire Divine Service of the Lutheran Hymnal without an organist present (or the pastor for that matter). The Lutheran Worship hymnal is in midi and wave files for various usage.

As you proceed in these areas, it is important to respect rules and regulations and therefore pursue various licenses to reproduce certain things (CCLI for most Christian music, ASCAP for most secular music, and there is a license required for sharing video clips from Movies and Television.) Reading through the book Media Ministry Made Easy by Tim Eason would be helpful, or simply wander through some of these sites: highwayvideo.com or worshipfilms.com to assist with illustrations through film clips, worshipleader.com for dealing with contemporary music, ginghamsburg.org to see a church that has been using media for years (they do services live on the internet), graphics.crossdaily.com, churchmedia.net or churchsoundcheck.com to get a grasp on what you might want or need, and for those looking for edgier student age stuff, try visualrealityonline.com. Research PowerPoint and MediaShout technologies to see what fits your situation–make it about using your God-given gifts to serve God’s kingdom and people. It is amazing what vessels and instruments the Holy Spirit can use to share the message of the Gospel–from people to places and things.

Rev. Paul VonWerder is pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Orlando, FL.

Published March 1, 2004

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