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Guidelines for Song Lyric Slides

Guidelines for Song Lyric Slides

Posted September 2, 2010 by Jerod Clark

This past weekend, I lost it.  Again.  While I’ve been trying to do better at not letting problems during a worship service affect me, I nearly ripped one of our hip sanctuary theater style chairs out of the floor to throw at the screen.  At least that’s what I was thinking in my head.  Anyway, here was my problem:

For weeks, my church has been plagued by worship song lyric slides that are unreadable. 

Like a bad day dream, I saw a black, papyrus style font on a blue-green motion background that was impossible to read.  I should have taken a picture, but I was in too much disbelief that this made it past any of the weekend worship planners.

So here are some standards I’ve come up with as a guide.  As a full disclaimer, I’m definitely in a “simpler is better” phase.

  1. Arial or Helvetica is your default.  Choose a font that’s easy to read.  It’s better to have something with a little beef than one that’s too thin.  Dump script or fancy fonts.
  2. Solid backgrounds.  It’s easier to read lyrics on something simple, even if there’s motion or texture, than on a picture or video.  If I had my choice, it would always be a solid color or monochrome background.
  3. Contrasting colors.  For example, black type on a yellow background or white type on a dark blue background.  Make sure you can easily read them.  If you have any readability doubts, as a test, load them into your projection system and stand at the back of the worship center to see if they work.
  4. Line breaks that follow lyrical pauses.  Don’t just type lyrics, think about how the song is sung. 
  5. No more than five lines of lyrics.  There’s no need to cram everything onto a slide.  Blank space is good.  This will keep people from getting lost as they’re singing (or looking around).

Exceptions:

  • Lyrics over a live camera feed.  I know a lot of churches do this and it works well.  It actually forces you to keep lyrics simple, usually on the lower third of the screen. 
  • Motion tracks.  (Here are some examples.)

I don’t look at this as a way to stifle creativity.  Many times being simpler in design is tougher.  And maybe doing simple lyric projection gives you more flexibility to do other things with lighting or projection elsewhere.  Even if you’re a small church without a bunch of fancy toys, I think simpler can still be better.

I care about this because we shouldn’t be doing things that overly distract or interrupt worship.  When you’re in the middle of singing your heart out to God and then all the sudden you can’t read the lyrics, it’s  a major interruption to worship. 

What do you think?  Do you have any personal guidelines for lyric slides?

Filed under: Communications, Graphic Design, Screens, Worship Service

About the Author

Jerod Clark

Jerod joined ReFrame Media in 2007 and built Church Juice from scratch. He poured all his passion for branding, marketing, and messaging into the ministry, publishing e-books, blog posts, and speaking at conferences to help churches energize their communications. He also served as ReFrame’s in-house graphic designer. Before beginning his work at Church Juice, Jerod was a local TV news reporter. In 2016, Jerod stepped away from the ministry to pursue interests in marketing and communications on new horizons.

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Comments (10)

  • kstrandlund
    4:35 PM
    Thu, Sep 2, 2010

    from a practical standpoint, i think these are all good points and guidelines to follow. as a visual worship leader, however, i would disagree with the solid backgrounds guideline. i believe we need to move beyond using screens as giant hymnals or just a box to look at with a pretty color on it and some words. that means sometimes using backgrounds with a little bit more happening visually than just a texture or a color. bottom line is aiming for something that doesn’t distract. but then again, a lot of this is based purely on personal preference, so who determines what’s distracting and what’s not? smile

  • Jerod Clark
    5:29 PM
    Thu, Sep 2, 2010

    You’re absolutely right about personal preference.  I’d also agree that plain color backgrounds might be a little too extreme of a guideline. 

    I guess for me, it’s a way for churches to get back to the basics.  I know sometimes at my church, they just pick an image they like and throw lyrics over it whether you can read it or not.  So compared to that, I’d take plain colors any day.  But for a church that has someone really keeping an eye on things, I agree that something with more art, motion, etc. can be a really powerful way to worship.

  • Camron Ware
    8:35 PM
    Thu, Sep 2, 2010

    Generally, yes - these are great guidelines to follow - but I do feel that fonts are sometimes one of the most underused elements in worship gatherings.  Every song/scripture/prayer, etc has its own vibe and texture, and there are fonts to reflect that.  Sometimes the font doesn’t need to stick out in bright white font, but sit subtly against a black background in the corner, much like a dim candle in the corner of a room.  It’s there if you need to look back at the words for help, but encourages most to actually LEARN the song.

  • Dave
    10:50 PM
    Thu, Sep 2, 2010

    I would have to agree about having videos behind lyrics. In fact, Calvin was all about having simple worship (a liitle to simple for me; but he had very good points).

    There’s a good article on the Church and Web network on the Network about simplicity in web design.

  • Lorenzo
    5:13 PM
    Fri, Sep 3, 2010

    Slides are functional first. Making them look good is secondary. Confuse the two and you’ve missed the point.

  • kstrandlund
    6:04 PM
    Fri, Sep 3, 2010

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Camron, that fonts are one of the most underused elements in worship gatherings. It’s amazing what changing the typeface you use can do to change the feel of the whole image. I will say, though, that it is a skill…an art…and it takes time and practice to learn. The unfortunate thing is it’s hard to experiment with as it can so easily become a distraction. I’m not one to use Helvetica or Arial all of the time. But, it took me 5 years to get to the point that I felt comfortable using other fonts and didn’t get complaints that people couldn’t read the words.

  • Cate
    9:02 AM
    Sun, Sep 5, 2010

    Another “no-no” - adding drop shadow to the text or outlining the font!

  • Jason
    1:48 AM
    Wed, Sep 8, 2010

    I definitely believe simple is good.  I would encourage your volunteers or whoever puts the service together to consider the way that the visuals tie in with the message.  As a creator of worship media, I consider the appropriate use of motion backgrounds, stills, etc. to be a huge enhancement in corporate worship.  Definitely try to keep the number of lines of text to a minimum…4-5 lines max, with that I agree.  Every couple of weeks I release a “Service Planner” at http://www.shiftworship.com in the “toolbox.”  It’s a way for our members to get to know our library and also begin considering the media choices they make for their service.  I’d love to get some feedback from any of you that are interested in watching a few.  As we provide our members with content, we want to be offering them the best advice we can.  Thanks!

  • Church Motion Graphics
    3:42 PM
    Mon, Apr 29, 2013

    This is a great blog post and if you want to learn more on this subject please take a look at our blog. http://www.churchmotiongraphics.com/blog/

  • Jonathan
    5:51 PM
    Sat, Feb 13, 2016

    Recently, I took over setting up, organizing ProPresenter and creating the song presentations from the person who used to do it. Looking back at the song library from the past few years, I’m noticing that many of the songs don’t have any punctuation at all, such as commas in the middle of a line to set off phrases and direct address. Looking around, most lyrics I see don’t use commas at all - not just at the end of lines. Is there a reason to not use any commas, etc., even if in the middle of a line?

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