Multimedia storytelling uses a mix of media to make spoken or sung narratives memorable or compelling. While this may only seem like we’re advocating the latest in church worship trends, it’s really not. When church buildings closed for COVID-19, leaders adopted new tools to bring together our communities in all parts of worship. We should always try to make our best even better — whether in-person or on-screen.
The church has never limited itself to one form of media. Stained glass windows, choir robes, candles and even the architecture of great cathedrals are part of the church’s multimedia storytelling — even if, until recently, they were never recognized as such. Outside of the preaching, the most obvious storytelling in use during weekly services comes through music. Since the time of the writing of Psalms, music has been an important part of spreading God’s word.
Immersive, remixed experiences
As creative arts pastor, author and repeat MyCom podcast guest Phil Bowdle says, the old church communication playbook isn’t as effective as it was 30 years ago. Audience attention spans have shortened. It’s time to rethink and leverage the greatest opportunities and tools we've ever had to communicate the message of Jesus.
Complementing an expected experience with a mix of video, art, photography, sound and moving text creates a more dynamic encounter. The media together create a fresh atmosphere that interprets familiar stories in new ways. Before dismissing this as “arthouse” or “special effects,” think of how Christmas pageants or live nativity events accomplish these same goals.
Incorporating a mixture of media must “add relevance and coherence to the story,” according to a blogger writing about such experiences. Members or participants can “become both contributors and consumers of content. Sharing content builds a relationship with the story as it grows and adapts.”
For example, enhance your projections beyond hymn lyrics to include slideshows, soundtracks, movie clips and still images. You can also use smoke machines, sound effects, stage props and other creative ways to help audiences experience biblical stories in a whole new way. Your church can create your own videos or outsource to a professional multimedia storyteller.
Proponents of multimedia have at times been criticized for adding entertainment elements to services. Instead, multimedia storytelling seeks to deepen the experience of worshippers by:
- Evoking feelings or directing thoughts that are more conducive to the text
- Bridging modern audiences to distant times and cultures
- Making unfamiliar (or familiar) stories come to life
- Bringing new perspective to familiar stories
- Captivating the attention of the audience
- Setting an atmosphere for worship
- Encouraging audience participation and contemplation
It’s all about creativity
It doesn’t matter if your church is contemporary or traditional, a little creativity will enhance your storytelling.
For example, one church created an indoor camp. Log benches and camp chairs for the choir encircled a fire pit complete with a faux fire. Another church played a publicly available black box recording from an accident as an example of how “complacency can lead to catastrophe” in a message about David and Bathsheba.
Whether it’s including live animals in your nativity production or playing the sound of rain as you preach about Noah, there are many creative ways that you can employ multimedia in storytelling.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- The message sets the stage — not vice versa. Your sermon should be grounded in God’s word. Once you’ve determined what your message will be, you can decide how to add illustrative enhancements.
- Understand your audience. Each congregation is different. A congregation of mostly seniors will have different needs and perceptions than a congregation of college students or young adult families. Always think about who your audience is to create the appropriate storytelling experience for them.
- More technology isn’t necessarily better. Every sermon doesn’t require a full-on theatrical production. Sometimes candles do the job better than spotlights. Sometimes silence is more powerful than sound. Prayerfully consider what kind of atmosphere you need to create and the kind of media needed to do so.
- Whatever you do, do your best. The last thing you want is to distract from your message. If technology malfunctions or something serious comes across as comical, that distracts. It’s better to keep things simple than to add too much too quickly. Ask for volunteers who are willing to learn about the art of storytelling or how to use PowerPoint tools. Find people in your congregation in the areas you want to incorporate in your message.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught in parables? Perhaps, it was because he didn’t have PowerPoint. Seriously, parables provided for the disciples what the large screens in today’s churches provide for us — a means of visual stimuli.
Jesus wrapped spiritual lessons in the context of everyday images: fig trees, mustard seeds, shepherds, wolves, farmers, seeds and weeds — things familiar to the agrarian listeners of his day. He helped them grasp the meaning of divine concepts by using familiar items and simple stories. Today, you can do the same through multimedia storytelling.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.