Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's Summer: Do Something Different!

It's summer, and a perfect time to try something different with your congregation when people are in summer mode, when the core of your congregation is still attending, when visitors tend to come by, and when you want to refresh yourself and try something new.

With our increasingly visual culture, and screens everywhere, people are used to looking at things for their content.  Why not help them look at the sanctuary in which they are sitting, and see things in a fresh way?

As Shakespeare noted, the world around us is full of sermons waiting to be preached: "...tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, good in everything... " Why not in your worship space?

Remember how Joshua told the people crossing over the Jordan River to put up a tower of stones to capture the children’s attention (Joshua 4:6-7). Seeing the stones, the children would ask why the stones were there, and the children’s parents could then tell the story of the significance of that place.                                           

Our worship spaces are similar monuments to memory, full of stories of the congregation and its reasons for being, as well as of the people who gave their time, energy, and donations to build and sustain the space. 

Each sanctuary has stories to tell with mysterious symbols to describe, and, in a world where people ask few questions for fear of appearing ignorant, who better to ask those questions than a preacher on a summer's day? 

A wonderful starting point for beginning a process of preaching architecture is to ask the children or youth what they notice in a sanctuary and to invite them to ask their questions about things the children or youth have seen. The young are curious, and, as visually oriented as they are, have noticed things that caught their attention.  A couple of summer children’s messages inviting these questions about the sanctuary can then lead into a series of sermons about the architectural forms (layout, windows, furnishings, fabrics, symbols) and the stories behind the forms.

I’ve practiced this process with four congregations I have served. Each time I’ve received comments from people who say they have worshipped their whole lives in that sanctuary and never heard a sermon telling about the connections with the sanctuary and windows to biblical stories or have never heard anyone talk about the symbols the people have noticed on the sanctuary walls, woodwork, baptismal founts, pulpits, lecterns, and altars.

Worship leaders mistakenly presume people know the "language" of their worship spaces. What an opportunity it is to be able to help people look at what’s right in front of them – and to see it fresh and new! The windows are telling stories, as is the altar or communion table. The position of the pulpit tells a story; the light fixtures just might contain hidden messages; and certainly where you have or have not placed the baptismal fount says something about the congregation's relationship with the sacrament.

Much may be gained from preaching architecture. It can:
  • Capture the attention of those in the congregation who are curious, who have an interest and aptitude for buildings and architecture, and who have a personal investment in the building and upkeep of the space.
  • Provide a valuable multisensory learning experience as the congregation focuses their visual attention on common elements of the church while listening to the preacher's observations and insights.
  • Acknowledge those who have sat through worship services and focused their attention on some of the visual details in the sanctuary while listening to sermons, music, and prayers.
  • Affirm the long history of a congregation as you speak of the origins of its church and the history of the building(s).
  • Recall and affirm the positive memories long-term members have for their church.
  • Develop a sense of unity and boost a sense of congregational identity as the congregation’s relationship to the space is named and nurtured in new ways.
  • Enrich the worship experience for those eager to learn more about the church they’ve chosen for worship.
  • Heighten awareness of the particulars of a sacred space and stimulate reflection on what makes a space holy.
Do you want more ideas?  Check out ways to "preach your sanctuary" with my book, at Amazon: