Sharing the Right 1,000 Words - Word&Way

Sharing the Right 1,000 Words

Back in 1911, newspaper editor Tess Flanders was first credited with “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” While that may not be literally true, pictures are important:

  • Retention of information three days later when accompanied by pictures was found to be 65 percent, as opposed to 10 percent with just hearing information.
  • Verbal information retention is six times greater when visuals are presented after three days.
  • Eye-tracking studies show people read about 20 percent of the text on an average web page. (Keep reading!)
  • Sixty-five percent of people describe themselves as visual learners.
  • Visual content is three time more likely to be shared on social media than other content.
  • People did 323 percent better following text directions when an illustration was included.
  • Color visuals are 80 percent more likely to be read.

Ken SatterfieldKen SatterfieldSo, the solution is to fill up your church communications with lots of visuals, right? Not so fast. Additional studies show that people ignore images merely added for decoration and show a 34 percent increase in memory retention when revisions were made that included removing unnecessary images.

What kind of images communicate? I grew up in a time of clip art, which Brady Shearer, creator of church creativity resource Pro Church Tools described as generic, impersonal and “just plain tacky” (

Stock art is another option. The images are higher quality, add color, and are easier and cheaper than hiring a photographer. They help to tell a story. And there are scads of place where they can be found. Some are free, such as Pixabay and Unsplash. Hootsuite has an annotated list of free sites at

Other stock image sites such as iStockock and Shutterstock allow you to purchase an image. These can offer a greater selection and higher quality. Everypixel provides a search engine for 51 free and paid services.

But are stock images the answer? Not always. People tend to ignore certain images, particularly stock photos included as decorative artwork. Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

The key is to be genuine and natural. Pictures populated with Eskimos or mountains won’t help a church in Kansas! Match your people and location. Would it communicate your message without reading the text? Evoke emotions. Tell a story.

Taking and using your own photos with good quality and composition is another option. Can they include your people? There is the danger of dated pictures due to members that have moved or died. Brotherhood Mutual advises that, in general, when a person is not identified and is inoffensive, you can include their image from a public event.

However, you should be careful of pictures of those under age 18 without parents’ permission or “do not photograph” agreements and avoid foster children. You can find Brotherhood Mutual guidelines and a sample photo use agreement at More details and a link to churches sharing their practices are at

Regardless of how many words your pictures are worth, make them effective ones that further your message.

Ken Satterfield is a former media specialist and current marketing coordinator for Word&Way. 

See also:

Breaking the Chains of Clip Art for Free (United Methodist Communications)

How To Use Visual Communication and Why It Matters (TechSmith)

A ‘Short’ Discussion on Stock Photography (ChurchTrain)

Say No to Stock Photography and Create Authentic Images (Content Marketing Institute)

Design Basics: Moving Beyond Stock vs. Original Photography (Church Marketing Sucks)