Customizing the song-template file for your church

Why Customize:
Using a library of hymn files saves time in the long run, and it makes your slides look better, because they have a consistent layout, font-size and style.

You might simply use a standard hymn-file template.

But it's good to choose your preferred font, etc and adapt the template to suit your building and congregation before you add many hymns to your library, so you don't have to make the same changes to every individual hymn-file.

This article looks at the range of things that you may want customise, and gives some tips about how to choose font, layout, etc.

What you might want to customise:

Font Family:   
Does your church have a font that's usually used for displaying things?   Does this font look good in PowerPoint (or whatever tool you're using to display your slides)?   Then it's probably good to use it for your hymn library.

If you don't already have a standard font, then choose one.
  • Make sure that it's a commonly-used (so most people will have it on their own computers).
  • Many people believe that on computer screens, sans-serif fonts are easier to read than serif ones.   (Sans-serif fonts don't have the "bits" on the end of letters.   Eg Verdana and Arial are sans-serif, Times-New-Roman and New York are serif fonts)
  • Make sure that it's as clear as possible, and suits the room that you are in - if you can, find someone with design training to help you assess what looks good.
  • Don't necessarily use the same font that you use for letters or newsletters.  What looks good on a printed document doesn't always work on a projector screen.
  • Choose ONE font, not two or three.   Don't mix different fonts on the same slide, it looks messy, and distracts people's attention away from the meaning, towards the technical details of why "that bit looks different).  

Font Size:  
Choosing the right font-size is a trade-off between what can be clearly seen, and what gives people a good understanding of what they're singing now - and what they'll be singing next.
  • If the font's too small people can't read it.  
  • If it's too big, you can't put a whole verse onto one slide, so people lose the sense of what they're singing.
The hymn template provided by has 32pt as the regular font size.  Sometimes when I'm loading a song with long verses I'll reduce it to 28pt.   But if the text needs to be smaller to fit onto oe slide, then it's time to break into several slides.

But this principle won't be right for all buildings:  look the template compared to the size of your church-building:  if it's particularly large, or the screen is particularly small, then you may need to use a larger font-size.

HINT:  you can only realistically assess this once you see slides on your screen.  If you need to prepare slides before this (eg if you are opening a new church with new data-projector display tools), then I'd suggest following the 32 pt / 28 pt rule to start with, and adapting the library files later on when you can see how well they work.

Background colour:
Look at the colour scheme in your church building.   Is there one colour that's predominant?  If so, then make a dark version of this into either the colour of your text (if using dark on light) or the slide background (if you're using light on dark).   Doing this minimises the visual disturbance between the slides and the rest of the building - it makes the slides "blend in" better, so people are less aware of the technology and more aware of the words.

Background vs foreground:
Is there much ambient light in your church?   That is light from outside windows and other sources - for example, bright sunshine that comes in and shines on your projection screen during the morning service in winter time.
  • If you can't control the ambient light, then it's often best to use a dark font on a light background.
  • But if you can control it, or there's not much, then it's often best to use a light font on a dark background.  With this approach, if you put a blank slide in between hymns, it looks like the screen is turned off
These option don't look very different on a screen like the one you're using now (and many people think that light on dark looks worse on websites).   But it does make a big difference on a projector screen, the light-on-dark option can blend in very well, especially if you choose the background colour carefully.

With PowerPoint 2003 (at least), I don't recommend putting the default background colour or background-vs-foreground setting into your hymn template.   Instead, just use the default option (black text on white), and then when your slides are inserted into the main slideshow for a church-service, they automatically pick up the settings from that slideshow.

What to show for each hymn:
A song-file made with's standard hymn template has spaces for:
  • Title (as the title of the slide)
  • Author and/or composer name, and copyright owner name
  • Navigation aid (verse number or chorus indicator)
  • Hymn text (the main body item of the slide - two options, one for verses and one for choruses)
  • Copyright information details (in the footer)

You may want to have different elements on all your hymn files - and the best way to make sure that they look the same every time is to put them into the template.

Choose carefully:   if an extra element is wanted on ALL slideshows ever made in your church, and it never changes (eg song-composer) then it's good to put into the template.  But if it changes, even infrequently (eg the logo), then don't put it into the hymn-file template: instead, put it onto the template for making the slides for a specific service.

Look after your template:
It's easy to accidentally overwrite a template file.  So make sure that you keep a spare copy of your customised template file - and keep it up-to-date if you make any changes in the future.

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