Why Design matters to the Church

I recently found this blog post about the importance of graphic design in the church, with thoughts from a couple of Christian graphic designers, Barton Dammer from Igniter Media, one of the UK’s top graphic designers and Bryan Clark from Lifechurch.tv. I think it sums up my passion for design within the church and my reasoning for providing churches with free designs for events, services etc.

Barton Damer, Igniter Media
Good design communicates to your audience in new and refreshing ways. For instance, retail stores regularly design and redesign the layout of their products and spaces. If something was on a hanging rack, it will later be folded and arranged on a display table…
If a particular clothing line was on the right side of the store, retailers will often move it to the left. Changing the layout of the store helps regular shoppers view the same products in a different light (and thus, the customers feel compelled to browse). If the clothing racks are always arranged in the same place and feature the same type of apparel, a frequent customer will pass right by because there’s nothing new or interesting to see. A fresh layout helps a customer view a T-shirt as new when the reality is that the shirt was simply unnoticed before. The design of the store provides new perspective and motivation for customers who think they’ve already seen it all.

As a church, we must understand that we have to design and redesign the way we present the gospel. People assume they know what is “on this side of the store” and don’t bother looking or listening. That’s when it requires some creativity on our part to present the gospel in a way that is new and refreshing. When the presentation is too familiar, it often loses its effectiveness. We must look for new layouts that will grab the attention of those passing by. I’m not simply referring to graphic design; design is bigger than that. We may need to change the layout of our services because they only reach those who are willing to go out of their way and come to us. That’s fine for loyal attendees, but how does the old layout compel new attendees?

Fully understanding the role of design in the Church begins to change the way we think about our graphic design concepts. Design within the local church is no longer just “bling” or “eye candy” to make things look “sexy.” Design is an opportunity to present the greatest story ever told in ways that the world has never seen before. It’s no different than the retail store that changes its layout. Once we understand the value in the way we present what we have to offer, we can begin to make good decisions.

When our designs have a purpose, they will communicate and not simply imitate. Whether we are speaking directly about design concepts or even the layout of our church services, imitation occurs when we don’t have a purpose for what we are doing. Why did I use a flock of birds in this design? Why do we sing Daughtry songs as the opener to our services? Why do we use big, expensive screens and then project the lyrics on them? Wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper to stick with a form of hymnbooks? Those who are imitating will continue to design their services based on what they’ve seen other churches doing. Only those who installed those big screens with the intent of enhancing the experience of a worship set or sermon have a purpose for using that equipment. Those who have screens but don’t understand the role they play are simply imitating. For the designer who had a reason for that flock of birds, it probably works well in the context of what they wanted to communicate. On the other hand, imitation is a symptom of a big problem.

The problem is that our calling is to communicate an old message to a new audience, but the audience is not interested, at least on the surface, in what we have to offer. It takes creativity to break that barrier. Nick Campbell, a respected motion designer and blogger (www.greyscalegorilla.com), says clichéd or overtly imitative design shows a lack of creativity in communicating and problem solving. That’s an interesting statement because often the Church does not see it that way. In fact, we often believe (and practice) the opposite—the Church imitates in hopes of relating.

Imagine it’s your job to create a new ad campaign for the Zune. The problem for Microsoft is that its Zune is being dramatically outsold by the iPod. Your job is to find a creative solution that will present their product in a new way in hopes that consumers will reconsider (or consider for the first time) the Zune. If you are successful, the campaign you design will change the perception of Zune and generate more sales. That’s a big task, right? Now imagine your solution is to use dancing silhouettes on a colorful background in an effort to reach out and relate to iPod consumers. Sadly, there’s no problem solving or creativity in that idea, and either Microsoft executives or consumers would reject it.

As believers, we’re charged with a bigger task than selling clothing or mp3 players. We live in a world in need of a Savior, so let’s design new and creative ways of communicating the gospel of Jesus.

Bryan Clark, LifeChurch.tv
There are three reasons why I think design matters to the Church. First, design speaks to those who aren’t listening. Whether it’s right or not, many people will judge your (our) church without ever setting foot in it. A lot of those judgments, sadly, will be something along the lines of “there’s nothing for me there,” “those people are completely out of touch,” or “they can’t possibly have anything interesting to say.” A well-executed design, though, can speak volumes to someone who won’t give you a chance to say anything else.

Second, design is so much more than marketing. Yes, our job is to get people in the doors to hear the teaching, but it’s also more than that. Art can enhance the teaching by penetrating areas of consciousness and emotion that spoken word cannot, giving the message an even greater impact. Design can even make teaching resonate longer by providing a visual reminder of the thoughts and feelings experienced during the message.

Third, design is damage control. What we represent is important—more so than some product or company. If products and companies devote resources to protecting their image, why doesn’t the Church? Frankly, there are plenty of people out there giving us bad PR. I consider it a personal goal to tear down misconceptions and deliver an accurate representation of what it’s like to follow Christ. I can do that through design

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