The church is losing the significance of architecture.
The observations I’ve often made about the modern church in regards to its being enamored by entertainment are often generalizations. I certainly understand that there are examples which are outside these trends, and I am grateful for many who think biblically and theologically before diving into the latest and greatest fads.
Another instance of an entertainment mindset is the nature of modern church architecture. This area is not one most people would consider to be an “element” of worship. Yet, if we desire for our worship to be holistic, we must also take into account the visual nature of our world and our understanding of how to redeem the visual.
In previous centuries the architecture of the church building was a message in itself, speaking the Gospel through its presence and design, as well as its decoration. One can visit these structures and “see” the gospel in the artistic expressions of the stained glass, or the majesty of the spires. Although the spoken word is silent from day to day, the “seen” word is proclaimed moment by moment. (I explained this more thoroughly in the post titled, “Music and the Arts as Tools of Evangelism.”)
Yet, modern design is utilitarian. The prevailing philosophy is one of high technology and practical spaces. Buildings are designed for the best theatrical lighting and sound reinforcement. The beauty of architecture and design is often foregone in order to spend money on “really important” aspects that are practical in nature – as well as to make attendees comfortable and at ease. A practical building is important, but why must that be at the expense of beauty and message? These buildings, as buildings, often say nothing of themselves. We can have a worship service or a rock concert, a spiritual awakening or a sales meeting, because the space itself says nothing of its purpose or its message. It is plain – and practical.
What can you do, even this week, to make your worship space more visually worshipful?
Given the focus in modern culture that technology is a solution to all problems (can anyone say, “Enlightenment”?), it is important for the church of today to think more clearly about the use of technology in the church.
We certainly do not want to abandon technology, since the use of technology has a long history of significance in the church. The use of the printing press during the Reformation era is one such positive example. However, we must think about it deeply and critically so that technology does not overtake or subvert the purposes of the church.
It has been noted by many observers that modern worship methods in the Western Church are pregnant with entertainment models and practices, and technology is the driving force behind this move. One example of this trend is ear-bud monitor systems.
We gather a group of musicians and charge them with the responsibility of leading a congregation in worship. Then take these people, place them on a stage, turn up the lights on stage (and down in the house), and ask them to use in-ear monitors because “we can control the sound better that way.”
You have just completely isolated the worship leaders from the people they are to be leading.
Not only is it difficult for the leader to see those in front of them because of the lights, but possibly more startlingly is that they cannot HEAR the interaction of the congregation (or more properly, the audience!). How do they know if the people are being led? How are they interacting with people from whom they are isolated in their own little world of what is being piped through their monitor system?
Ear-buds may solve some problems with mixing and sound reproduction, but the loss of true corporate worship and the erosion of community are unfortunate by-products. This might be alright for entertainment, but what is it doing to the Church and its worship?
These are the kinds of questions we must consider as leaders.
How would you answer this question: What is the most important element of a Worship Service? Many would say, “The sermon is the most important.” Or, maybe Scripture reading is the key component? How about prayer? Maybe music deserves highest marks? Talk to any room full of people and the debate would be endless. I have found it interesting that there is such a diverse range of opinions on the matter, yet when I teach on the topic of worship there is one element that never receives attention in answer to the query.
Notice that my initial question was very specific. I did not ask about the most important element or idea of Worship as a topic, but of a Worship Service. The question is one of a practical nature, as opposed to a philosophical or theological perspective. The analysis of a Worship Service on this level is vital as our congregations come together for the purpose of experiencing God through song, sermon, prayer and other ways of engaging our hearts and minds. Does this clarification to the question change your answer in any way?
Arguments are plentiful for the inclusion and importance of Scripture, the sermon, music, prayer and other elements in our Worship Services. Our weekly gatherings as the Body of Christ are significant opportunities to hear from God in various ways. But what is the connecting thread? What element do we all notice if it doesn’t happen, or work well, but when it’s properly executed we don’t notice it at all?
Well, I suppose it’s time for me to get to the point. What is the most important element of a Worship Service? The transition. Now some of you think I’m crazy. What’s so vital about a transition? Better yet, what’s so spiritual about a transition? I’m glad you asked, so let me explain what I mean.
Transitions are the links of the chain. When moving from one element to another, something happens – you either notice it or you don’t – and that’s a transition. If one of those “links” breaks, it’s obvious. When the “link” holds strong, it’s as though it’s not even there. Are you moving from a song to a prayer? There’s a transition. Moving from the Scripture reading to the sermon? There’s a transition. Moving from songs, to announcements, to more songs? More transitions.
Consider the idea that a successful Worship Service is a service of successful transitions. Good transitions lead to minimal distractions from the established flow of a service. Bad transitions are distractions that often great music or excellent sermons have difficulty overcoming. Distractions can pull someone’s mind and heart away from what the Lord is doing in them, and may interrupt the work of God in their life. That’s what makes transitions – good transitions – so important to our Worship Services.
Now, I certainly don’t want to undervalue the quality of the other elements of worship. A poorly performed song can be a fatal distraction. A sermon that doesn’t communicate with people at their level will lead to wandering minds and disinterest. My point is that our services deserve as much time, energy and thought put into transitions as these other elements.
I’ve worked with churches for many years, both in my own church and as a consultant, and often my first order of business has been to analyze the Worship Services as they had been done prior to my arrival. I’ve done this using videos of various services and timing each element as it passed. What I discovered was the need to concentrate on transitions and the flow of the services. Believe it or not, often no significant changes in the style of worship are made (not even new songs) for a time. But, when work on transitions and flow begins, the results are readily noticeable. Within just a month or two, we are able to draw together the loose ends and begin to create an atmosphere that minimizes distractions and helps people focus on the theme of the day.
Transitions are one key element in our Worship Services. Don’t ignore them or underestimate their value. Someone needs to be aware of them and think them through before they happen. This is the best way to ensure their successful deployment and smooth sailing from week to week.
For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at http://www.marksooy.com/books_store/
I have appreciated Bob Kauflin’s blog on worship and music for some time. This week I would like to link to his good article recently that covers something that modern churches must consider carefully: Lighting. Here is the link as part of the “Elements of Worship Series.”
For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at http://www.marksooy.com/books_store/