“We must be intentional about every aspect of someone’s experience when coming to worship,” explains Stephen Proctor in our recent interview. Stephen has a very unique job which gives him the insight and wisdom into how audio and video environments affect a person’s behavior and emotion. He is a worship VJ. You’ll learn, through our interview, how you can drastically improve the environment in the church sanctuary through your work behind the mixer.
Who is Stephen Proctor?
I was first introduced to Stephen’s web site, worshipvj.com, after talking with a creative arts pastor who mentioned his site and his guide to visual worship. I wanted to interview him after a few minutes checking out his web site, the product, and his list of credits. I saw him as someone with a unique perspective into worship and the importance of both audio and video production.
Stephen is a VJ, media producer, and curator of visual worship who has participated in events and worship experiences around the world. Based in Nashville, he and Nate Griffin operate Grateful Inconvenience, a creative production company focusing on visual storytelling through film, atmospheric design and media. Their work can be seen with Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live, Integrity’s Seminars4Worship, Travis Cottrell, Gungor, as well as many missional organizations that are spreading the name of Jesus to the unreached people groups of the world.
Stephen is rooted in his local church, Journey, where he serves on the creative team.
He also shares resources, stories and his passion for visually creative worship on his blog, worshipVJ.com, as well as in his new eBook, “A Guidebook for Visual Worship.”
He believes “curating and projecting visuals can connect people with Jesus, each other and the hurting world both inside and outside the four walls of the church building.”
The Interview (starting with defining a VJ)
1. Your story begins with a definition of VJ (“Visual Jockey’) :: one who curates and projects visual media in order to create an environment and tell a story.” Looking through the images of your work on worshipvj.com and for Grateful Inconvenience, I thought about how much visual media can enhance the emotional feel of an environment but also increase the social engagement of an audience because we are placed in an atmosphere where the mood has been set. How do you see people react/behave in environments you create compared to “plain environments?”
That’s a really good question. I think there have been many situations where the only option was a “plain environment” and yet community and passionate worship thrived unlike anything I’ve ever seen or imagined. Some of these experiences have been in America, and many have been overseas. Through seeing this, God has shown me that an “enhanced” environment isn’t needed for worship to be “enhanced” or stronger. This understanding really takes the pressure off when VJ-ing for worship, and it reminds me that Christ is central…not our creativity.
With that said, I have also seen how God has delighted when His people choose to participate in co-creating with Him in designing beautiful environments that spark the imagination and that usher in the beauty and mystery of the unseen. We are made in God’s image….and so we are little creators…little christs. The simple act of creating is a huge theological statement in and of itself. And the more we can move our congregations beyond passive spectators and towards active participants in the creative process, the better we will all experience community and communion with Christ in ways we’ve never imagined!
2. When you create a visual environment, how do you figure audio (music, video, etc) into the equation? For example, with the CMT Awards After Party, how does audio figure into your work?
Very little and a lot all at the same time. Let me unpack that for a second. First off, I should say that i wasn’t that involved with the CMT Awards Party. My business partner Nate Griffin led that project. So I won’t speak towards that particular event.
As far as the technical side of audio at events, I have very little involvement. However, I do play the role of “DJ” and curate various playlists for walk-in. My VJ-ing is also highly influenced by the style of music being played and by the songs we sing. I am considered a part of the band and VJ the media dynamically just as a musician plays the notes dynamically. I believe that music and the audio environment is the most influential layer in any event… and I’m there not to just compliment it but to visualize what I think the music looks like… and better yet, tell a story in tandem with the music.
3. Looking specifically at the church environment in regards to creating an environment, what do you see that sound tech’s could do better? For example, playing music after the service and not “cleaning up the stage” until most people have left the sanctuary.
I’m REALLY glad you brought this up. It just hit a button.
I believe strongly in creating an environment for people to step into the moment people start walking in. It’s much like preparing a meal and the table for family and friends to come together and dine. The time before and after the planned/programmed corporate worship time is transitional space. It’s not time for soundchecks or flat/dead time. I think the music we play before and after can really draw people in and send people out. We must be intentional about every aspect of someone’s experience when coming to worship. This isn’t a message for just audio guys…it’s a message for everyone.
4. For the person who is in charge of creating the weekly slides/video for worship, what can they do to drastically improve the quality of their work and bring a better atmosphere to the sanctuary environment? [ATTENTION SOUND TECH'S: HIS REPLY APPLIES TO AUDIO WORK AS WELL.]
I’m afraid there’s no simple answer for this. It’s such a process and journey that never ends.
i think it’s good to have discussions about these things and to address certain topics, such as:
- the difference between entertainment and art
- the difference between pretty backgrounds and art that creates atmosphere and tells a story
- striving for authenticity in the midst of pursuing excellence
- understanding the difference between a biblical Christ-centered call to excellence and a pride-filled performance-driven perfection
- thinking of yourself not as a “video guy” but as an architect and painter whose invitation is to recreate the beauty of place like the Sistine Chapel
- shifting your mentality that media presentation is not simply for technical/informational support but rather a tool that is available for leading visual worship!
There are also some little things to pay attention to as well, such as slide formatting, design basics, color theory, typography, etc. It’s good to be culturally aware and to stay on top of things. I’ll risk being perceived as shameless self-promoting myself and let you know that many of these are addressed in a PDF I just released called “A Guidebook for Visual Worship.” This is a new resource designed visual worship leaders and their teams. I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t think it could be a great resource for worship & tech teams to check out.
Thanks to Stephen
Thanks to him for his time for the interview and his dedication to his craft. There is so much you and I can learn about audio when we step outside of the confines of tech books and gear and look through the eyes of others.
Stephen has put his insight and wisdom into “A Guidebook for Visual Worship.” In his own words, “it’s a training resource designed to cast vision & to equip media/tech directors, creative team leaders, worship pastors & volunteers. It’s designed not only for the one person who does everything but for team environments as well. Use this tool to start the Visual Worship conversation at your church, to set a standard for vision and purpose, and to introduce a fresh language and approach for your tech and creative worship ministries.“ Check out the Guidebook for Visual Worship.
I’ve got my copy!