I will be periodically posting a series of essays this year: “How We Worship Matters: Essays on the Worship Battles We Should Fight.”
Physical Space Can Kill Your Worship
As human beings, we live in the physical world. Our spirituality is connected to this and there is nothing like the Incarnation to give us a picture of how this mystery exists. Jesus is fully God and fully human. What did Jesus display to us? Spirituality is housed in people, not in stone temples or in only one physical spot.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost only amplified this by entering the life of every believer on the planet. We can now pray in concert with people all over the world because of our connection with the Holy Spirit. Our worship is empowered, no matter at a mountain campground, warehouse turned house of worship, or country chapel.
Even though the Spirit is in us and moves among us, real people have to meet in a real place. And, that place can significantly affect our worship. I remember one church where behind the platform area the beach was clearly visible through large windows. The pastor had to compete with the day dreams of surfing in his parishioners’ minds each week. This colored the life of worship in that church. It nearly killed it.
I have also led worship in rented school cafeterias. The idea of having to pull out more chairs as people came in and the expected echo brought a sense of excitement. Then, there are the rooms that are far too big such as a midweek service in a church that seats 500 with only 89 that show up. Take those 89 people to a courtyard and it may change their experience for the better. There is nothing worse than a room that simply is unfit for the situation.
If your PA and sound is terrible, it means the listener has to work harder than he or she should to focus on the sermon. If the HVAC system is in disrepair, summer attendance will not be what you hope it to be. When was the last time you painted anything? Does anything match? Can new people find the door? Are the bathrooms clean? Everything sends a message. We live in the physical world as spiritual beings. Might then one of the most spiritual things a church does be the weekly preparation of its place of worship?
Even your seating arrangement can change the culture of worship in your church. In one church, the pastor and I moved the chairs from straight to curved rows. It sent the message that the front view was only part of the event. It signaled that your participation was valued and desired. Lighting matters, too. If your room is always dark, you should not expect people to ever speak other. It is proved that light effects interaction. Is it for your “program” on the stage or do you want people to be a part of it, too?
Working on space and place in worship is something we all have to factor. There are real battles. I remember my first business meeting at the young age of 16. One of the church fathers was pounding on the altar with these words. “If we spend this money on new carpet, we will be walking on the bread and butter of our missionaries!” He forgot to mention in his speech the fall that an elderly woman had the previous month due to the 40-year-old carpet having tears and snags.
It is a bloody battle and in Church history. Wars–literally–have been fought as to the placement of church furniture. Today, I think we discount the importance of such things. Are you too afraid to fight for your values in this? If so, your building and space show lack of leadership and unity more than anything else. Simple preferences will not have anything to do with it. Everything in your space can send a message—for better or worse.