Why Good Theology Deserves Good Design

“What you say and how you say it aren’t disconnected ideas,” says Micah Ellis, the design director at Faithlife. “They aren’t separable.”

Communication is more than the words you choose. Tone, body language, context, and other factors affect what you ultimately communicate to your audience—and how well they connect with your message.

It’s partly why people naturally gravitate towards passionate preachers. The emotion, inflection, and rhythm of a sermon can completely change how people connect with its message.

If a preacher makes the gospel—the most important story ever told—sound boring, uninteresting, or irrelevant, it’s harder for people to connect with it, even if the message is true.

Many of the most renowned Bible scholars communicate stronger through writing than they do through speaking—and vis versa. Even the Apostle Paul had a reputation for being a more powerful communicator in one medium than the other (2 Corinthians 10:1).

You speak through design, too. Are you saying what you mean to say?

Church design is about communicating truth

“We all know why good theology matters. It’s about truth, and about getting to truth,” Micah says. “Good design is also about truth.” Good design is a vehicle to deliver the truth you’re trying to communicate. Bad design is “like great lyrics sung out of tune. No one is hearing the words as they were intended to be heard.”

Design is as much a part of your message as anything else.

“The goal isn’t to try and get the design noticed,” he says. “If your goal is to get the design noticed, you’re approaching it the wrong way.”

Good design isn’t about making pretty pictures. It’s about aligning what you say with how you say it to show the truth.

“Yes I want it to be beautiful and I want it to inspire people, but I want the design to be connected to the concept. When churches do this well, it starts to resonate with people.”

Micah recently designed a graphic for his church to accompany a sermon series on Acts 8. After talking to his pastor about the key concepts the series would focus on and talking through how those concepts work together, he produced a visual representation of the core message of the series.

“Nobody talked about the aesthetics of it, but everybody talked about how they got the concept. That only happened after talking with the pastor and getting to the truth of the message.”

Not all churches approach design from that perspective. “Some churches try too hard when it comes to design,” Micah says. “Sometimes it feels like the goal is cleverness. We should always choose clarity over cleverness.”

Churches are often left looking to other churches for inspiration instead of finding a design that fits their message.
This leads some churches to think more about what they can do than what they should do. They have pallets, and they saw another church use them, so they arrange them on the stage.
Creative directors, volunteers, and church staff should be asking these questions when they consider design: “How does this help accomplish your goals? Who are you trying to attract, what are you trying to communicate?”
However your church answers those questions, that should be the starting point every time you set out to design something.
“Strip away everything that doesn’t help you get there,” Micah says. “Use design as a vehicle to communicate that.”
Anything else is a distraction from the truth.
“If we are trying to elevate truth at its highest form,” Micah says, “we have to show it in its highest form. We say that Christianity is the highest good, but it often doesn’t look like it.”
We believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Not just a better way, a better truth, and a better life. Jesus is the truth. Does every aspect of your service reflect that? If not, what’s missing?

Creating beauty isn’t putting on a show

Sometimes “making things look good” gets twisted around, and it feels like creativity overshadows the truth that you’re trying to communicate.
That’s not what designers like Micah are saying though. “Like your message, good design encourages participants to contribute, not consume. This changes design from being a veneer to being a visual representation of the gospel.”
And the gospel is everything.
“Why does good design matter in church?” Micah asks. “We have the greatest thing to communicate.”
That’s not to say that poor design nullifies good preaching or sound theology, but it can certainly detract from it.
“Historically, the church brought high art to meet high theology because they believed that they were not separable,” Micah says. “The weight of truth called for weighty art. They cared about beauty in communicating truth. High theological concepts deserve high design.”
As you prepare to visually reflect the truth expressed by the actions and teachings of your church, remember:
“Truth is beautiful.”

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Written by
Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson is a writer for OverviewBible, where he uses Logos to explore the characters, groups, places, and books of the Bible. He has served in a variety of volunteer ministry positions, primarily through Young Life.

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Written by Ryan Nelson