A believing family just moved to your town. They are praying and looking for the church the Lord is calling them to become a part of. Upon entering your worship space for the first time, even before the service begins, they can already see what your church values in worship. What do they see?
In our worship space, the first thing they notice is that there are no windows and it is quite dark. The walls, for the most part, are bare, and the air is cold. They also see an elevated stage, spanning the whole width of the auditorium and filled with musical instruments.
Then they notice that the removable seats are set up in a semicircle with a tall chair and table on a smaller stage that jets out from the main platform toward the center of the room. Surely, this is where the sermon will be delivered.
As they look around after seating themselves, they feel the ambience of candlelight, and notice the tables surrounding the jet stage. On the skinny, black tables rest gold colored trays containing the communion elements: tiny, individual cups of juice and broken pieces of matza.
It's also hard to miss the banners around the perimeter of the room explicitly indicating four of our main worship values: Communion, Offering, Prayer, and Song. Under each of the headers are Scripture passages supporting that act of worship. And beneath the text is an image of hands portraying the action. (Click here to see the banners.)
To be clear, I am not entirely satisfied with what our worship space communicates to worshipers. We have no desire to entertain, and yet our space screams, "Watch!" We desire to expand our worship expression beyond music, and yet our space exalts music far above all the other arts. We believe in the preeminence of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and yet a permanent baptistry would limit the versatile functionality of our stage.
If I were new, there would be enough value-revealing symbol and aesthetic to keep me from immediately walking out, but some of the most important values which should be visible (without words) are simply not. Which begs the question: Do we truly value what we say we value?
On a positive note, I do love our worship space. It has great potential. It's current condition does not impede the worship of God in any way. If anything, our worship environment invites many who would otherwise feel intimidated by "churchy" objects, pews, hymnals, or whatever. It's culturally inviting. However, it is important always to check our motives for doing things the way we do. Are we faithfully and responsibly creating our worship space, or are we sacrificing biblical priorities for the sake of appealing to people? We are, after all, presenting a radically different story in our worship than any story our popular culture is telling. Certainly the telling and enacting of God's story requires other-worldly object lessons.
We are in the process of putting together a worship space team, consisting of several artists (myself, an interior decorator, a school art teacher, a photographer, and hopefully some others), who will study the theology and history of sacred space and begin to employ our findings into our worship space. Not only will we seek to create permanent fixtures that will lead others into more effectively proclaiming, singing, and enacting the story of God, but we will use the Christian Year as a template for seasonal symbols and colors. We also have a desire to develop the skill of all of the artists in our church, praying for the Spirit to inspire their imagination, and encouraging them to create, create, create!
What worship values does your worship space communicate?