View from the Pew

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

I recently had the opportunity to visit another church in my community- one that had a huge write-up in the local paper about the installation of their expensive, state-of-the-art multi-media system. I came a bit late, and instead of entering the sanctuary I was directed into the chapel which in itself could seat 250 people easily. I entered in the back of the room and looked up to see two huge projection TVs on either side of the scaled-down alter. The main service was being ‘broadcast’ from the sanctuary. I had my bulletin and was able to follow the progression of the service. I saw the senior minister duplicated on both screens. Sometimes I was directed to view the screen to sing the hymn that was printed with letters large enough for me to see from the back of the room.

Even though I could see the words, I was not familiar with the tune and because I am in the choir and can read music, I found that actually seeing the words projected didn’t really help me because the notes weren’t also projected. I was looking for the bouncing ball, I guess.

Even though there were at least a hundred people in this room with me- hardly anyone was singing. In fact during unison readings most were whispering. It struck me at that moment something has gotten lost in translation. Even with the ‘state-of-the-art multi-media, that even made this service possible, it had somehow made things surreal and two dimensional.

It was a typical, traditional service with the exception of ‘read along’ hymns and the occasional still pictures of the Heavens which one only sees from an airplane window seat. But what was making this experience so removed for me? After about 20 minutes I figured it out there was no LIVE person in front of me to focus my attention on, to inspire me to hear God’s word.

That is the way it has always been – the minister was the leader, someone I paid attention to and listened to, someone who would leave the pulpit and pace across the platform my eyes transfixed on his every move. This minister was not there in flesh and blood. He had become two dimensional and I had a hard time interacting with him or gaining his eye contact which always made me feel connected to his message. And conversely, he could not see me.

The experience got me thinking that when a church transforms using state-of-the-art multimedia, there is a danger in somehow becoming two dimensional to its congregation.

I am coming from the perspective of a Speech Pathologist, which I have been for 23 years. Over the past decade I have specialized in voice, accent reduction and presentation skills. During that time I have treated ministers and public speakers for voice disorders associated with their profession. I have recently combined my professional and spiritual life by helping ministers gain stronger ‘pulpit presence’. I guess you could say I am a communication coach.

Since ministers have benefited from my observations and instructions on how to be more dynamic, I felt compelled to set upon a course to determine how they can avoid becoming two dimensional and removed from their congregation when multi-media is introduced in the mix.

They need to become larger than life kept echoing in my ears. I was getting the message loud and clear. I remember several years ago seeing Billy Graham at a stadium. At least I saw his projection on the screen and a diminutive Billy Graham, far, far down on the right. But when I saw him on the projection screen, he was literally larger than life and engaging. So how is this experience any different than the one I had most recently had? He WAS larger than life!

Even though I was too far away from him to see him, I was able to see his face in full glory because of the close-ups provided by the cameraman. Seems like a simple enough solution. Do more close-ups of the minister, guests, choir, etc. That certainly helps but there is more to being larger than life.

As I sat in the pew watching the minister on the screen, I realized that no matter how many bells and whistles a church has, if it does not have a dynamic preacher, then multi-media is not going to make him a “better preacher”. It will only emphasize their poor skills. This particular minister read a good part of his sermon so little eye contact was available to the congregants. He started out with bold conviction, but his voice trailed off at the end of his phrases and you had to strain to hear his last words. He also didn’t really seem to know when to close. When I thought that he had come to a good closure point on his idea he would launch into yet another example or go off the subject just enough to keep you guessing. He also rarely repeated his points so even though I understood Point 1, I lost Point 2 and before I knew it we were on to Point 4 and I have two undergraduate degrees and a Masters! So how does a preacher gain larger than life status?

The first step is to get your Minister to recognize that his presentation skills are lacking dynamics. That is a very hard thing to do. If you are the sound person for your church perhaps you can:

– Video tape a sermon of theirs to review and delicately suggest where he/she may need some changes.

– Suggest that the points of the sermon be projected on the screen at specified periods if they are using a power point presentation.

– Incorporate more video clips than stills to enhance the sermon’s message

– Remind them not to turn their back on the congregation- unless the gesture is relevant to the sermon

– Use you camera to work for a variety of shots from close-ups, panning wide to audience reactions

If their voice tends to trail off their lavaliere or head mike may need to be repositioned.

If their voice sound thin you may want to add reverberation to give his/her voice more fullness.

If you are church board member you may be able to insist on the pastor making changes but what can you specifically recommend? If you are able to review the video together the minister may notice his gesture or lack of them and the flow or lack of his sermon. But anything more specific may be beyond the board member’s comfort zone. Certainly if one asked members of the congregation they would give hundreds of different opinions about the ministers preaching abilities and that may not be productive. Someone from the outside may be able be more candid than a church employee, congregant, spouse or board member. Specific suggestions may need to be recommended by a professional that has expertise in public speaking and presentation skills.

It has been my experience that even though all of us including our pastors have had to take a public speaking class sometime in our lives it doesn’t guarantee that we all become dynamic presenters. To be good takes work and is a humbling experience. People come to church because of the pastor. Those who like his/her preaching stay and join those that don’t move on to a different church.

Of course, I realized that my recent experience was the view from the chapel and I may have had a totally different experience if I were in the sanctuary which I would have been if I had come to church on time.