‘New Rules’ for Text Display in Worship
March 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm #27118
(The following is from a portion of an article recently published and includes some new ideas that have been floating around among visual worship leaders for the past few years. I’d love any feedback or additional ‘rules’ you’ve found along the way!)
If you’ve been sitting in the middle of a service and suddenly realize the visual worship leader is wreaking havoc on common capitalization and phrasing rules, you’re not alone. Many of those in charge of getting song lyrics to the screen have begun taking creative license with common rules we all learned in English class. While these changes may be disturbing to the eye at first glance, upon a closer look we see that they are theologically sound, in line with modern poetic form and help us digest the depth of ideas presented in the song lyrics.
John 3:30 CAPITALIZATION: The most obvious ‘new rule’ of song lyric display takes issue with the capitalization of proper nouns. Taking a lesson from John 3:30, where John tells us that “He must increase, but I must decrease”, visual worship leaders have begun not only capitalizing all references to God (Ancient One, Beautiful One, the Maker, the Good Shepherd, etc), but also using the lower-case ‘ i ‘ in reference to ourselves. This is not only a concrete reminder of the relationship between God and man, but may also lend more practical help when singing songs with only pronoun references to God like “i will sing of Your great love,” or songs written from God’s perspective, like “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”
PHRASING: The second ‘new rule’ of song lyric display is most commonly associated with modern poetry and changes the use of capitalization with phrases. While most traditional poetry capitalizes the first word in each line or phrase, modern poets and worship VJs have begun to remove the capital letters. Because we’re generally using such large font sizes for on-screen display, most phrases cannot fit onto one line and we’re stuck with every other line of text being capitalized. Removing the capital letters gives the entire text block a smoother shape and makes the text easier to read. In addition, removing the phrase-based capitalization further ensures that our John 3:30 rule is even more consistently applied.
PAGE BREAKS: The final ‘new rule’ we’ll look at concerns the amount of text being displayed on-screen at one time. While this rule can have many components that dictate the end-result, such as background graphic/video content and font size, we’ll look specifically at the division of phrases within multiple on-screen pages of a song. A good starting place is the number of lines of text on a single page. As a rule, I generally use 2-4 lines of text, with a maximum of 5 if the timing and phrasing of a lyric demands it. From this starting point, I’ll ask two questions in order to determine where page breaks should occur: Based on the tempo of the song, is there too little or too much text on the screen to give the congregation time to focus on a specific phrase? If the lyrics are repetitive, does the repetition need to be shown on screen all at once? After answering those questions, your final mission is to get the text on-screen without the congregation becoming nervous about what lyrics are coming up next.
IN CONCLUSION: Like many creative components of worship, there are many different styles and methods used by visual worship leaders to create an engaging experience for the worshipers in their congregation. I encourage you to wrestle with these ‘new rules’ and examine what the on-screen text in your local community of believers is saying to those who worship with you on a weekly basis.April 6, 2010 at 9:40 pm #28431
Yummy. This is the most helpful rendering of this idea I’ve seen yet. This has a been a stumbling ground for visual techs I’ve worked with for years, and these simple ideas would streamline so much.April 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm #28432
While I like the theological implications of decapitalizing “I,” I would be more concerned about creating a distraction that may disconnect a congregation from worship. The type of thing that may cause someone to focus more on that letter than what they are singing. If our primary role is to help lead people into worship of God and encountering and experiencing His presence, we must do all we can to eliminate distractions along that journey.August 5, 2010 at 1:41 am #28433
This is an interesting article. We had a very lengthy conversation within the Worship Media Team at our church about a similar topic recently. We consulted people at CCLI and were told that we could not alter the lyrics, including capitalization, without negating our license. I wonder how we sort out the differences of opinion now….August 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm #28435
One idea to add in here, though the CCLI issue may have some relevance. Posting lyrics is one thing, but the art of Visual Worship Leading can fall under the same “poetic license” language as worship songwriting, songwriting in general, visual art, etc.
I.e. Proper grammar is not the point – creative expression is. This is part of the changing landscape of what is happening visually in churches across the world. Like worship leadership, the visual leadership is being seen more through a creative lens (like the subtitles during or after a movie, breaking rules of grammar at will) than through an “proper English” lens.
An important change going on. Next movie you watch (that’s slightly artsy), note the constant rules of capitalization, etc. broken during scene changes, opening credits and closing credits.
In many cases where creativity is involved, distraction is in the eye of the beholder.October 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm #28439
I agree that proper grammar is not the point. However, when using any creative/artistic media in a corporate worship setting certain considerations should be made.
The expression and heart of the artist to his/her Creator being foremost, how do we appropriately stretch the “rules” without distraction or disengagement?
Certainly as worship leaders, one of our primary roles is to challenge those we lead into deeper relationship and deeper forms of expression; emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.
My concern is that we always remove as many distractions as possible in this process.October 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm #28442
If any of our commonly-held practices or verbiage is used in one-off isolation, we have the potential to cause confusion. However, as with most every aspect of our faith, we worship and grow in community with one another. Next time you walk into church, think about how many of our postures, symbols, words, liturgies must be taught by example, by context clues, and by detailed explanation.
The use of the lower case “i” is a symbol of remembrance for us, just as much as a genuflect, the sign of the Cross, the Eucharist or singing songs together.
Must these things be explained to us in the context of community? Absolutely. Do we shy away from them because someone might not immediately understand, or mistake us as tripping down to one knee, randomly scratching our head and chest, snacktime or participatory karaoke? Not at all.
Rather we come alongside our friends and teach them the steps to our dance, or rejoice in a conversation arising from their longing to understand our rituals.
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