Why We Should Rethink The Use of “Visual PowerPoints” In Sermon Messages

For the longest time I was a big proponent of using visual Powerpoint slides in sermon messages.  I would spend hours finding the appropriate pictures to go with each of my sermon points.  After two years of doing this, I began to wonder if the pictures were actually effective.  I can remember asking myself, “Are these visuals helping the emerging postmodern culture retain and understand my sermons or are they a distraction?”   My suspicions were confirmed about a year ago by Pastor Joseph Meyer.

In a recent Doctor of Ministry Major Applied Research Project from Concordia Seminary, Pastor Joseph Meyer studied the use of projected visuals during sermons for retention and comprehension. In his study he set out to prove that the use of pictures on a PowerPoint during a sermon would actually increase retention and comprehension. He set forth to argue that we have become a visual culture and that the use of pictures within a sermon would increase retention because it would evoke the sense of the eyes and emotions of the listener. He did his study on his congregation over 3 months.

To his surprise he found that:

  • Sermons with ‘pictures only’ in the PowerPoint were least effective.
  • Sermons with ‘pictures and words’ were better than ‘pictures only’ but not as good as ‘words only.’
  • Sermons with ‘words only’ in the PowerPoint were the most effective.

What Pastor Meyer found was that the use of pictures, in a sermon, actually distracted the listener from the sermon.  In his research he states,

 While the way I used the visuals in the sermon study provided for a clean study, it seems to have also produced a disconnect from what was being preached in the moment (and provided a solid lesson for me). Since I let the slides speak for themselves, instead of assisting the message, the projected images may have actually distracted from the message. Needless to say, this was a big wake-up call for me since I realized that the visual cues I’ve been using during sermons previous to this study may not have been all that helpful to the hearers; it may have been more of an annoying distraction. Some of the participants in the focus groups told me that the slides became a problem. One person even wrote, ‘I thought it was more beneficial to listen rather than look.’   In fact, even though I wasn’t looking at the screens myself, I could nonetheless tell every time a slide had changed because the heads of all the congregants turned away from me and to the screens. I was essentially talking to myself for a few seconds while the congregation was off somewhere else thinking about the images in front of them and what those images might mean. Their advice to me then? One man wrote, ‘Explain/talk to the visuals themselves. Ask the people if they understand what is presented.’ Another wrote, ‘Only use media that reinforce the main theme of the sermon.’

Pastor Meyer suggests the following from his study:

  1. Use very few slides.
  2. If you are going to use images, keep the images very simple.
  3. Make sure the images tie into the sermon.
  4. Project bible passages that are being quoted.
  5. Use familiar recognizable images
  6. Acknowledge the slide/Make the connection with the sermon.

To learn more check out Pastor Meyer’s full study by CLICKING HERE.

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