Screening Worship

At its basic level, Michael G. Bausch’s Silver Screen Sacred Story: Using Multimedia in Worship is about change in the church. The questions that he poses regarding the potential shift to multimedia in worship services apply to any change that the church confronts be it doctrinal, denominational or otherwise. Though the multimedia about which Bausch writes will continue to evolve, and has evolved leaps and bounds since its original publication, the processes that he discusses for appropriating it are timeless.

Bausch has left no stone unturned in his discussion of employing multimedia in worship services. He recognizes from the start that ministers or congregants wanting to implement multimedia will be met with varying levels of resistance. Thus, he challenges his readers to think about the ways in which congregations already rely on new technologies and multimedia. He also provides a brief glimpse into the history of the church’s relationship with changing technology (the printing press, electricity, etc.) and new media. While he respects the positions of the opponents of multimedia in worship, his arguments certainly undercut their effectiveness.

One of the main benefits of using multimedia in the life of the church, Bausch argues throughout, is that it relies on the interests of a number of congregants who might not already participate. Bausch encourages ministers to look for the dreamers, techies, film buffs, music lovers, and artists to help integrate the visual arts into worship services. Chances are, most of these folks simply sit back and observe, waiting for ways to share their gifts.

To the wider community, a church that integrates multimedia and the visual arts signals that it speaks their language. This language also connects with the day-to-day lives of congregants who are most likely participants in popular culture, consuming television programs, films, and secular music. Bausch recognizes that the church’s ability to engage multimedia and popular culture amounts to learning a new language. He laments, “We have reduced theology to mean lots of words about God.” He then asks, “But what about the language of light known to us in picture and in other things we see” (41).

Bausch is quick to point out that the use of multimedia is not just for film clips or secular music, but can also be used to “advertise” the life of the church. He offers several brilliant suggestions for using that “controversial” projector and screen such as filming and photographing youth events to show during the worship service, providing a slide show of mission trips for those who were not able to go, or visualizing the people for whom prayers are offered during the prayers of the people. Bausch even suggests scanning images that children draw during Sunday School to share with the congregation during the service.

Bausch’s plan of action for integrating multimedia is extremely detailed. While he offers several examples of how his congregation employs particular film clips or songs, he does not overwhelm readers with them. Rather, he focuses on the very practical aspects of making the change. He begins with an analysis of worship spaces, paying close attention to the architecture and lighting and suggests hiring an outside audio-visual consultant to recommend the most effective and affordable equipment. For some congregations, a television will work just fine. Larger congregations, perhaps with larger budgets, might look into installing a more powerful projector and a retractable screen. No matter the situation, the state of multimedia and the required technology to engage it is so affordable and user friendly that much can be done with very little.

Thankfully, Bausch points out that multimedia is not a cure-all and should only be used sparingly, unless churches provide entirely separate worship services built around the visual arts. Multimedia should be employed at the service of worship and the mission and life of the church. If a church is floundering and its worship services dull and boring, no amount of multimedia will cure it. The church and its worship services must have a clear goal and mission and employ multimedia in conjunction with it, not as some ploy to attract a larger audience.

For more on Bausch’s work, visit his website Worship Media.