To Preach With PowerPoint or Without?

If you are a preacher, why do you use PowerPoint? Seriously ponder the question. To look technically savvy? The congregation expects it? Everybody does it? It enhances your communication of the message? You’ve always done it (or something like it)? You like making pretty slides?

Television and internet production technology conceptPerhaps you think the audience remembers better if they see and hear the message. Kenton Anderson asked a provoking question “Does PowerPoint Increase Retention” on his blog. Does any preacher dare ask members a couple of weeks later what he preached about on a given day. For our sanity and fragile self-image we often avoid asking such questions. If we could prove that sermons preached with PowerPoint are retained clearer and longer than messages delivered without them then the matter would be closed. I am certain that certain complex topics explained with a meaningful graphic are long remembered  but is this the exception?

I rarely use PowerPoint when preaching. I’m not averse to technology; I have used computer technology since I was a teen. It’s not that I haven’t given it a chance; I went though a period where I always used PowerPoint. I use PowerPoint when I feel it helps explain or illustrate a concept that is difficult to understand or a series of thoughts that I want to link for clarity. If it has a purpose, I will use it. PowerPoint is a tool that can enhance or disturb the message.

Effective communication requires purpose

Conscientious and effective preachers labor over the structure of the sermon, what passages, illustrations, and points to include and exclude. Good sermon preparation is often focused on weeding thoughts instead of adding material. So when the sermon is complete, what is the purpose of the PowerPoint? How does each slide communicate the message? If it is eye candy to accompany the spoken word, could the time spent in slide presentation be put to a better use in the kingdom? If slides can help communication or retention, give adequate attention to constructing an effective visual message.

Borrowing from the wise advice “speak when it improves the silence” use PowerPoint only when it enhances the message. Some situations where I will use PowerPoint:

  • Maps, historical pictures and illustrations, and archaeological artifacts
  • Multiple quotes (i.e., Bible commentators, subject experts, news excerpts for a culture issue)
  • Statistical data, especially when used for comparison (i.e., number of abortions in a year relative to country populations for the same year)
  • Showing a rapid succession of short verses to support a main point to keep the audience focused on the big picture
  • Describing a process
  • Dissecting a difficult passage

Some argue that PowerPoint will allow the audience to remain focused on the main point being discussed and I have used slides for that purpose. It can help those wrestling with children or otherwise distracted know the main point that is being discussed. Before PowerPoints, many of us would use an overhead projector and reveal main points printed or written on a transparency. The truly old school created charts on white bed sheets (some of these charts were beautifully designed). One of the highlights of my youth was standing tall on a stage holding the corner of a sheet for the visiting preacher.

If you use PowerPoint when you preach, make sure it serves a purpose. Like any tool, it can be extremely effective when used well and a distraction when used poorly.

Questions preachers should ask when using PowerPoint:

Should we put all the Bible verses on Powerpoint?

I advocate putting verses that you might quote in rapid succession to allow the audience to read what you were going to quote without turning to the passage. I don’t advise putting a long passage on a slide so that it is unreadable.

One argument for putting every Bible verse on the chart is that visitors who have a hard time finding passages will be able to read it without being lost turning pages. A disadvantage is that Christians can become dependent on the displayed passage instead of reading it for themselves where they can look at other verses in context. Personally, I will put some small verses on the PowerPoint but reserve some passages, particularly lengthy passages, for reading directly from the Bible (with the verse citation on the slide). Some churches address the visitor concern by using the same Bible in the pew and calling pew Bible page numbers in addition to the reference.

Should we use pictures representing Jesus?

Should you use artist representation of Jesus on slides? Some object strongly to using a cartoon, illustration, or actor representing Jesus either because it is representing God in image form or they simply do not like it. Some will use silhouette images, primarily on the cross, to illustrate the point without using a detailed image of Jesus. A significant problem is that some images portray Jesus as a European. Some images are effeminate looking. Personally, I avoid using representations of Jesus when I use charts.

Should I dump my outline onto the slides?

No. Seriously…no.

5 Ways to Annoy an Audience with PowerPoint

  1. Put so many words on your slide that one could not read it from the front pew
  2. Use every transition in every presentation
  3. Make sure you use grainy unfocused images
  4. People love “read along with the preacher” so put every word on your slides
  5. Use light colored text on a light background for a greater audience challenge

Do not construe my comments to being anti-PowerPoint. If you use it, have a purpose and invest the time (or money) to create quality slides that enhance your presentation and the audience’s understanding of God’s word.

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Categories: Worship

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