I recently posed this question to Emily Vermilya, Worship Arts Pastor at College Wesleyan Church:

Our worship environment is due for some updating and as I think about most churches I have visited the progression seems to be toward controlled, artificial lighting, prominence of digital symbols rather than physical (like a large wooden cross on the wall), and a black background (usually fabric). Since College Wes has a lot of natural light in the main sanctuary, I was wondering how you accomplish an updated worship environment, yet don’t necessarily give sway to artificial lighting, removal of physical symbols, etc?

I was delighted with her response as it was honest and thoughtful in content, as well as humble in tone. Most of the “visible” churches I see utlilize a black-box theater method for their worship environment. But just because it is popular, doesn’t mean it is the only way. Here are six principles I learned about creating a worship environment that is honoring to God, engaging to His people, and requires no DMX-Controllers 😛 

1. We all inherit our architecture

From store fronts to cathedrals and from new worship auditoriums to 1960s paneling, we all inherit an environment God has asked us to steward toward worship. A good worship environment starts with a good worship vision. What is the goal of your worship service? Yes, honoring God–but honoring Him by drawing people to stand in awe of His majesty by taking in the beauty of a vaulted-ceiling? Or honoring Him by creating a comfortable environment where people experience the open arms of Jesus? We have the ability to create worship environments which meet our goals, so think about your vision, think about your resources, and think about your people. 

2. While black-box is one method, it isn’t the only method

Every methodology has advantages and disadvantages. While black-box is popular, it isn’t the only way. There are great risks and great benefits in the method. Of course the same is true for symbolic-heavy, and lighter worship environments.  

3. Work with your building, not against it.

Highlight what is beautiful and don’t force a black-box method where it isn’t necessary, helpful, or possible. Stewardship and leveraging are two words that come to mind when I think about this principle. What has God given you to utilize? How can you maximize this space, for these people, at this time?  

4. Contextualize all resources to achieve your worship goals

Many open-church resources, worship set designs, and hey, let’s face it–pins on Pinterest are for black-box theater style environments. You’re going to have to figure out how to contextualize these resources to meet your goals. 

5. Consistently educate your congregation on the “why”

What is the “why” behind your worship elements? How are you providing fresh ways of connecting to God through them? The cross means “penal substitution”, but it also means “humility”, the steps of the stage mean “come boldly before the throne”, but also “I am unworthy at Your feet”  

6. Classic doesn’t have to mean “old”

A modern color palette and other similar modifications can bridge the gap between timeless and timely. What more is there to say? My wife and I love the show Fixer Upper, as do millions of other viewers. The home designer star of the show is famous for taking classic things and combining them with modern, up-to-date construction, colors, and amenities. How cool is it that we can do the same with our worship environments? What are some ways you create a worship environment that doesn’t rely on black-box theater methodology?

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