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.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Why We Should Rethink The Use of “Visual PowerPoints” In Sermon Messages — 53 Comments

  1. @Miguel #49
    What about the bible readings during the divine service. I heard Pastor Weedon say something interesting on Issues Etc the other week. He stated that it bugged him that when he is reading the bible verses for the day he would look up to see people looking down at their bulletin to follow along instead of really “listening” to what he was saying. I understood his point but I have always felt I can follow along better if I read along with my pastor. But then again my old Adam can also start looking through the rest of the bulletin and not listen at all. So what about not printing the bible verses for the day either? Know that I’m not putting that in the same scope of the powerpoint stuff.

  2. @Nathan Redman #1
    I heard that comment on the show. I couldn’t agree more. There was a page turn in our reading the week before, and it sounded like very distant machine gun fire. I guess it was good to have such a strong indication that so many of our congregation was actively following along, but from where we sat in the choir loft it was a bit too funny. I prefer, and usually do, to print the little reading summaries like those in the CPH worship planner, and here’s why: Somebody can read the whole reading along with the reader, and forget it by the end of the service. I know I do. So, with the little summaries instead of the reading, they can focus on processing what is being heard when it is read, and if they need a refresher, going back to read the little summary is going to bring it to mind much more quickly and effectively than trying to skim and summarize the passage yourself. We’ve been going back and forth at our church because sometimes we get a complaint if the readings aren’t printed out. But that is mostly because the elders weren’t reading incredibly well, so we’ve made a point to give them some tips and tools to improve with that. I know “faith comes by hearing” is not so literal as to exclude deaf people, but there is power in the spoken Word of God, such that the church continued to grow and expand for most of it’s history without the assistance of multiple print copies.

  3. @Miguel #2

    I like that idea a lot , so do you keep the readings printed still and add the summary? Or ask the congregation to bring their own bibles if they want to follow along and just print the summary. I’ll have to ask my pastor or deaconess about that worship planner, even if it’s just for myself.

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