You know we’re in the 21st century when you visit a conservative church and they have a data projector. It’s used for showing the words to all the hymns (a big step up for bashed-up hymn books and smudged OHP slides), to show the notices (normally with complete commentary from the church secretary) and to display the minister’s sermon points.
It’s the last point (pardon the pun) that I want to focus on. Now I don’t mean to be mean but it’s easy to see why the church has such a bad reputation. They have the kit but often fail when it comes to using the kit well. Overcrowded slides full of Times-Roman bullet points that don’t necessarily help the listener understand the talk. Just because we use a slideshow doesn’t mean ‘magic dust‘ has been sprinkled on the congregation. Just because you put your talk on the data projector doesn’t make your sermon any better either. In most cases I actually think having a bad slideshow detracts from the sermon rather than helps making it more understandable.
I was reading a blog recently by a web designer who did lots of presentations all over the world (http://adactio.com/journal/1295). Every time he did a presentation he followed some simple rules. The article isn’t written by a Christian but the I think most churches could do with listening to them. Here are 6 points I’ve gained from reading his article:
- Less is more. Beware of clutter. Don’t put too much on each slide. Just communicate one main point. The slide is there to illustrate the talk, you’re not there primarily to do a slideshow. Steve Jobs of Apple fame is an expert at removing clutter from his slides. Check out how he does it.
- Gradually layer up the slides rather than presenting everything at once. By building up a slide gradually you’re building a picture, doing something interesting rather than just listing points. Avoid using fancy slide transition effects, pick one (such as dissolve) and stick to it throughout the slideshow. Don’t use the effects just because you can, use them because they help.
- Avoid bullet points like the plague. The argument is that single words are more effective. You’re trying to represent an idea not provide captions for your talk.
- Use typography to communicate. At the risk of sounding like a Geek, the typeface that you choose really matters. Some are much easier to read than others. He recommends bold Helvetica Neue with the letters pushed closer together (negative character spacing) to give it a funky feel. The colour scheme matters too, pick a font colour and a background so that the words on the slide really stand out. I like charcoal grey, burnt orange on a white background or white and orange on a black background.
- Use Flickr. Avoid clipart – it’s looks cheap and tacky. Instead use photos to express your ideas. Flickr is an online photo library. Anyone can post upload photo’s to it. You have to pay for the rights to some of the pictures but many are available under the Creative Commons licence. This means that the photo’s are free to use. Flickr has an advanced search so that you can specify Creative Commons in your search.
- My final point is if you can buy a mac and use Keynote. Not only is building presentations less of a drudge than it is in Powerpoint (it’s actually fun), but the end result (transitions, rendering etc) is so much better and more professional.
If you want to see what some of these ideas look like in practice, you can download some slideshows from Jeremy Keith’s site in pdf form. They’re all about web design, but you might find the layout useful.
Popularity: 40% [?]
I’m just playing around with Slideshare which lets you upload presentations and link them to audio files that already exist on the web. What that means is, if your talk or sermon has a powerpoint you can sync the two to give a more engaging experience to people listing to talks on the web. The site has an editor that lets you pick where your slides change during the talk.
Popularity: 35% [?]
If you’ve been doing talks for a while, you’ll realise that once you find a good quote or a great illustration, rather than re-invent the wheel, you use it again in other talks. The only problem I have is that they’re scattered all over the place – I have highlights in books, newspaper clippings, quotes in folders. Basically I have lots of good stuff built up but no way of finding it.
As I’m a computer programmer I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my own web app to try and solve this, but with life pressures that’s just way too time consuming. The other day though, when I was browsing the web I came across a wonderful bit of software that might just fix my problem. It’s called Evernote and it’s a web tool for saving anything online – photos, files, notes, web articles etc. It has an app that you can download for Windows and the Mac and the app then syncs with your account on the website.
The clever thing about this tool is that it has a brilliant search facility, it allows you to tag your notes and just to be really clever it can recognise text inside images and it can read handwriting. But best of all, it’s free to use for the basic package – you only pay when you upload lots of data.
Evernote even lets you share your notes online, so if you used it to store sermon illustrations and quotes you could share them with a friend. Never will I lose a good illustration again.
Popularity: 34% [?]
A few days ago I was browsing the web preparing a sermon on Romans chapter 1 thinking “I wonder if Amazon has a search inside option on a commentary I thought would help me“. It’s been on my wishlist for a while but I haven’t got around to buying it yet. Then I thought “What about Google Books, they’ve scanned in millions of books?“. So I did a search on Google Books and lo and behold there was the entire commentary or at least most of it available for free online. You can’t download it or anything but you can browse through it in the form of an online pdf file. I found the section on the bit of Romans 1 I was looking studying and made a few notes. As NICNT are a pretty consistent series of Bible Commentaries, I set about looking for other NICNT commentaries on Google Books and here’s what I found. There may be a few bits missing from each of the commentaries but most of them looked like they had the majority of each book available to read online. I haven’t actually spotted any gaps yet. Some books have more page gaps than others. For example Moo on Romans is only a full commentary of chs 1-6 and some or ch 7. To get a set of decent commentaries these days you virtually have to remortgage your house, so it’s at least worth a look at these when you’re preparing a talk to see if the online version has what you’re looking for before paying out hundreds of pounds for all the commentaries.
- The Gospel of Matthew (RT France)
- The Gospel of Mark (William Lane)
- The Gospel of Luke (Joel B Green)
- The Gospel of John (Leon Morris)
- The book of Acts (FF Bruce)
- The Epistle to the Romans (Douglas J Moo) – Full text from chs 1-6.
- The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Gordon Fee)
- The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Paul Barnett)
- The Epistle to the Galatians (Ronald Fung)
- The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians (FF Bruce)
- The Epistle to the Philippians (Gordon Fee)
- The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (Gordon Fee)
- The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (Leon Morris)
- The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Philip Towner)
- The Epistle to the Hebrews (FF Bruce)
- The Epistle of James (James Adamson)
- The First Epistle of Peter (Peter Davids)
- The Epistles of John (I Howard Marshall)
- The Book of Revelation (Robert Mounce)
Think I’ll put together a few more lists in the next few weeks for other series’ of commentaries.
Popularity: 100% [?]
Brenton Brown (of Worship Leader fame) tweeted this a few months ago:
the single biggest impact on my spiritual life this year has been, without a doubt, the audio bible on my iphone.
That’s quite a statement. The only problem is that you need an iPhone and pay some money to be blessed like Brenton. I’m not sure which version of the Bible Brenton has on his iPhone, but even if you’re fortunate enough to own an iPhone, it’s only the King James version that’s cheap and that’s mainly due the lack of copyright restrictions; the other versions cost quite a bit. However there is way of getting a modern version of the Bible onto your iPhone, regular iPod or other mp3 player… for free.
One great addition to the Bible world in the last 10 years has been the ESV (English Standard Version). Endorsed by people such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll et al, the ESV aims to be accurate and modern – bringing together the best of modern evangelical scholarship.
One great thing the people behind the ESV have done (The Standard Bible Society) is to produce an online audio version of the ESV, which means you can listen to any passage of the Bible read by numerous professional actors/readers for free on your computer. But they’ve also introduced a rather nifty feature that not many people know about that lets you download each chapter as an MP3 file. This means that with a little bit of effort, you can download a Bible book and have it on your iPhone/iPod/generic MP3 player in no time at all. Here are the simple steps to getting the book of Philippians onto your iPod. You can click on any of the images below to see a larger version if you can’t quite read the text.
Step 1. Go to the site. The url is: http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/
Step 2. Enter the book/passage you’re looking for (e.g. Phil for Philippians) into the search box or select the browse tab to browse for it. You’ll see a small Listen link next to the chapter. By default clicking this runs the little flash player and you get to hear the chapter read out.
Step 3. To change that and be able to download the chapter, you need to select the Options (beta) link on the top right of the page.
Step 4. The Audio Options are what we’re interested in. Select MP3 (David Cochran Heath, complete Bible) and click ‘Save‘ at the bottom of the page. You can select any of the MP3 options. If you’re not keen on David Cochran you can choose to listen to Max McLean. Max sounds a little bit like Tom Baker who played Dr Who (UK sci-fi programme). I think Max might be one of the guys who does the Bible readings at Tim Keller’s church in New York actually.
Step 5. Now when you browse or search again for the passage you’re interested in the link has changed (It’s now a little bigger and links to the mp3 file for the chapter). To get the mp3 file, right click the Listen link and select ‘Save File As/Download File‘ (the precise wording depends on which browser you’re running) and then you can save the file to your computer. To get the other chapters, just click the next chapter link and repeat step 5 again.
It’s worth saying that I haven’t tested this on every browser, but have managed to get it to work on Safari for the Mac and I’m sure it works on Internet Explorer in its various incarnations. One browser I had trouble with Firefox 3.5 – so I’d stick with Internet Explorer or Safari if you’re going to download the mp3 files. Update: Works fine on ie7.
Step 6. To get the files onto your iPod open up iTunes (download iTunes if you don’t have it) and import the MP3 file you’ve just saved (Add to Library is the menu option). Then just drag the file onto your iPod/iPhone. Here’s my iTunes after downloading the book of Acts.
If you don’t have an iPod/iPhone you can drag them from your desktop onto your mp3 player or use whatever software your mp3 player comes with and you have the Bible on the go for free! You too can be as blessed as Brenton Brown.
Popularity: 53% [?]