On Easter Sunday 2014, the church I serve at, Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, used environmental projection, or EP, for the first time.
When we started with EP at Asbury Methodist, we didn't know what a great idea looked like.
The lead up to this service began my journey with EP. Later this year, that journey will take a potentially significant turn, as I will return to my home country of Australia and perhaps my EP journey will come to an end. That's because I recognize that there are very few churches in Australia using this technology.
Today, though, I wanted to share some lessons from my journey with EP.
I hope you might take a few moments to think about how this technology could speak to your congregation.
What is Environmental Projection?
Using projection to change your environment might be the simplest way to explain what we are doing. This means we are using the light from a projector in the same way we use light from a bulb to change the environment.
We bring light and the darkness leaves. A new well-lit environment!
When you use projectors to show large format images on the wall of your church, the environment then changes. In days past, they would paint on the walls, and occasionally the ceiling (that crazy Michelangelo!) They would even color and create pictures in the windows, to where these stained-glass pictures would change the environment inside the building.
Creating beauty and telling a story without words.
Today, we have powerful large projectors that can project images on the wall changing the art we view at a moment's notice.
There are many ways that you can do EP. One can begin with a very simple set up, with one projector and a computer. Through devices like TripleHead2Go that split a single image across three projectors, allowing you to project larger/wide images. To the many computer servers that allow you to control video and images in many different ways and send to multiple projectors.
In our case, we use the ArKaos Stadium Server to project to five Digital Projection Titan Quad pro projectors that show an image more than 300 feet wide. This basically covers the walls of our sanctuary.
There are many devices available that allow you use EP to change your environment.
Let's dive into the lessons I have learned over these last few years, and I'd encourage you to think about how you might apply these ideas of transforming your space using EP.
What You HAVE To Do and What You CAN'T Do
You have to commit commit to doing your work. EP comes in all shapes and sizes and what is going to be the right choice for your building will take some effort to find.
You can hire someone like Cameron Ware at Visual Worshipper to get you started with implementing the technology, but you still need to understand how the gear will work on a weekly basis.
The system we use at Asbury Methodist has become (almost) plug-n-play,' meaning we put artwork into templates that are preshaped by the computer. This allows us to change the artwork very quickly without a huge amount of work for each new look. The daily time and effort needed to drive creative looks for your space is important to think through.
What you can't do, though, is worship the technology. We enter the sanctuary to connect with the living God, not a great production.
There is an element of "show" in church, and it would be foolish to ignore that.
When you have thousands of dollars invested in lights and a PA system and you are standing on what looks very much like a stage, with people sitting in chairs looking at the stage, it is likely people will believe they are watching a show.
It takes deliberate effort and well planned and executed content to redirect that production to become an environment for worship. One of the things we liked about the idea of EP before we even began using it, was that it transforms the whole space, not just the stage. The focus shifts from a singer on a stage to a room gathered together, in community, to worship together.
What You WANT To Do and What You CAN Do
Knowing what you want to do is critical to making and great idea work.
A great idea starts without the ability to know how to make it happen. When we started with EP at Asbury Methodist in 2014, we didn't know what a great idea looked like. We created graphics based on what we knew about EP that you should put a single image across all projectors. It took us about a year to figure out that this was not the best way for us to work with a 300 foot wide canvas!
It made more sense in our space to break the image into five parts and use each projector and space on the wall in unique ways that made sense for the surface that we were projecting onto.
What you can do with EP is beyond the limits of your imagination the technology is beyond your ability when you start and you can and should grow with it. A few years ago, I bought a camera and as always there are so many choices! I wanted to buy the high dollar fully loaded version, until I realized my skill level was covered by the entry-level base model. I would still have to work to learn how to use the features of the basic version, that would take work and time.
It is a similar story with EP, as you can't start instantly at the expert level of a Cameron Ware! It takes time to develop your skills, your knowledge and most importantly your vision. The vision to seek great ideas and make them work will take time and experimentation.
What You SHOULD Do and What You SHOULD NOT Do
What you should do is find your own way of doing it. Churches seem to be quick to copy what is working somewhere else. We were created by a unique and creative God to be unique and creative!
The best designs we have created have come out of prayer and scripture and lots of imagination in action.
For me, my act of worship happens days and months in advance of the Sunday service seeking to bring to the table something new and fresh that will open and inspire the congregation gathered to worship.
What you should not do is let it run you. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Be wise.
It's not that I like to push the boundaries of what our congregation is "used to," but I try very hard not be noticed.
I don't want a 300 foot wide distraction.
It is easy with a large format projector to get noticed! I want to create a space that welcomes and invites.
I have so loved this journey of discovery, and I hope churches around the world (especially in Australia!) will embrace a technology that allows you to transform and make new the places we worship.