We live in a golden age of storytelling. As the volume of online content has exploded around us, clamoring for our attention and reaction – story remains the way our minds process information in our continual quest for meaning.
More and more research confirms this – that our brains are instinctively drawn to information when it’s framed in a narrative. Whether we’re watching a commercial, a political ad, or a TED talk, well-told stories win our attention every time.
We also live in a golden age of visuals. Cisco projects that by 2020, over 75 percent of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video. This means we’re more likely to be watching our online content than reading it. In fact, statistically speaking, if this article were a video instead of a bunch of paragraphs, you’d be more likely to click on it.
Visual storytelling has found its way into our worship services as well. There was a time not too long ago when only big TV churches had the budget and production savvy to produce original content. Now we’re all doing this in one form or another – telling stories, promoting events, packaging sermon series.
What does this all this amount to? Is there some higher purpose to creating visual media? Or are we simply trying to keep pace with our content-riddled, over-stimulated, short-attention-span culture?
I believe that all storytelling, at its most basic level, is a genuine attempt at meaningful human connection. The essential task of any storyteller is to pull a captive audience into a compelling narrative that matters to them.
We want our stories to resonate. We want to change people’s perspective on their lives, their problems, and the reality of their Savior. Visual stories can be an especially powerful way to do this. Here are a few reasons why.
We Respond to Beauty
Beauty stirs something in our soul, and this is by design. God seems to care deeply about aesthetics and beauty. Otherwise why would He bother to create so many colors, the mathematical beauty of music, so many snow-capped mountains, and white-sand beaches? God gives us the ability to savor beauty and fully enjoy it.
This is why our eyes are drawn to good design. It’s why we care about good lighting and beautiful cinematography. It’s why we carefully select the right musical score to create a tone and atmosphere for our stories. These elements can transport us, slow us down, draw us in, and allow us to engage fully.
We Process Images Quickly
As our brains continually scan information, images get our attention almost instantaneously. Processing language simply takes more time and effort. This means that we’re already paying attention to visual imagery before we have words for it. This may be one way that God grabs our heart before our mind has an opportunity to explain it away.
In visual storytelling, we often combine visual B-roll with spoken dialogue. We call this juxtaposition. And as filmmakers, it’s one of our most powerful tools. We’re using visual language to help a story unfold. Our goal is to create a kind of synergy for our audience – through sight and sound, emotion and imagination – so that they can engage a human story. We want to create a powerful experience that will stay with them. We want them to see it, hear it, and get it.
We Need to See What Faith Looks Like
If there’s a fundamental rule of storytelling, it’s this: Show me, don’t tell me. Faith doesn’t just need to sound like something; it needs to look like someone. We need to see how things play out in the context of real life. Otherwise, we may or may not take it to heart.
Jesus picked up on this, teaching in parables that a child could understand. I don’t know if He was a visual storyteller (maybe He used a lot of hand motions). But He definitely painted a visual picture of the truth He was communicating.
My experience is that we talk a lot in church. We lean on language to do most of the heavy lifting. And a lot of that language is an attempt to articulate big spiritual concepts. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a compelling visual narrative might be worth infinitely more. Truth needs to be anchored in a human story that we can watch, relate to, and respond to.
We have better tools and greater storytelling opportunities than at any other time in the history of the church. And yet the key to harnessing the power of visual storytelling lies in one word – intentionality.
What kind of storyteller are you? What story are you setting out to tell? And why will it impact the people who watch it? Visual storytelling matters because powerful stories can change lives for eternity.