Using iMag in Corporate Worship

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend Catalyst West, a conference designed to encourage, inspire, and challenge the leaders of tomorrow, those in our church who will live in and live out the Kingdom of God. It was a brilliantly assembled (and beautifully diverse... in some ways) gathering of men (and women... although not enough, if you ask me) that I really think accomplished what it set out to.

I may post further observations and thoughts in later posts, but for right now I want to talk about what is commonly referred to as "iMag", or Image Magnification.

iMag is essentially the process of using cameras to project on to large screens what is happening on the main stage. Such as the below pic of Chris Tomlin leading worship.

You can see, above and behind Chris, a large screen projecting shots of the band.

Many churches use this technique, iMag, during their services, and if I may I'd like to give my thoughts on it. What's that? You didn't really ask me for my thoughts? Oh that's okay... I tend to give unsolicited opinions often...

5 Reasons I Like iMag

1) It Connects You to What is Happening on the Stage. If you are in a large auditorium, and you get stuck in the way back (or way top), then you can feel disconnected from what's going on. You also miss facial expressions and other non-verbals. Making a 10-foot face is a simple solution. Imagine sitting in the below auditorium, in the nosebleeds. Without iMag, you just might get frustrated enough to show up earlier next week for a better seat.

2) It Looks Cool: C'mon, admit it. When you've got cameras sweeping across the room on giant booms, and camera guys running around the stage, you think: wow, this is something really special! Haven't you always wondered how that lead guitar part goes? Bam! Solo shot on the stud guitarist, extreme close up of his hands flying across the fretboard. Feel sad that the drummer is always in the back, blocked by cymbals and stands? Bam! Solo shot on the drummer's face as he sweats and bobs to the music. Wonder how you too can have awesome emo/metro hair like the worship leader? Bam! Solo shot on the leader!

3) It Provides Service Opportunities for Techies in Your Congregation. I run in to a lot of people who are frustrated because they love to zoom in on stuff, but their church doesn't have a place for them. Now, just keep adding camera shots, and more and more people can serve!

4) It Gives You Something to Watch if You Don't Like Singing: Not everyone likes to sing, or always feels like singing, but with iMag you at least provide them with something to watch if they want. If you just have graphic backgrounds behind your lyrics, that gets boring fast. And if you can't 'see the preacher, you'll easily tune out. But if you can watch the constant panning and zooming, the cutting and fading of the worship band, that's like being at home watching t.v.! I can just tap my feet to the music and watch the show without feeling like I have to sing along!

5) It Forces Hygiene: Gone are the days when the bassist can just roll out of bed, slumber on to the stage, and do his thing. Now, he's got to be ready should he get a close up. Ladies can't skip the make-up in the morning, cause their face could be the balance on whether people engage in worship that morning, or grimace and disengage. Speakers must be well shaved and clothes well pressed. You can't hide anything in 20 feet of high definition.

5 Reasons I Do Not Like iMag

1) It Can Be A Distraction: This really applies to the music section of a service. If my only opportunity to follow along with the lyrics is to look at a large screen showing me everything the band is doing, for me that is a negative.  If I know the song, I'll close my eyes and sing along. If I don't, I'm forced to read them from a screen, which is fine and good. But I don't want to have to watch a music-video while I'm doing it.

2) It Can Confuse the Focus: Worship, I think we can all agree, is about the King and for the King. Obviously churches and people who utilize iMag for worship know and believe this as well, I'm not saying they don't. But doesn't it send mixed messages? To quote Shane Hipps: the media IS the message. If we show lead guitar guy shredding the lick, or zoom in on singer-lady's face as she belts that high-C, aren't we, in a sense, saying that these people and what they are doing is the focus? Not intentionally, maybe, but unintentionally absolutely. "Just ignore me... pretend it's just you and God right now... let me and my voice just fade to the background," says the worship leader WITH THE GIANT HEAD. It's hard enough to empower our congregations to focus on Jesus as they worship, but aren't we compounding the issue by asking them to ignore the show we're broadcasting on the screen? It's like telling our kids they have to eat dinner before they get dessert, WHILE WE OURSELVES are chomping on a chocolate chip cookie with our broccoli untouched.

3) It Puts Weird Pressure on the People on Stage: Some of the camera guys I was watching at Catalyst were getting so close to the guitar players, I felt nervous FOR them. How in the world do we expect the musicians to be worshiping themselves when they are constantly thinking "uh-oh, am I on the screen for this one? I better not screw up... and I better make sure my face looks really worshipful..." Certainly people can get used to this, to where they don't really think about it anymore, but is that really a good thing in the end? It's already enough of an issue to fight against the complex of feeling like a rock-star while on stage, performing for thousands of people, but you put my face on a giant screen, and now I feel even more important!

4) It Feeds the Entertain-me Machine: One of the major criticisms of the modern, western, evangelical church is that it has become too consumeristic. Rather than asking church-goers "how can YOU serve people," we ask "how can WE serve you?" We create a environment where people come to be entertained. We put on a show for them, hoping they'll come back next week with a friend. We don't require anything from them, just that they sit back and enjoy the show. I feel like using iMag in worship does nothing to combat this notion, and more likely does much to convey it.

5) It Doesn't Feel Right: Okay, so this is pretty vague, and sort of a lame 5th reason. But there's just something about iMag that I can't quite put my finger on (other than the previous 4 reasons, of course) that just makes me cringe a bit. While the motives of those using iMag are undoubtedly noble, the final product looks, well, like that: a product. I don't feel invited in to engage in worship, I feel invited to join a concert, to watch a performance, to see how good looking and talented other people are. I end up feeling bad for the people on stage, wishing they didn't have to have themselves projected on large screens. I find myself desperate to look elsewhere, even if it means I cannot sing-a-long because I don't know the words. And in the end, I realize that all I'm really thinking about is the use of iMag itself, and not Jesus and His worship.

Conclusion: I don't totally hate iMag. My first "reason to like" iMag remains true, however I would apply that only to the Preacher/Speaker. I just think the game changes too much when it comes to the music and worship. Yes, use iMag to blow up the head of the preacher so we can follow along and be engaged. But leave it off when the band plays. So what if I can't see the singers face, I'm not here to watch him. I don't want to condemn or judge those of my friends and comrades who utilize iMag (or are at a church that forces them to use iMag), for I know that much of this is preference and personal conviction. But I do think there is enough inherent to the medium itself that should cause us to question "why" we use it, and what messages are we conveying when we do.

What about you?

Does your church use iMag? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, how would you feel if they started this week?

Or have you been to events where they used iMag? How did you feel about it?

As always, I welcome your comments...