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The Bigger Picture: Environmental Projection

The Bigger Picture: Environmental Projection

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Originally found in Worship Leader, Nov/dec 2012. Subscribe to Worship Leader today!

Environmental Projection (EP) is becoming more and more of a staple in churches. Ever since I first started doing EP at my church almost eight years ago, churches and organizations have always asked, “What is this and how can we do it?” It’s become so widespread in the last few years that now it’s a full-time job to help churches implement this, and it’s my passion.

To first understand environmental projection, it’s first necessary to understand what it’s not: It is not a video wall. It’s not entertainment. And it’s not a replacement for solid lighting, media presentations, preaching, or relationships. EP is another visual worship tool, and when used well, it can totally transform your worship space into anything you want it to be.

Borrowing From History
Environmental Projection is inspired and informed by the ancient cathedrals that used paint, stained glass, mosaic, and tapestries to tell visual stories. What’s often overlooked is that the people that built those churches were able to use their God-given skills to glorify God. We’re doing the exact same thing today, but with digital projectors. We are still telling stories and showing truth and beauty, and still allowing people to use their abilities to glorify God, but now we can change the entire environment with a push of a button.

Once you understand the why, we can talk about how and what it takes to accomplish Environmental Projection.

Some churches only need one projector, others only two, but most churches use three projectors to cover the entire front and sides of their church, all controlled from one computer. The deciding factor is determining how wide the image needs to go. You want the congregation to be surrounded by a dynamic environment but not be distracted by going too far out of their peripheral vision.

The Room
Surface textures and color do matter, but you don’t necessarily need a flat white wall in order for the projection to show up. My favorite wall texture is actually brick—the break-up and texture really make the imagery come alive. Black walls will need to be painted or covered with a light-colored fabric.

Typically windows aren’t a deal-killer, it just depends on what type and where they are located in your room.

The best and cheapest way to make the projection look better is to turn your lights down or make sure you don’t have lights pointed at your walls. Yes, you can buy brighter projectors, but it’s cheaper to lower your existing lights. Once I show pastors and leaders what environmental projection looks like in their space, they quickly start to realize the power of creating different environments using lighting and projection. You typically don’t need to edge-blend, but we find natural breaks in the room in order to have the projection line up without being a distraction.

The Gear
One of the most frequent questions I am asked when it comes to the technical side is, “What projectors do I need?” Without knowing your worship space and how you’re going to use EP in your service, I have no idea. That’s why you can send me pictures of your worship space straight to my website so I can help answer that question.

There are many projector options out there, but only a few work well for environmental projection. I recommend three-panel LCD with at least XGA resolution from a manufacturer with a good warranty and free-loaner program. Also, some worship spaces require projectors with built-in warping in order to get the imagery to line up.

There are projectors that are designed and built for traveling salesmen and classrooms, and there are those built for large venues and high-usage.

Bargain Hunting?
Bottom line. Don’t buy projectors from your local electronic store; they are not built for things like environmental projection. Also remember, the best deal is not always the cheapest. If you want to be a good steward of what you have been given, it’s best to buy the right projector, not the cheapest. The cheapest projector today fails within a year and you’re spending more money replacing that projector. You typically need some type of external video hardware, like the Matrox line of graphic expansion modules (DualHead and TripleHead).

You need at least one computer: it can be Mac or PC. You need good presentation software, such as ProPresenter, which has unique features actually built specifically for environmental projection.

The Content and Design
Content is king. You can have the best projectors in the world but if you aren’t showing content that is relevant to your congregation, it isn’t being used well, and it doesn’t matter that you have the best projectors.

There is content that works better for environmental projection than other content. You need to remember that since you’re now projecting on walls sometimes 30-50 feet wide, all your content is much more exaggerated and you have to be careful. EP is dangerous in the wrong hands because it can become an instant distraction. That’s why when we train leaders/artists, we instill the importance of a visual worship leader. We train your team on how to best use the EP system in your particular space, and what content looks best there.

The person designing the environmental projection needs to have a love and understanding of color theory, worship music, and worship imagery. They need to have relationship with the worship and senior pastor to know where the church is going in their story each Sunday and be able to communicate that through visuals. It takes a creative and humble person to be able to interpret the message and music through imagery.

Using Environmental Projection
Pastors often think this is just a show for the youth or for Vacation Bible School, and while it can be a fun visual element for those contexts, it was birthed out of a need for more powerful lighting during worship. Environmental projection is used to foster an environment for worship and even used during the message for teaching reinforcement. A pastor I know had his visual team display pictures of the church all around the sanctuary, and at another church, the team showed all the countries where missionaries were serving.

The main usage for EP is in worship. You can take your congregation to a great cathedral, a calm meadow, or out into the stars to show something that a square screen simply cannot. The goal is to create a worship environment, not a show.

My passion is creating dynamic environments and helping churches use environmental projection well. And this is just a start. If you’re interested and want to know more, visit and watch the video on the homepage; it shows pastors and leaders explaining how EP has impacted their church. Also, send me pictures and I’ll help guide you in how to gather the right system for you.

Camron Ware is the founder of Visual Worshiper, which specializes in lighting and projection design, rental, and training for churches and events with a passion for creating engaging environments. | @visualworshiper

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