Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Generation Gap

My passion is visual worship. I get to travel around the country and help churches use standard projectors as a visual worship tool in their services – environmental projection. Whenever I start the conversation with churches about incorporating visual worship into their services and on their walls, they always ask the same question: “Won’t this distract the older folks in our church?”

Many church workers have the false perception that visual media is for the young people – that older folks don’t respond well to the “new technology”. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

For centuries, churches have used visual media to impact their congregations. Majestic cathedrals with elaborate stained glass windows are just that: visual media. Visual media isn’t a new invention within the church. It’s just our methods and the technology that have changed.

Whether you’re doing something as epic as environmental projection or simply have a plasma television display visuals on your stage, visual worship can transcend age and demographics in your community.

When I first started incorporating visual media on the walls of our church, I was worried about backlash from the elderly folks in our congregation. But they surprised me. They began approaching me each week asking what visuals they were going to experience on the walls next week! They were eager and excited to worship through visuals, and in this context, environmental worship was the medium.

I’m convinced that the older generation in our church loved the imagery so much because it reminded them of the churches they grew up in. Churches in the early part of the twentieth century were largely still filled with stained glass art pieces and iconic imagery. So maybe that’s why they were excited about it. Art and beauty were returning to the church.

I think the biggest break down in the visual media generation gap is what we think our young people want. We think they need fast motion and crazy colors because that’s what they see on TV and movies, but I don’t agree.

We need to give the younger generation some credit. They face a bombardment of noise outside the church. So perhaps our church services are a time for more reverence, more sacredness, and more stillness. We can’t compete with MTV, and maybe we don’t have to.

 Perhaps we should offer something different than what they’re faced with on a daily basis. Perhaps we can create a sacred environment where they can connect with a sacred God.

That means we don’t have to stock our worship software with all the latest “digital-looking” media. We can use real imagery – stained glass, crosses, and skies. And no, I’m not talking about the cheesy stock images that came preloaded with your worship software ten years ago. You can use sacred, meaningful art in your visual worship settings.

So what am I saying? Am I saying you should use fast-paced, colorful motion backgrounds? Am I saying you should use still, pensive images? No. I’m saying you should provide a space that supports what is happening in that moment. If the moment is sacred, go sacred. If the moment is fast-paced, go fast-paced.

Visual worship is the medium – the tool. It isn’t for making young people excited about church. It isn’t for making elderly people feel like they’re back at the churches from their youth. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of a visual worship leader – to support the power of the moment. It all comes down to content and use.

The bottom line is, whether we’re talking about a younger or older generation, there is something in all of us that’s deeper and spiritual – something that transcends age. It always starts with the heart of the visual worship leader. They should communicate with their team and church community, and be in prayer about what visuals they should show in their worship service.

Visual worship isn’t just for the young, neither is it just for the old. It’s for all generations to engage in worship with their Creator. Use it to honor our holy God.

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