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Strengthened by PowerPoint

When It Rocks, and Why
My hearers eschew only the dominance of logic, order, and information, not those things themselves.

On Good Friday, in a worship space that is physically unfriendly to reflection, we wanted to create an atmosphere where people could enter into the experience of the cross as the Word was spoken. In addition to dimming the lights, we relied primarily on a few PowerPoint slides that mirrored the themes of the message. Images of darkness, nails, and a red-streaked sky aided the preaching immensely.

Granted, using PowerPoint in sermons can have downsides. It can disconnect the vital heart link between preacher and hearers. A slavish dependence on PowerPoint can turn what is meant to be passionate and powerful into neat and tidy subpoints. However, in my setting I have found three strong benefits of PowerPoint.


Bezalel, the first person in Scripture who is said to have been filled with the Spirit of God, was anointed to design the interior of the tabernacle in an artistic manner conducive to worship (Exodus 31:1-4). I stand in his lineage, creating sacred space and artistic ambiance for the worshiper to connect to the living God. Like Bezalel's chisel, PowerPoint can serve as one of the tools of our trade.

To set the tone, I often only need one image for the entire sermon — perhaps a raging fire on Pentecost or rolling hills when preaching on Psalm 23. The slide needs no words, no outline — just the image standing above the preacher during the sermon. Like stained glass, it sets the mood, captures the imagination, augments the connection of hearer to Word.

In a setting where hearers value beauty and mystery as much as logic and information, an image can tie together the theme of the message — and indeed the whole service — better than a catchy title.

One Thousand Free Words

If the average preacher speaks about 130 words per minute, a 30 minute sermon would contain about 4,000 words. Why not capture another 1,000 free words with the use of one picture? PowerPoint can put a photograph in reach of every person in the congregation.

The highlight of our Thanksgiving service last year was at the end of a member's testimony about recovering from a wasted life of drugs and womanizing. As he finished, we flashed a picture of him with his wife and kids looking happy and united — and the place broke into wild applause. The PowerPoint slide concentrated the essence of what he had just said. That quick injection of intensity was worth a thousand words.

Make It Plain (Occasionally)

My messages must reach the heart, soul, mind and body (behavior) of the hearer. When sermon elements are geared toward the mind and crucial connections need to be mapped out, PowerPoint can help make it plain. Whether it's a logical sequence in Romans or the nine fruit of the Spirit, these are the Sundays for a clear, concise, well ordered outline.

Although the college age people I minister to are sometimes caricatured as not valuing logic or information, I have found they appreciate a good 20 slide PowerPoint outline when I am highlighting something like the logical sequence in Romans or the nine fruit of the Spirit. My hearers eschew only the dominance of logic, order, and information, not those things themselves. Every time I have been asked for a copy of my notes after a sermon, the person asking has been someone of the younger generation.

What they seem to appreciate is a diversity of methods.

Bill White is a church planter in urban Long Beach, California.

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