The Church As A Stage For Worship

When preparing for a worship service and setting yourself up for success, the little things can make a big difference.

 

When talking about what our worship services are going to look like on a Sunday, our worship planning team will often use the phrase “setting the table”.

What we mean by this, is setting the look of the stage for a worship service.

Our worship services in general do not involve many lighting cues, we generally set a look for the morning and leave it relatively static. As a team we have chosen to create an atmosphere and then – if fitting – we will make subtle changes to it.

What I have heard about our services is that people enjoy our style because it’s comfortable, done with excellence, but does not feel overly produced.  What I take away from comments like that is that people appreciate the atmosphere we create and they like the fact that worship does not feel like a concert with moving lights and tons of video elements.

Just because we don’t have tons of moving lights and video content doesn’t mean we haven’t given thought and planning to our services.

We have!  In fact, we have chosen not to use click track for the band, loops or even in-ear monitors. The drum set does not even have a cage around it!  Lest you think we don’t care about audio quality we do have a Digico board at front of house and a great sounding L’Acoustics PA.  To top that off on the video side we have a 9’x16’ led wall that hangs just above the band.  All of the decisions like no click or loops just fit who we are and for us it works well.

This past week I found myself pondering the question why do we limit the “setting the table” philosophy to just our worship services?  Isn’t the atmosphere as someone enters the parking lot just as important as the atmosphere in the worship space?  What about the bathroom, lobby, classrooms?  How are we setting the table there to reflect who we are?

I am beginning the quest to take the philosophy of “setting the table” throughout our ministry on Sunday morning.  Following are three quick things that come to mind.

1) Purpose
In order to set the right atmosphere or feeling involves identifying who we are and then running everything thru that filter.

I have a tech partner on my team that would love to add a bunch of moving lights, haze and video elements.  I am not opposed to that at all!  In fact, I love the tech side of it.

It would be fun and challenging and I sure rewarding as we would have a blast setting up and executing a service like that.  BUT as much as we might love it (and have done services like that) we have to ask the question, what purpose does it fulfill?  If the purpose doesn’t exist to do it, why am I using all the energy to make something like that happen?

Think about the exterior of your building, your sign, the overall look of the building what does it communicate?  I suggest that it needs to communicate excellence.  It is difficult to change the look of a building, however no matter the size, shape or color the building can look well maintained!  That right there is “setting the table” Well-manicured landscaping and a well maintained building helps prepare one for a positive Sunday morning experience.

2) Plan
In my opinion “setting the table” requires more planning than scripting out a service.  You would think with less moving parts, fewer cues and “simpler production” that worship planning would take less time.  Wrong.  Yes, a lot less time is spent on scripting out every minute and cue for a service.  However, a lot more time is spent in talking about the purpose of service elements and the order and sequence of the elements.

For example, a very long discussion might take place on the purpose of communion in that particular service.  Are we doing it just because it’s on the calendar?  That might be the reason and that might be just fine, but then we need to determine where it fits in the service and how it has meaning and purpose for being there.

On a ministry side I see more time being spent on why are we doing this vs we have always done it this way.  I believe only the federal government is worse at cancelling ineffective programs than the church is, and the church is not far behind. Routine and the “we have always done it that way” mentality often takes place of true planning.

3) Perspective
I learned this long ago, just because you think it is cool doesn’t mean that it really is.  I have had many great (in my opinion) ideas that I was sure was going to be loved and accepted by all fall flat on their face.  Why?  I did not get perspective from anyone but myself or anyone outside of my immediate circle.

In politics they refer to it as the Washington bubble.  This is where a politician gets caught up in the DC culture and totally forgets about the heartland or even the rest of the country.  The politician has created a circle that all revolves and DC and thus places them in a bubble where they do not even hear or get any outside the “bubble” input.

In church we are good at doing the same thing.  We create this echo chamber of likeminded staff and parishioners that keeps us insulated from really hearing or connecting with the congregation. On the opposite side of that often we only hear from the vocal critics.  We all know the ones who have a complaint about everything.

The key is to engage and seek input for the congregation.

This takes time and work, but if we don’t do it we can begin to make decisions on only small groups.  Those in our circle and those who complain.

Setting up a worship service for success does involve lots of work.  As they say “the table is not going to set itself”.  Even if the service is simple in its production elements.  To set the table for success you must find the purpose, plan it into the service all well listening to the true pulse of your congregation.

Evaluating Your Sunday Church Experience

Do you really know what the experience is of those who attend your services? Avoid overlooking some very important factors.

 

I think that often, as the church in general, we tend to overlook some really important things that impact the experience one has on a Sunday morning.  Yes, the preaching needs to be engaging, the worship spirit-filled and the people pleasant, but there are also other factors that impact the overall experience.

Let’s take a look at evaluating your church’s experience!

1. Facilities

  • How far away did I have to park?
  • Did I have to walk thru unplowed areas to get to the entrance.
  • If I am a visitor can I easily find the entrance?
  • Is there good signage to help me find my way around?
  • Does the building look well maintained?
  • Has the building been updated or does the décor still give homage to decades gone by?

Your facilities say a lot about who you are a church.

Your building – new or old – radiates a feeling whether it be mediocracy, excellence or failing.

What people see as they look at and navigate your facility gives them a very strong perception. It’s from that perception that opinions are formed about your ministry.

I don’t care if your building is 150-years-old or 1-year-old. An unkempt lawn, stains on the carpet and items in disrepair all say the same thing: you really do not care that much about the building.

On the other hand, clean restrooms, windows without finger prints and a wonderful aroma of coffee brewing communicate that as a church you care about the building and The Experience on Sunday morning.

2. Production

  • Was the production distraction free?
  • Did the service flow smoothly?
  • Was there some continuity throughout the service?
  • Did you walk away from the service with a reaction?  Encouragement, A challenge, conviction?

I often refer to the service itself as a production, not in a bad way or a way that implies manipulation, but rather in a way the conveys planning and purpose.

I often will also refer to the service as the product.  Again not in a negative way, but in a way that highlights what the church delivers on a Sunday morning.

I remember as a teenager walking into church 5 minutes before a Sunday night service and seeing the minister of music (that’s what we used to call worship leaders) sitting in the back row, thumbing thru a hymnal writing down the numbers of the songs we would sing during the service.

Even as a teenager it struck me that the music must not be that important.  I probably even wondered if the pastor just got up and opened the bible and just started talking.

A service doesn’t have to be “glitzy” and look like a Broadway production or concert, but it needs to be planned out and prepared ahead of time.

3. People

  • Were you greeted properly?
  • Did you feel welcome?
  • Did you feel comfortable?
  • Did you feel cared for?

We all know that it is the people that make a difference.  So why does church leadership, in general neither empower and commission people to be friendly, or model it for the constituents?

In a number of churches, I have visited I often see two extremes.

The first is where the Pastor that’s “larger than life” is pretty much the center of attention.  After the service he’s the loudest and the person that has to shake everybody’s hand.  He’s the one who wants to greet guests and visitors and nobody better get in his way.

The second is the recluse Pastor that magically disappears after the service.  He is nowhere to be found.  I guess he figured he did his part, the sermon and now is done for the day.

Obviously both of these responses are on the extreme end of the scale between being engaged and not available.  What really is needed is an entire congregation that is empowered to welcome people and make them feel comfortable. Many visitors will return just because somebody made them feel welcome.

So do an evaluation.

What is The Experience at your church?  If you visited your church would you want to return? Or, would you find some work that needs to be done.