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Preaching in a Visual Age

How much do churches budget for producing visual media? What media are pastors using? How many churches subscribe to image libraries? Our survey shows the use of visual aids in preaching is heavy, helpful, and here to stay.

Ten years ago, Business Week conducted a poll that asked Americans to list the inventions they simply could not live without. Not surprisingly, 63 percent of respondents put the automobile at the top of their list. Today, were a similar poll given to preachers—what inventions could you simply not preach without—a large (and growing) percentage of them would place visual aids at the very top.

Pastors of large churches budget over three times the average annual amount of smaller churches.

A 2005 Preaching Today survey of 442 pastors found that seven in ten pastors not only use visual aids in their preaching on a regular basis, but love using them as well. Far from being an impediment or extravagance, visual tools are becoming a regular asset to the preaching experience.

Do we really use it?

Of the 70 percent of pastors who use visual aids on a regular basis, only 5 percent said they used them because they felt they had to. Furthermore, of the 30 percent who do not currently use visual aids in their preaching, 36 percent said their church had plans to purchase the necessary equipment.

When I use visual aids I feel…

Pastors are overwhelmingly positive about the effect of visual aids on their preaching and the sermon as a whole. Frequency of use did play a part in determining feelings about usage—those who used visual media on a weekly basis were at least 16 percent more likely to express positive feelings than less frequent users. And respondents from larger churches (over 501 attendees) were more than twice as likely to use visual aides on a weekly basis as those from smaller churches.

How do we use it?

Preachers predominantly augment their sermons with PowerPoint graphics and backgrounds; over nine in ten pastors chose PowerPoint over all other forms of visual media. Those who do use PowerPoint use an average of 8–9 slides per sermon.

Which of the following visual aids do you use to accompany your sermons?

Three-fourths of pastors were involved in the creation of their visual aids on some level, either by themselves or in collaboration with others. However, weekly users of visual media were almost twice as likely to delegate someone else to create them. Weekly users were also far more likely to delegate someone else to operate the necessary equipment (92 percent), and to always have something on the screen (62 percent).

Those who use visual media on a weekly basis clearly deem the production of their material worth the effort—weekly users create twice as many slides in their sermons than less frequent users (an average of 10 versus 5), and were more likely to subscribe to an image library or site (36 percent versus 21 percent).

We wondered how often pastors experienced a technical foul-up that distracted from the sermon. The majority (61 percent) indicated "almost never." This may come as surprisingly good news for those who have avoided the use of visual media for fear of disruption. In fact, only 1 percent of respondents said technical mishaps occur "very often."

What about money?

Budget will inevitably play a role in determining how much a church uses or prioritizes visual aids. We found that two factors—frequency of usage and church size—establish how much a church can or will set aside each year for the production of visual media.

Weekly users reported having an annual budget nearly twice the average amount of less frequent users ($368 versus $193).

Similarly, pastors of large churches (congregations of 501 or more) budget over three times the average annual amount of smaller churches ($529 versus $162).

How much does your church budget annually for visual aid supplies?

The average amount spent annually on visual aids for all churches was $294. Churches that allocate funds for the express purpose of acquiring visual aids (69 percent) had significantly higher annual spending, at an average of $428.

How much a church is willing or able to use visual aids is contingent on many things, not the least of which is the pastor's personal preference. The pros and cons of visual media will always be matters of opinion. Our research, however, leaves little room for controversy: the use of visual media is here to stay.

Most pastors find PowerPoint to be the most effective tool; most prefer to let a tech team operate the equipment. Most importantly, though, pastors are using the technological gifts God has placed before them and finding them manageable, helpful, and instrumental.

Brittany Tarr is assistant editor of preaching resources for Christianity Today International.

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