The Importance of Design and Layout in an Order of Worship

Zac HicksWorship Leading Tips, Worship Resources, Worship Theology & Thought3 Comments

As all the evangelical pointers continue to signal a continued shift toward worship expressions which are more rooted and liturgical, I’ve noticed an increased re-engagement with that archaic piece of print material known as the “order of worship.”  Others call it an “order of service,” a “printed liturgy,” or simply a “bulletin.”  Screens in worship have served well many functions, but one thing they cannot get away from is that the words and ideas they project are fleeting.  You can’t (usually) know what’s coming next in a worship service with screens.  You can’t meditate on any portion of the worship service when the screens constantly change text before you.  You can’t take a screen home with you for reflection.  (I’m sure there are iPhone apps out there to remedy that, but until every last person has an iPhone, it’s still wishful thinking.)

In some respects, then, I think the resurgence of interest in a printed order of worship is not only an attempt to be more “liturgical,” but a recognition of the deficiencies of screen-usage.  Hear me out, I’m not against screens.  I just think we’ve lived long enough with them in worship to feel the effects of what they do not offer.  (Marva Dawn has a helpful discussion of the pros and cons of screens vs. hymnals in A Royal “Waste” of Time [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 289-293.)

In an earlier post, I argued for the importance of branding and corporate imaging in churches.  Some people react that this just seems too off course from the “main thing” churches are supposed to be about.  I argue that we uphold the main thing when we eliminate unnecessary (the key is unnecessary) distractions that keep the watching world from seeing, hearing, and knowing the main thing that we attempt to preach and live.  One of those barriers to our mission is that some of us are ignorant about how our printed media comes across to a culture that is awash in marketing and design theory.  We are inundated with well-designed ads, well laid-out mailings, and perpetual exposure to various corporate identities through all the various media.  When our print and electronic material is a mishmash of oddly juxtaposed fonts, awkward spacing, inconsistent margins, and out-of-date design concepts (e.g. clip art), it actually creates a barrier toward achieving our end as we plan and lead worship services.  Our end is that people might exalt and glorify our Triune God as they glory in the Gospel, and the concern is that an ugly bulletin distracts from that end.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned.  I am by no means a design and layout expert.  I didn’t study this stuff.  So if any professional wants to veto some of my tips, no problem. 

  • Realize you don’t need a pro designer to do this.  So many features in our standard programs are available that, once we understand them, we really do have 80-90% of what we need to make a great bulletin.  As I describe what is below, just Google some of these terms and concepts if you feel you’re in the dark.  There’s enough web material out there to conquer this.
  • Pick two contrasting fonts (ideally, they are fonts which are used in your church’s print and digital material, to maintain a unity in your visual identity…again, so as not to distract from what’s most important—the glory and mission of God).  Contrast is usually achieved when one font is more rounded and one is more blocky.  One of the ways these fonts are often set apart as “serif” and “sans-serif” fonts (a “serif” is a flourish, or those little tails at the end of letters; see this wikipedia article for more info).  A good example of the contrast is Times New Roman (serif) vs. Arial (sans-serif)…though I wouldn’t recommend using those two (too common…it looks like you’ve put no thought or originality into it).  In the example of our order of worship, we’ve chosen to contrast Dominican (a purchased, non-standard serif font) with Century Gothic (a pretty standard sans-serif font).
  • Decide what fonts to use where.  Typically, you’ll want to simply and cleanly juxtapose fonts.  Don’t overkill it.  Simplicity looks better.  Perhaps you can set apart the main elements of the liturgy by making them a different font.  Everything else may be some form of the other font.  This seems to me to be more art than science, so you should poll a few people you trust about how it looks.  Your visual goals are very much in line with your liturgical ones.  What are the primary elements of our worship service?  What do I want to emphasize the most?  Those emphases should be accented visually.  You can do that with font differentiation.  You can also do that with size (next point).
  • Think also about font sizes.  Things are set apart visually not only by font selection but size selection.  Again, you don’t want to go crazy here, but size changes help others easily see what things are more important.  (See the example’s size differentiations below.)
  • Be consistent about what information goes where.  I see this problem a lot.  Sometimes the song title is right justified, across from the heading.  Sometimes it’s underneath the heading, slightly indented.  Sometimes composers/songwriters are put in different spots.  Sometimes instructional material (“stand up/sit down”) is left justified and sometimes it’s indented.  This is all visually confusing.  If your composers are right justified, they should always go in that spot.  If your song titles are in quotes, they should all be in quotes always.  If your instructions are indented an inch, italicized, and 8 point font, they should all be that way.  Create “locational categories” for all your information.  Everything should be in the same spot.  When it’s not, it’s hard to follow.  
  • Utilize the “style” features in your word processing or design programs.  Even if you’re using Microsoft Word, and definitely if you’re using Publisher, Quark, InDesign or some more high-powered design program, you have access to something known as “styles.”  You can set any one feature of your bulletin (whether it be a liturgical heading, a composer’s name, a song title, or an instructional note) to always appear a certain way, with certain design parameters (e.g. spacing between it and the next line, its size, font, and justification [whether you believe in Piper’s brand or Wright’s brand…kidding…a little theological joke], etc.).  Setting and utilizing styles ensures that your bulletin has a consistent layout and feel.  And the beauty of this is that you’re not reinventing the wheel when you’re doing the bulletin next week.  Once you have your styles set, you can use the previous week’s doc as your template.  You’ve cut your layout time in half, if not more.
  • Be anal.  I’m a firm believer that when someone is anal on the back end, people aren’t anal on the front end.  People notice when something’s wrong, but when it’s right, people don’t notice it.  And that’s our goal, right? We don’t want people fixated on a piece of paper; we want them captivated by God.

There might be some who don’t care for our order of worship in style or design.  Even more important, our style and design may not fit every context, so you definitely want to think missionally about what kind of design and look is appropriate for your demographic, neighborhood, or region of ministry.  Nevertheless, I think the guy who set this up (it wasn’t me) did a really good job achieving some of these goals, so I offer one of our bulletins as an example.  You can click on this image, which will take you to a PDF file.  (It’s a folded booklet, so it might take you a second or two to figure out how it runs.)

3 Comments on “The Importance of Design and Layout in an Order of Worship”

  1. Zac,
    Great article, as usual! I love how you articulate the reason we should strive to be excellent in all things. I, for one, am not comfortable doing things that are accepted within our culture in order to ATTRACT those within our culture. However, ensuring that we do not do things that DISTRACT those within our culture from seeing how our Gospel reverberates strongly in this world is worthy of effort. Striving for excellence is simply good stewardship.

  2. You’re in my territory with this one, Zac. You may not remember that part of the curriculum I taught at Chaminade University had a design component, and I did some workshops called "Making Them Want To Read It" for one of the communications professional societies I belonged to. You’ve done a better job of communicating both WHY This Is Important and HOW To Do It Simply than I ever did! And for a guy who didn’t study print and visual design, you did it RIGHT! Great job!

  3. You’re in my territory with this one, Zac. You may not remember that part of the curriculum I taught at Chaminade University had a design component, and I did some workshops called "Making Them Want To Read It" for one of the communications professional societies I belonged to. You’ve done a better job of communicating both WHY This Is Important and HOW To Do It Simply than I ever did! And for a guy who didn’t study print and visual design, you did it RIGHT! Great job!

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