When I was a teenager, a few of my friends and I used to be in charge of the overhead projector.
Yes, an overhead projector. For those of you who haven’t been in church past the last decade, the overhead projector was a machine that projected acetate slides onto a screen. This was, in effect, the charismatic hymn book. Instead of a bound volume that you held in your hand, the words of each song would be projected in big writing on the screen, thereby freeing up your hands to clap, raise, fist-pump triumphantly or clutch a tambourine.
I hate to boast, but I was really good at the overhead projector. I used to suss out all the worship leader’s signals and anticipate when he changing songs. Sometimes, I even knew what the worship leader was going to do before he did and I had the slide ready to go. You would stand in the congregation and in the blink of an eye, the song had changed and you would wonder whether some little fairy had magically materialised the words on screen.
Things have changed since those days.
Recently, during one of the Converge sessions, I realised that no one was manning the AV projection so I went to the computer to be helpful, thinking “I can do this… I can easily do this”. Boy, did I quickly realise that I was out of my depth. I had to hit the right numbered key to go to the correct numbered verse; press a different button to blank out the screen during free worship; type up lyrics in real time; put new songs onto the playlist.
It was all very disconcerting.
I began to wonder whether there was indeed a special anointing to be an AV projectionist.
Here, I want to share a few thoughts I have for AV projectionists from the perspective of a non-practitioner trying to butt in and give advice which I’m probably not qualified to give. Hopefully it’s helpful.
1. There is a special anointing of AV projection
Yes, there is! And it is what Benny Ho calls a “residential gift” – a gift of the Holy Spirit given to someone which that person can activate at any time.
In some churches, the AV job is usually given to someone who is new to the worship ministry, as if to test their character and staying-power with a good dose of suffering before allowing them to serve “on stage”.
I think that sort of attitude diminishes the very crucial function of the projectionist.
I have been in countless meetings where I’ve led worship and the congregation just stares back because the words aren’t on the screen yet. The AV projectionist (like the sound guy) bridges the musicians on stage with the congregation off-stage and allows the entire church to engage in the worship experience. Without the AV, we are left to rote-singing old short choruses like “I Love You Lord” and “I Worship You Almighty God”.
Our churches need skilled, gifted and passionate AV people to run the projector!
2. The AV Projectionist Needs to Prepare
One of the things I realised in my lame attempt at doing the AV was how much preparation was really needed. You can’t just show up as the worship is starting and expect to do the job well. Just like musicians attend a rehearsal, I think it’s important for the AV person to go to the rehearsal, see how the worship leader is structuring the songs, familiarise themselves with a song’s entry point – generally, to get to know the songs and the worship set well.
Then it will be easy to anticipate transitions and even to get the words ready for times when worship leaders do that strange thing they like doing (i.e. messing around with, and changing, the published lyrics of a song as if they knew better than the original composer!)
3. Consider how the Projection Can Contribute to the Worship Experience
Often, AV people just project what’s on the database.
But there are a few things under this point which a projectionist should consider, such as:
// are the words typed up correctly? AV operators should check for typos and make sure the words of the correct version of a song are on screen (e.g. when singing “How He Loves” is the worship leader doing the “sloppy wet kiss” or the “unforeseen kiss” version?)
// are the way the lines are broken up logical, i.e. do they suggest a breather or flow rhythmically with how the song is sung; is there a sufficient musical pause for you to move onto the next page?
// can you add to the atmosphere through design and graphics? In the olden days, we had stained glass windows, but these days, a lot of a church’s decoration comes from visual projection. Can we project a graphic on-screen that will inspire worship?
// can relevant, inspiring Scripture be put on screen during musical interludes?
Recently, I came across the phrase “Visual Worship Leader” and then it clicked: what the AV projectionist is doing is in fact leading the congregation in worship using the skills, anointing and tools given to him. It may not be a wonderful voice or awesome shredding skills, but it can be just as creative and impacting.
It’s time for the church to really recognise the importance of the AV function, but it’s also time for AV operators to rise beyond the mundane of hitting a few keys on the laptop during worship. The AV operators are the visual worship leaders of the church, and it is time for the visual worship leaders to arise!