Photography & Graphic Design with Purpose

by | Jun 29, 2022 | Church Communication, Leadership

There are more than 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram every day (GeekWire). In a world so oversaturated with photos and visual designs, what makes your ministry’s photos and graphics stand out in a way that captures both the heart of your local church vision and the movement of God in your community? 

Churches can no longer meet their communication needs with overhead projectors (remember those?!), printed bulletins, and bulletin boards. Today, it’s LED walls, high lumen projectors, UHD TVs, retina displays, and social media platforms — all designed to engage us visually with high resolution visuals. Even a 1080p HD TV is outdated today! Now it’s 4K, 6K, 8K, and QLED! Church members (and visitors) are watching our services from home on these high quality devices, which are also used within our church buildings. The culture is changing. Therefore, as creative team leaders and tech directors, there is no choice but to capitalize on these changes and implement photography and graphic design with purpose, on purpose, and full of purpose and excellence!

Studies have shown that a social media post accompanied by a photo is 10 times more likely to get engagement (SocialMediaExaminer). MassGeneral Hospital in Boston conducted research which concluded “human beings far outpace computers in their ability to recognize faces and other objects” and that “the human brain can recognize a familiar object in only one tenth of a second (100 milliseconds), making images the perfect way to communicate in today’s short-attention world” (Science Daily). 

There is a constant need for visual elements in church services and communication strategies. From announcement slides in ProPresenter to posting on social media to website updates to printed banners and canvases across our church campuses, photography and graphic design play a pivotal role in communicating the most important messages. The following tips can support your creative and tech teams as they move your church /organization in using photography and graphic design to communicate who you are and what God is doing.

Photography: Be Resourceful, But Make It You

There is a buffet of options when it comes to finding quality, free, stock photos and images online that are relevant to the message you want to communicate. Resources like Unsplash.comPicJumbo.com, and Pixabay.com are great (free!) ways for keyword searches to bring up photos that might work as a backdrop for designing an announcement slide or making an advertisement graphic. However, for higher impact, take your creative teams to the next level by capturing your own high quality photos of services, meetings, events, and facilities. This will personalize the experience for your members and those in your local area viewing announcements and advertisements. The key is to deliver the message that works for who you are. Use photos of your own members worshipping, children playing and learning, people praying, pastors teaching and spaces in your building that your members can (and already do) connect with.

Being resourceful with stock photos is a good place to begin when your resources are limited, but as your creative team grows in areas of photography, film, visuals, and aesthetics, use what best represents who you are as a ministry. It’s easy to take what can work in many places (stock images) and fit it into your environment. It’s more of an investment (and greater return) to leverage photography within your creative team (internally) to better represent your ministry vision. 

Remember: Personalize. Customize. Showcase.

Graphic Design: Start Simple & Grow

Every oak starts as an acorn. When most people see an acorn they don’t see the oak tree it will become, but starting small is all about perspective and long-term strategy. There are ways to outsource your graphic work as a ministry. Companies and services will take the words you want and the visuals you imagine and make them look fancy and appealing for your announcements slides, advertisements, and prints. This is similar to the above point of “being resourceful.” But, as a creative team leader and director, you can begin to do the same with simple, free, or inexpensive software as you learn to design graphics and slides internally. The more you do it the better you will get at it. Start on a simple site like Canva.com with a free account and soon enough you’ll want to work offline or with better quality exports and less limitations. Affinity Photo ($49) is a step in the right direction, especially if you’re not quite ready for Adobe Photoshop. These are all great resources for designing graphics for church service media, web, and social media. Remember this: we are struggling mostly not for lack of resources, but for lack of resourcefulness. Being a creative, being a leader, being innovative and moving forward is not about the right resources and budget, but about simply being resourceful with what is already available. 

Remember: Research. Discover. Implement.

It’s OK to Copy

Songwriter, artist, and (phenomenal) guitarist John Mayer once said, “It’s my failure to sound like my heroes that’s allowed me to sound like me.” There’s nothing wrong with looking at a design that you like in an appealing advertisement, the composition of a photo you admire, or a graphic that’s well designed, and then copying it and trying to do the same. This is how we learn! How do you think kids learn to walk and talk (and talk back!)? They behold the world and those around them and then mimic. It’s called being influenced and in some cases mentored or discipled. It’s how we “cut our teeth.” Allow your creative teams to explore, create, and design by copying and re-presenting what is relevant and in demand. Allow them to explore how others do it and let them mimic. A big reason for this is because it’s not the design, the aesthetic, or the photo that they are ultimately mimicking, but the techniques to get that product. There is much to be learned by trying and trying again, but so much more to be learned when we copy. This helps us cultivate techniques that we never would have developed on our own and it will produce a product that is ultimately very you. This doesn’t mean to copy the church on the other end of town or the other end of the country that has more experience or resources, making your visuals only a mirror of theirs (we’re not trying to infringe on copyrights here). It’s about sharpening the techniques and nuances of achieving something aesthetically competent that works for your message and your vision. 

Remember: Mimic. Improvise. Develop.

Is God Doing Anything? 

Many church and ministry visual presentations on social media or in services are centered around two primary themes:

The Announcement – “Look what we are about to do,” and The Report – “Look what we did.”

However, what if we challenged ourselves to stop posting and announcing so much about how “we did a thing” and changed our messaging to “God did a thing.”? Or even better: from “God did something!” to “God is doing something!” 

What is God doing among us? That should be our message to our members, our visitors, and our target audience. This can be done through photography and graphic design. This should be done through photography and graphic design! Creative teams can capture, design, and communicate messaging that honors and displays what God is doing in our communities, instead of what “ABC Church” is doing for Easter. More and more, in our culture, people are looking for authenticity. They want something tangible, transformational, and something they can connect with. What if we could send the message of hope to our families, our communities, and to the lost by way of photography and graphic design? The message that God is moving among us and is bringing hope and healing… right now. As we go and tell, they will be drawn to come and see.

We can… no, we must leverage photography and graphic design with purpose and intention to properly and accurately represent (1) our local church ministry and the people it makes up, (2) the vision and mission God has given us for our community, and (3) what God is doing in our midst. We can do it as creative leaders. We can do it with excellence. We can do it with purpose. 

About the Author

Matt Coss has been the creative director and worship leader at his local church in the Memphis metro area for the last 10 years. He is also a preacher, teacher, and songwriter. He has a heart to serve God through deep community and intentional discipleship and mentorship, sharing God’s goodness and building His kingdom here…on earth as it is in Heaven. Matt has been leading worship and in technical production for 20 years. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children ages 4, 2, and newborn. Matt and Natalie write songs and lead in the church while training others to do the same at Visible Music College where he works as Head of the Worship Leadership Department and the chair of the Creative Leadership department. 

IG: https://www.instagram.com/mattcoss/

Spotify:https://open.spotify.com/artist/1qxDX…

Website: mattcoss.com + Visible.edu 

Learn more about Visible Music College’s Worship Leadership Program: https://visible.edu/bachelors-modern-…

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