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

Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.

Reflections from Baptist Church Music Conference 2018

 

 

 

Deanna and I spent the last several days in San Antonio for the annual meeting of the Baptist Church Music Conference. We went early because I was on the Executive Council as Local Church Representative from the East for the past few years. Being able to go early allowed us some time to enjoy some of the rich history (and fun) of San Antonio. We had a blast…and the conference was great too!

More than anything the conference sessions and concerts do to inspire and train me as a leader, I leave full from the conversations of colleagues at the conference. This year in particular was a special time of relationship building time; I am forever grateful for these friends in my life. I would also say that our morning corporate worship times, led by Kirk Kirkland and Ray Jones, were incredibly powerful and refreshing. I am thankful to God for reminding me of the importance of the ministry to which He has called me.

The sessions I led on intergenerational worship in the local church went very well and were well attended. People are definitely interested in this topic. My first thought after I finished my sessions was, “well, it’s easy to teach people content they already believe.” I knew the general concepts wouldn’t be far off from their own philosophy of worship. However, it wasn’t until Tuesday did I realize the profound impact that intergenerational philosophy is having on many churches/leadership (at least at our conference).  As the folks from the local church division met together, we started the conversation with celebrating GOOD things happening in our churches. I was truly overwhelmed with thankfulness as I heard several of my colleagues share of their church’s journey from separate types of services to a unified worship expression. Thankfully, the leadership of these churches realize that music alone cannot grow a church and separating services with the primary intention to grow based on music choices is not achieving the desired result. In fact not a single one there could testify that having/having had separate types of services with this primary goal in mind is working to grow their church. May I just say it thrilled my heart to hear this. And the best part? Most who’ve been through this journey of unification are seeing more unification and increased attendance. I think the key is, and will be, teaching and inspiring the leadership to move towards unification, and if music is a key component…realize that diversity of musical styles doesn’t guarantee success if the diversity of music is not inline with the church culture and context. The better answer is in finding ways to interrelate the generations together in worship. In worship leadership my belief is that having worship teams that involve more is an important key component. 

Oh, there is much more to be said. I’d like to hear from more of my colleagues who have had “success” moving from a multi-service model back to a single model (mirrored in content and style). I think there might be some similarities worth noting. I’m certain there will be many differences, because every church is different, but some things worth noting could rise to the top. If you are reading this and you’ve been through this scenario, I’d love to hear from you.