MPG’s and AVI’s in Worship

Have you ever noticed how short the  shelf-life  screen-life is for mpg’s and avi’s?

(In case you’re wondering, those are the moving backgrounds we like to use behind text in praise and worship services on occasion.  Some churches use them exclusively.)

My best experience with moving backgrounds occured at a one-day men’s retreat at Moody Bible Institute years ago.  The speaker of the morning was communicating effectively, his emphasis points projected onto the large screen behind him.  The background was almost abstract, like like several heads of grain against a foggy sky, except it could have been a photo.  I didn’t think much of it until the speaker started wrapping up his conclusion – and I saw that grain move in the breeze.  (Seriously! It IS a photo!)   It waved ever-so slightly as we transitioned into the song that followed his message.  I was blessed by what he had to say and impressed with the skill somebody was applying to the video technologies supporting us that day.  I didn’t get to talk to the video tech that day, so I’ll never know for sure, but I think  he probably projected the session’s notes over a stationary image and then started an mpg or avi file at the very end.   It was a very nice touch.

It’s common now for moving backgrounds to play behind just about anything at church, but they don’t last very long, especially if the seam where it loops is visible.  When worshipers notice the seam it usually diverts the attention from God to the technology you’re using, and that’s never acceptable.  ( They also notice when the image hasn’t thing-one to do with the content at the moment, but that’s another post. )

Now that I’ve told you about the most impressive application I’ve seen, albeit subtly so,  I just have to tell you about the worst. 

I don’t remember the song, exactly, but we were singing something spirited and contemporary, the kind of song a leader half-expects at least a few people to raise their hands.  The moving background behind the lyrics is a familiar one, maybe you’ve seen it – maybe you use it.  It’s a young adult male standing on the rocky shores of the ocean, leaning slightly into the wind, his hands uplifted, the surf crashing at his feet. He’s looking away from the camera, focusing on the Lord.  

He stood there while we sang a couple verses and their choruses.  I caught the pragmatist in me half-whisper after a while “Back up a little bit; you’re going to get wet. That tide is coming in.”

He just stood there.

I began to look for the seam in the video loop.   (Distracted, wasn’t I? Never found it.)

And then, compassionate soul that I am, my shoulders began to hurt for him.  “I’m sorry they’re making you stand there so long, you’re going to get a cramp, aren’t you?”

I forgot all about the song everyone else was singing,  I forgot about God for a minute too.  “Poor guy.  Bet he’s in pain.”

Well, the song ended, the lyrics  faded away, we all sat down and someone came to the mic and began to talk.   There stood that poor kid, wave after wave crashing in, pantlegs flappin’ in the wind, miraculously dry even after all this time.  

“Wouldn’t it be something,”  I thought, “if he turned this way and sat down on the rocks to listen?”   (Terrible aren’t I?!)

Yep, that one was on the screen too long.  I felt bad that I’d lost my focus until I realized others around me were snickering too.  I wasn’t the only one affected that way.

My point:  MPEGs and AVIs are great,  but they have a short screen-life.  Keep that in mind next time you’re at the controls.  You don’t want to interrupt your congregation’s ability to focus on what’s really important by leaving the image up too long.   It’s easy to do, but it’s not effective.

Any thoughts from you who are techs about how you use moving backgrounds?   If David were writing Psalm 33 today I think he’d include the computer in with instruments he expects us to play skillfully.  If you have a tip, a guideline, a rule of thumb,  this would be a good place to share your technique. 

Selah —


2 Replies to “MPG’s and AVI’s in Worship”

  1. Shane Weber


    It is GREAT to see you still helping improve the ‘quality of life’ for churches all-over. Long time no talk to, we should fix that…

    Tell all HI and I hope to hear from you shortly to be able to catch up on our worlds.


  2. Phil

    Hi Shane!

    (and readers we DID fix that, Shane looked me up and called me a couple hours later!)

    I should explain Shane’s word “still” in his comment, shouldn’t I? 😀

    I’ve known Shane’s dad since I was little. I learned a lot from him and we served side by side for several years in my first church. My wife and I stayed with Shane while his younger sister was being born.

    Later, in a church in the Chicago suburbs, being at church late every Wednesday night because his folks were in choir, Shane first expressed an interest in that big long mixing board in the balcony. Knowing the responsibility it would be and the commitment it would take, he learned the basics. Then more. Then began to assist.

    Layer on layer he’s added to what he knows through the years, and if you click on his link you’ll see what God has him doing now!

    I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to have been there when it all began, and then to learn today that he’s still using his skills for God’s glory!

    Do you have a student interested in what you’re doing? Open the door of opportunity! That’s disciple-making and the Lord LOVES when we teach others what we know!


    Great to see you here, Shane! Drop in ANYtime!


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