The idea was simple enough that it makes you wonder how nobody stumbled upon it earlier, and it really begins with a question: How do you spice up church services and sermons in a way that enhances the message and captures the hearts of parishioners – and particularly the wandering minds of younger members – without detracting from the Word of God?
For Camron Ware, the answer came when a light bulb turned on in his head. Actually, make that a few specifically directed bulbs.
Ware began his life in church lighting design as a volunteer at age 15, and before long he was in charge of the whole operation at Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas. As his passion grew, he was no longer satisfied with changing thematic lighting and running simple PowerPoint presentations – he wanted to incorporate imagery inside of the church much like it used to be done with stained glass and mosaics and so on. He brainstormed ways to liven up the building’s big white walls but ultimately determined that traditional lighting design solutions would be much too expensive.
Then he had a thought: Maybe projectors could do the trick.
Fast forward two years and Ware has started his own lighting company, Visual Worshiper, which he built upon the pioneering technique of environmental projection that he created working for Irving Bible Church.
The premise is simple: use projectors to cover otherwise blank walls of a worship space with over-sized images, transforming the space to make it feel like a completely different world. These can be images of faraway places – a snowy field, an ancient cathedral – or it can be lighting and more vague imagery.
“Environmental projection envelopes the congregations; it owns the space,” says Ware. “Philosophically it’s not even supposed to be watched, it’s not even supposed to be seen.”
It has been used in other environments, but in churches the intention is to enhance the worship atmosphere. Environmental projection “changes walls from dead boring white to be transformed into an engaging canvas so we can tell the story of God on it,” says Luke McElroy of TripleWide Media, a content provider for large format projection systems.
The average cost of an environmental projection setup is around $10,000, says Ware, with the bulk of that spent on projectors.
The equipment required to run environmental projection depends on the size of the room and how much ambient light a room has (large spaces with plain walls are best, spaces with lots of windows might not work), but typically two to three projectors between 5,000 and 10,000 lumens are the starting point. Multiscreen solutions like the Matrox TripleHead2Go (McElroy’s tool of choice) split and optimize images through multiple projectors, and then there’s the software; Renewed Vision’s ProPresenter, operable on Mac or PC, is the industry standard but even PowerPoint can do the trick (the advantage of a program like ProPresenter, Ware’s solution of choice, is that it can map out spaces that should not be projected on to, like a window, a projection screen or pulpit, for example).