Last summer we moved to a new house about forty minutes away from where we lived before. (Note: If you’re nicely settled and have twenty years of living neatly stashed away, I wouldn’t recommend moving. It’s fun to think about, but the execution can be rough.)
Different Roads, Eyes Open Wider
We’re settled now, but the newness has made us sensitive to everything around us: our neighbors, their houses and yards, the sky, the landscapes we’re passing on new routes to work and shop.
We’ve also been visiting new churches. Once the important things are accounted for—authentic worship, solid biblical teaching, good music, tolerable coffee—my eye can’t help but consider how these places present themselves visually. In this issue of basics for worship, here are a few things from our fresh vantage point to think about:
1. Get Out
When’s the last time you visited another church? I know it’s hard, because most Reformed Worship readers are involved in church worship every single Sunday, but there’s nothing like seeing what someone else is up to. Coming back to your own church after being gone for a bit can be enlightening.
2. Be Yourself
Does your church’s structure reflect the people who gather each week? At one church we visited, the building design and layout seemed at odds with the people. In the bright lobby, folks were welcoming and lovely, but the worship space was dark, and only the stage was lit. We felt like we were worshiping alone.
3. Point the Way
How easy is it for visitors to your church to find what they are looking for? Signs and signals—and sometimes tour guides—are essential for helping newbies get comfortable quickly. Of course, signs can be overdone and greeters can be oppressively inviting. But try inviting a person who has never been to your church building to tell you where they’d guess the nursery to be. Or the restrooms. Or an emergency exit. This could confirm what you believe to be true or convict you of something that needs changing.
4. Repeat, Repeat
What is that big red thing up front that looks like fire? Why is the baptismal font on the left, the pulpit in the middle, and communion served from the table on the right? What do you mean when you say, “We’re about to have a prayer of confession?”
Even for regular attendees, it’s worth repeating why we do what we do—especially when it comes to visuals.
5. Be Needed
People wonder, “I’m a newcomer. Do you even need me here?” At one of the churches we visited, it felt as if the visual designers and worship leaders must be professionals. Even the greeters were “over the top,” as they say. But maybe what appears to be isn’t true at all. Talking to one of the pastors, I learned they are always looking for help and have a deliberate orientation plan to make sure no one has to figure stuff out on their own.
6. Don’t Be Artless
I’ll blame the digital revolution, but in my corner of the world I’m seeing less and less being done with art in worship. Of course, there are lots of beautifully designed graphics using perfectly fine photography (from the usual free sources), but I see few textiles, paintings, or sculptural installations. That suggests—again, perhaps incorrectly—that most of the visuals in our churches are being handled by very few people.
7. Listen for Change
Maybe the best suggestion is to be a good host—especially when a visitor to your church is visually inclined. Listen carefully to their comments and questions. I’d bet a fresh perspective could tell you a lot.