Article Art by Melissa Watkins

Visual Silence

Posted by Luke McElroy on November 01, 2013.

Author: Luke McElroy

I want to propose that one of the most powerful visuals you can use this Sunday is nothingness—visual silence.

Setting is a critical component to any well-told story. It’s the environment in which the story is developed, and the plot exists. It’s setting that allows the narrative or the story to have a sense of place, inviting others into the story.

You and I have an environment. Our art, media, and visual worship help to create the setting of the stories we tell in our worship gatherings. I call this our visual worship environment.

Most people assume that the visual environment requires a visual—believing that in order for an environment to impact someone, there must be something on the screen or there must be visualson the walls. That is not true. Silence can be a powerful tool in creating a visual environment.

Stillness

We live in a world full of noise. As such, we often fill our worship environments with noise. Don’t get me wrong, noise isn’t a bad thing. Noise (in the context of visual media) can elaborate and elevate the story being told, allowing others to connect on multiple levels with their Creator. Noise (in the context of music) can allow a comfortable environment for those to sing aloud without the shame of others hearing their voice or incorrect notes. But too much of anything is unhealthy, and too much noise creates environments that are crafted for the extroverted at heart.

We live in a world full of noise. As such, we often fill our worship environments with noise.

When we introduce silence into an environment, we invite the introvert into the space. Silence isn’t the absence of noise, rather an invitation for stillness. Stillness provides the opportunity to reflect. Stillness provides mystery and meditation. When the environment we’re immersed in is full of nothing but noise, there is no ownership of the experience at hand. Silence invites us to have an intimate connection with the story being told and invites us into it by allowing us to reflect.

Visual silence is the stillness that allows our body to reflect and meditate.

Visual silence is the stillness that allows our body to reflect and meditate.

Proper Period

You’ve seen it happen before, someone tells a story that goes on and on and on. It doesn’t end. You begin to wonder if the person telling the story doesn’t understand the concept of a period—a breath.

When we begin to use visual silence in our worship environments it allows us to place a period in the story we’re telling visually. Silence solidifies the experience and provides an intentional breath of closure for that moment. Without it, our environment is just an unplanned run-on story.

The story of God is full of periods. On the seventh day, God rested and reflected with a proper period in the story—silence.

All stories need an end. We need periods in our visual experiences to separate the end of one and the beginning of another.

Visual silence is the proper period to our otherwise noisy environments.

Visual silence is the proper period to our otherwise noisy environments.

Horizontal to Vertical

One of the things I like most about immersive environments (i.e. environmental projection) is the idea that it can create this sense of belonging. An immersive environment creates a setting that connects those in our community, like characters in a well-told story. Whenever two or more people have a shared experience, there is a bond formed and a horizontal connection takes place.

Look at the story of Job and Jonah in the Old Testament. Both were involved in an environment of silence, yet God’s voice was nothing but silent. I have found that silence helps build intimacy with God. Silence then can be the transition from our horizontal connection with others to the vertical connection with our Father above.

Visual silence helps shift our encounters in worship from horizontal to vertical.

Visual silence helps shift our encounters in worship from horizontal to vertical.

Let The Community Paint

Visuals are extremely powerful. They can elaborate emotion and energy in a song. Visuals can expose beauty and mystery. However, these visuals will always be of another’s brush. Visual silence allows for each individual to paint his or her own environment. We get to metaphorically pass our paintbrush to everyone else in our worship gatherings and let the Holy Spirit speak very privately and personally.

When we use visual silence effectively, the walls and screens of our space are anything but blank (even though nothing is on the walls). Our imagination and the Holy Spirit work in tandem to create a unique painting that creates a personalized sense of place.

Visual silence is handing over the paintbrush to let the community paint.

Visual silence is handing over the paintbrush to let the community paint.

Over the years I’ve been involved in countless productions with event producers who don’t see the value of visual silence. They’re afraid that it will seem unplanned and come across as the lazy man’s way out. It’s extremely frustrating when someone else wants you to fill the screen with something at all times.  However, when we understand the power of visual silence we can fill the screens with something much more powerful than anything we can create. That something is nothing.

About the Author

Luke McElroy | T
Luke is the visionary behind SALT Conferences and the founder of Orange Thread Media  a live event production company in Nashville, TN. Hailed as one of the “top innovators for worship” by Worship Leader Magazine in 2013, Luke’s leadership has helped create powerful worship environments for thousands of Church communities throughout the entire world. He currently lives in Nashville, TN. 

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