Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

SALT: Set Design, Pixels, and Storytelling

This special July issue of Sunday| Mag explores the creative process of?SALT Nashville, a?creative arts conference. I (Jonathan Malm) know firsthand that putting together a conference is a lot like putting together an Easter service. The goal of this issue is to take a look at a conference and see what things we can learn for our own creative church endeavors. Enjoy!

Long hours and lots of trips to Home Depot, Lowe?s, and Ikea. Building a set is hard enough work as is, but you, on your eighteenth cup of coffee, also want it to look cool, be awesome, inspire your audience, and tell a story. Easy enough, right?


When we set out to build our sets at SALT, we?ve spent a bit of time in the planning process exploring what our set design has to do with our overall story. I?ve always felt that your set is such a visible and large part of it too. I say this because creating great environments creates lasting impressions.[quote]Creating great environments creates lasting impressions.[/quote]

As we thought through our first year of SALT, I resonated around the idea of community. I looked at how we were working hard to bring together this incredible collective of techs, creatives, and artists to unite around a common cause. I likened our community to that of a pixel.

Pixels are pretty incredible when you stop and think about them. Each one lights up, chases through every color of the rainbow, and has more levels of brightness than we ever realized. Yet rarely, if ever, do we stop and think about them in the literal sense. Every one is tiny, miniscule, so much so that it never gets noticed. But only when they unite, side by side, working together, do these tiny little guys produce beautiful images.

I really felt this was the overarching story of our community the first year. Everyone was uniting together for the first time to realize that we?re all in this together, telling one massive, awesome story.

When we looked to year two, we brainstormed through every possibility you could think of?high tech, tons of lights, large set pieces?across the spectrum. Through the process, I kept coming back to the word intentionality. It?s really a thought that resonates through my life right now. The things we do, how we do them, who they speak to…it all needs to have intentionality behind it.

As we put the design together, it incorporated some 128 channels of incandescent light bulbs and eleven video projectors. However, in the scheme of three days, we used all eleven video projectors for a total sum of less than nine minutes and only three were used consistently for nothing but white lyrics on a black background. The light bulbs built into the set were used for only two of five sessions.

Just because we have it doesn?t mean we should always use it.[quote]Just because we have it doesn?t mean we should always use it.[/quote]

I?m not saying that everything you do needs a five page essay behind why it matters or what it does. But what I am saying is that everything you do should have purpose behind it.

The experience is key right now. Being in a room, with other people, sharing in a moment together is something that will never be traded.

So as your audience looks toward your stage each week, what is it saying to them? Is it helping tell your story? Is it just something fun to look at it? Maybe that?s the story that matters to your audience.

Just as pixels all have a purpose, each one of us play our own part in telling the story. What we do onstage all has its own unique purpose, and together we make one killer image.

Share This Post

More #ChurchComm Tips