Something snapped in Jesus when he visited the temple complex for Passover at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13). He had visited before, both as a boy (Luke 2:41-51), and likely as a faithful, Jewish adult. On this trip, however, the clutter of sheep, oxen, money-changers, and dove-sellers set him off. The distractions to worship exceeded others' passion for God. The clutter of the marketplace crowded out Gentiles from their court. God was barred by human debris. So Jesus made a whip and a scene, overturning tables and showing zeal for God's house. This story should give us fresh eyes to the distractions and clutter we bring to worship. Both the selfish intentions of our hearts and disorganized state of our church facilities may hinder worship. We must let Jesus inspect us.
This sermon inspired an inspection of our church facilities. I'd fallen prey to what Andy Stanley calls the "time in erodes awareness of" principle. When trying to create "irresistible environments," he warns the church building is the message before the message (see Deep & Wide, pp. 157-172).
A cursory glance at our walls and decor scream: "It's time for an update." Every counter top collects clutter. The walls bear marks and smudges. The classrooms and foyer have no discernible theme (except for the nursery and youngest children's area). Unfinished projects cower in the corners.
When I threw together a visual tour, I felt a mixture of embarrassment, inspiration, and holy rage.
My messy church from Leesburg Grace on Vimeo.
When I invited the congregation to share their own feedback, using the "Be the Guest Assessment" from Mark Waltz's book First Impressions (pp. 35-36), my findings were confirmed. Waltz pastors at Granger Community Church, a trailblazing ministry, which prides itself on creating "WOW!" moments for visitors. We are not so remarkable: We offer "HUH?" moments.
Our corporate assessment yesterday revealed a few such HUH? comments:
- What are the geometric shapes on the auditorium walls? (Ans. Acoustic panels)
- Why do we serve puffs so often for fellowship time? (Ans. They're on sale)
- What are the names of the classrooms? (Ans. The kids' rooms, youth room, and "yellow room for adults")
- Where do I find information on getting more involved? (Ans. Listen to the announcements)
- Can we dim the lights for worship? (Ans. Not really. Florescent tubes are not versatile)
The question for me is how do we get from here to there? How do we move beyond "eroded awareness" to "improved environment"? (Note: I'm not ready to say "irresistible," "wow," or "awesome.")
Below are a few ways to inspect and improve the environment:
Note Crowded Zones: Ask yourself where people tend to congregate and consider how to tweak those environments to minimize crowding. In our church people gather around the coat racks and snack counter. Placing some food at a table away from the coffee creates more space to move. Some churches wisely create large coatrooms set off from their foyer to guard against logjam at the door.
Note Cluttered Zones: The unspoken rule in our building is this: If the surface is flat, you can leave stuff there...forever. Some examples include: tabletops, file cabinets, book shelves, coat racks, hymn rack beneath the seats, worship stage floor, and sound booth counter. Of course, you cannot remove every flat surface from the church, but when I began looking, I noticed how much frivolous furniture filled our building.
Look Elsewhere: Take a tour of other churches. Pay especially close attention to use of hallways and walls (how are rooms marked, missions celebrated, ministries advertised), worship stage and podium (decoration, design, and use of AV), foyer and fellowship area (spacing, seating, and printed materials). Not everything one church is reproducible in another, but fresh ideas emerge when inspecting other worship spaces.
Use the Be the Guest Assessment: See above for the reference to this resource in Waltz's book, First Impressions. Give the tool to people in your church. Invite friends to visit and provide it to them for a new perspective.
Constantly Tweak: Change the stage for each sermon series. Rearrange the seating in the auditorium (if possible) to give people a different viewing angle. Experiment with lighting. Even we have three sets of overhead florescent, giving us 4 options!
Ask, If money were not an issue, I would change...: Perhaps the question seems cruel because money is always an issue. But the answer to such a question betrays a value. Once you determine that key value, scale it to your budget and stage it into reality. For example, if money were no problem, I would change everything. And FIRST, I would get rid of all our old decorations and furniture and start fresh with simple and colorful options (something to offset the color "Cinder Block.")
Be honest and accept limitations: I lead a church of 80-90 people. Our budget barely exceeds $100k. We have no debt and money in the bank. Our building provides a central location for worship, community, and ministry. But it is a pole barn in a farming town. WOW! is not in the blueprint. I'm content with our limitations and the freedom they bring. What enrages me (e.g., Jesus in the Temple) is self-inflicted distractions: clutter, noise, and eroded awareness. Accepting limitations is not the same as settling.