Knowing what words to sing during a song used to be a very personal thing, flipping the pages through your Baptist Hymnal. The worship leader would tell you what song number to turn to, and you'd see the words and notes -- even the bass line. But now we have software like MediaShout and ProPresenter, allowing volunteers the chance to help lead worship through visual elements and textual display of the verses.
Just like playing a guitar or even preaching a sermon, there is no "right" way to present the lyrics on any given Sunday. And yet, people are always opinionated and what seems like a mundane job can either help people freely express their worship to God or, unfortunately, cause them distractions. Here are five quick tips for a better visual experience.
1. Read the lyrics out before the service. More than likely, the lyrics in your song database are perfect. There are no typos, no mistakes, and your worship leader always sings the words as they were originally written. But, just to be on the safe side, take a few minutes before the congregation arrives and read through all of the lyric slides. You would be surprised how a word might sneak its way into your lyrics slide here and there, or the lyric "sit with you a while" can become "sit you with a whale."
2. Justify or center? Your choice. Within the confines of a song, all of your lyrics slides should have the same layout. It doesn't matter if they are justified left, centered, or right -- just be consistent. You should also check to see if there is an image or video that will be looping behind the lyrics. The background image can give you a clue how to position the text. If the image is a close up of a candle, and the candle takes up most of the bottom left corner, it might be visually appealing to make the text justified right.
3. When do you change the slide?
This is probably the most debated issue with presenting lyrics: When do you change them? Philosophically, there are two ideas: The first is that you should change to the next slide as soon as the currently displayed lyrics have been sung. This way, the congregation knows what to sing next. The other is that the lyrics should be changed right before the new lines are being sung. This way, the congregation is not distracted by what's coming next but can, instead, contemplate upon what they just sang.
In my opinion, both philosophies are permissible, so long as you do two things. The first is to be consistent. People will adapt to however you present the lyrics, but you must choose one way or another. Otherwise, they will get frustrated by not knowing when to look at the screen. The second is, if at all possible, make the change on the beat. Music is about the anticipation of change; if you are able to make the change with the music, everyone will be more comfortable as your change becomes a part of the worship experience instead simply a mechanical display of text.
4. Remember that you are helping lead people in worship.
Perhaps more so than anyone on stage or anyone else in the tech booth, you are the one enabling people to understand the worship that is taking place. Even if they may not be singing along, they might be reading the words. Even if they know the words by heart, seeing them on screen, at that moment, might trigger in them a deeper understanding of God's truths. Presenting the words of worship on a screen is never, ever a duty: It is an honor.
5. Know how to edit on the fly.
The lyrics are on the screen, when someone looks up to the tech booth and scowls. You didn't read the lyrics beforehand, did you? There's a "whale" on the screen, isn't there? Did you know that most presentation programs now allow you to edit on the fly? Try it someday, before a service, and see how quickly you can make a quick edit. There will come a day when you will need to make that quick change from a mistake that's been typed in, and you'll be glad you knew how. And then, next week, you'll make sure you read those lyrics out loud before the service starts.
Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press.
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