Worship Spaces Communicate What We Value

What does your church worship space communicate to others about what’s most important in your church? Is the church set up so participation and movement of the congregation is easy or is the seating and flow limiting and restrictive? Are the baptismal, pulpits, and altar tables prominent revealing the importance of these acts of worship? In this post I’ll briefly discuss a historical journey of worship spaces from Ancient to Post-Modern time frames. When you visualize and think of your own church, what elements, or which period in worship history would you say your own church context most reflects?

Ancient Period
*Usually met in homes of well to do members and highly personal with lots of movement and no fixed seating
*A meal was served which allowed communication and fellowship
*Communion served every time

Medieval Period
*Church buildings erected. Very ornate and focused on transcendence of God. Fixed seating appears
*Priests were far from congregation so hearing/seeing was an issue
*Congregation was silent—low participation
*Priests in charge of reading the Word…low literacy of congregation. Polyphonic singing (low congregational participation).
* Communion and Baptism were the focus of worship

Reformation
*Greater emphasis on preaching of the Word
*Congregation has access to Bible after printing press invented
*Congregational song less polyphonic, which allowed for greater participation

Baroque Period
*Access to priests is increased
*Acoustics improved to hear Word easier
*Dominant theme became altar-table, pulpit, and baptismal font near the front.

Frontier/Revivalism (18th century-today)
*Focal point is pulpit or lectern
*An altar near the front (mourner’s bench)
*Highly evangelical and large emphasis on congregational singing
*Pragmatic approach to sermons rather than biblical
*Architecture that was inside was very pragmatic and utilitarian

Auditorium Style Churches of the Late 18th century to today
*Auditorium approach to hearing/seeing
*Circular in shape with excellent acoustics
*Platform raised so all could see, balconies as well
*Comfortable seats

Modern Period
*Neutral Architecture, Contemporary look, clean lines
*Cleanliness important as well as comfort for seating
*While emphasis on preaching still there, less demonstrative pulpits (maybe Plexiglas lecterns)
*Any visual art (stained glass, paintings, sculptures) serve didactic or symbolic purposes

Postmodern Churches
*Geared for movement…seating is not fixed
*Focus on community so seating arranged that way
*House Churches appear again as well as revisiting Ancient worship practices
*Candles, visuals, fabrics, lighting all used to create a holy atmosphere (immanence of Christ)
*Storytelling is used for proclamation and preaching
*Communication is through participation rather than just listening to the Word preached

It’s easy to see which period most reflects the type of church in your own context. If you’re like me, you hate that participation is limited by your worship space. In what ways can we utilize our current space to maximize participation? I leave you with a few questions that I think should guide decisions we make about our worship space:

  1. What does your room (worship space) say is important to you? What do you value?
  2. Does your room aesthetic naturally draw your congregation to the transcendence of God ( lighting, artwork, architecture, etc.)?
  3. Is your room more intimate and make the congregation feel God is near and present?
  4. Does the worship space create community among the people gathered? OR is the room engineered to make one feel like they are worshiping God alone even among a large congregation?
  5. Do the acoustics of your room promote healthy congregational singing or is the room engineered to maximize the sound for the worship leaders (specifically the instrumentalists)?
  6. What role does the seating play in how we demonstrate horizontal worship? OR is the seating placed in such a way to focus only on vertical expressions of worship?

For more detailed information and selected bibliography of sources used, check out this link:

Worship Space as Communication

There is no “Generation Gap” in God’s Kingdom

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve noticed it as I have. Popular music really hasn’t changed much in the last forty to fifty years. Sure there are new fusions of multicultural influences, and techno influenced styles that have formed new sub-genres, but by in large, popular music is generally the same. Pop bands are often still dominated by a rhythm section with one or more singers. These male and female singers generally sing in about the same register (much too high for most males and often too low for females). We can expect simple harmonic structure and repetitive lyrics that provide a “hook” needed for mass audiences. Contemporary Christian music is no exception. Musically, there has been little change.

While many trained musicians often think this makes popular music (secular or otherwise) boring, I think it means that there is more common ground musically than there used to be among our living generations. For instance, when I was growing up, my Boomer parents loved music from the 50-60s-especially doo-wop. There were beginnings of rock in some of the music I heard, but there was a major shift during the formative years of the Boomer generation in popular music. As my parents aged, the popular music of their day shifted. Much of the music I (as a Buster/Generation Xer) listened to growing up is similar in many ways to what’s currently on the top 40 radio stations.

Why is this important? Well, I believe that the youngest living generations have more in common musically than our older generations. This realization can help bridge gaps in the church as well. This is good news as we move forward, especially since the quality of both text and music in contemporary worship music has risen exponentially in the last decade.

Even so, your church may be filled with people who do not listen to any form of popular music. In fact that are stuck musically in a decades-old musical style. They couldn’t care less that popular music hasn’t changed much. What they want from church is FAMILIARITY!

Familiarity is two fold:
First, familiarity means what you’d expect it to mean…it’s something you know. For instance, I had a long conversation with a gentlemen regarding this a few weeks ago. He wanted to know why we didn’t sing more old hymns. He’s argument was our people sing with more enthusiasm when we sing old gospel hymns. I simply said, “yes, that’s true, but that’s only because the songs are very familiar.” What I explained to him was while the energy is not AS high on newer tunes, I am careful to choose newer songs that I believe will LAST and will eventually become FAMILIAR parts of our hymnody.

Second, familiarity is a general feeling of “this sounds like something I’ve heard before.” This is what I’m referring to in regards to how music has stayed similar-ish over the last several decades in both popular secular and Contemporary Christian music. The mood, the affect, the instrumentation, the vocals all play into creating familiarity that are “familiar” to our youngest generations (remember this is now adults 50s and younger).

Capitalize on both types of familiarity to make inroads into closing that generation gap because all people are vital in the Kingdom of God. Living in harmony means being even more creative as a worship leader in how you create familiarity in a worship service with many varied backgrounds and experiences. A great way to bridge this gap (as an example) is to use a familiar song with instrumentation/popular musical “style”/ vocals that are more in line with what’s present in popular music. Updated “contemporary” hymns are often great ways to accomplish this, but there are others. What would you add?