Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Six physical factors that affect your worship service

If you want to wake up your services, brighten up your environment.
Take the curtains off your windows! Throw open the windows and doors!
Turn on all the lights!

Rick Warren

Facilities and physical environment have a lot to do with what happens
in a weekend worship service. The shape of your building will shape
your service. Walk into some buildings and your mood will instantly
brighten. Walk into other buildings and you'll feel depressed. The
shape of a room can change a mood instantly; so can the temperature of
room; so can the lighting in a room. Be aware of these factors and use
them. Figure out what mood you want your service to project and then
create it.

One of the problems we face in maintaining the church environment is
that we tend to overlook defects after about four weeks. Once you
become familiar with a building, you stop noticing what's wrong with
it. The defects and disorder don't bother you as much as they did when
you first noticed them. You become oblivious to the faded paint, the
frayed carpet, the chipped pulpit, the outdated tract rack in the
vestibule, the old bulletins left inside hymnals, the stack of stuff
on the piano, and the burned-out light bulbs overhead.

Unfortunately, these things stand out immediately to visitors. They
notice details.

One way to combat this tendency is to do an Environmental Impact
Report on your church. Get a photographer to walk around your
facilities and take pictures from the eyes of a visitor. Then show
those pictures to your leaders and determine what needs to be changed.
In particular here are some environmental factors you need to pay
close attention to:

1. Lighting
Lighting has a profound effect on people's moods. Inadequate lighting
dampens the spirit of a service. Shadows across a speaker's face
reduce the impact of any message.

Most churches are far too dark. It may be our conditioning from all
those years Christians worshiped in the catacombs! I've noticed that
even churches with plenty of windows often cover them up. Somehow,
churches have gotten the idea, maybe from funeral parlors, that
dimming the lights creates a more "spiritual" mood. I completely

I believe that church buildings should be bright and full of light.
God's character is expressed in light. 1 John 1:5 says, "God is light;
in him there is no darkness at all." I believe churches should be the
brightest public buildings. Light was the very first thing God
created. God said, "Let there be light!" (Gen. 1:3) Today, I think God
would like to say this to thousands of churches.

If you want to wake up your services, brighten up your environment.
Take the curtains off your windows! Throw open the windows and doors!
Turn on all the lights!

Here's an experiment: This week secretly replace all the light bulbs
in your worship center with twice the watts, then notice the change in
mood in next Sunday's service. You may have revival!

2. Sound
Invest in the best sound system you can afford. If you're trying to
cut costs, do it in some other area. Don't skimp here. Saddleback grew
for 15 years without our own building, but we've always had a
state-of-the-art sound system.

It doesn't matter how persuasive the message is if people can't hear
it in a pleasing manner. A tinny, fuzzy sound system can undermine the
most gifted musician and incapacitate the most profound preacher. And
nothing can destroy a holy moment faster than a loud blast of

If you are a pastor, insist that your church purchase a lavaliere
microphone so you are not handcuffed to the pulpit. Movement while
speaking maintains attention.

3. Seating
Both the comfort and the arrangement of your seating dramatically
affect the mood of any service. The mind can only absorb what the seat
can endure! Uncomfortable seating is a distraction that the Devil
loves to use.

If you can get away replacing the pews, I'd advise it. In today's
culture the only places people are forced to sit on benches are in
church and the cheap bleacher section at ball games. People expect to
have their own, individual chairs.

Personal space is highly valued in our society. This is why box seats
are prized at stadiums. If people are forced to sit too close to each
other, they get very uncomfortable. There should be at least 18 inches
between people if you're using chairs and 21 inches between people if
you're using pews.

If you use moveable seats, set them up so people can see some of each
other's faces. It will dramatically improve how people respond to the
service. If you are planting a new church always set up less chairs
than you need. It's encouraging to your people when additional chairs
must be brought in as people arrive. On the other hand, it's very
discouraging to worship in a service when surrounded by empty chairs.

4. Temperature
As a pastor who has preached for years in un-air-conditioned gyms and
unheated tents, I say this with the utmost conviction: The temperature
can destroy the best planned service in a matter of minutes! When
people are too hot or too cold they simply stop participating in a
service. They mentally check-out and start hoping for everything to
end quickly.

The most common mistake churches make regarding temperature is to
allow the building to become too warm. Some usher sets the thermostat
at a reasonable setting before the service without realizing that when
the building is actually filled with a crowd, the body heat of all
those people will raise the temperature substantially. By the time the
air conditioning has cooled everything down, the service is nearly

Always set the thermostat several degrees cooler than what is
comfortable before the service begins. Cool it down before the crowd
gets there. The temperature will rise quite quickly once the service
starts. Keeping the temperature on the cool side will keep the crowd

5. Clean, safe nurseries
If you want to reach young families, you've got to have sanitized and
safe nurseries. There should be no mop-buckets in the corners and the
toys should be cleaned each week.

6. Clean restrooms
Visitors may forget your sermon but the memory of a foul smelling
restroom lingers on ... and on ... and on! You can tell a lot about
the morale of a church by checking out the quality of the restrooms.

The sad truth is that many churches need a completely new building.
They'll never reach their community in the building they're using. One
pastor told me in frustration that he was praying, "God, let the fire

When my friend, Larry Dewitt was called to pastor a church in Southern
California he found a small, clap-board church building in a high-tech
suburban area. Larry recognized that the age and style of the building
was a barrier to reaching that community. He told the church leaders
he'd accept the pastorate if they'd move out of the building and start
holding services in a Hungry Tiger restaurant. The members agreed.

Today, after moving to different facilities, that church has grown to
several thousand in attendance. It would have never grown that large
if they'd stayed in their original building. The shoe must never tell
the foot how big it can get.

For years Saddleback used high school campuses for our seeker
services. In order to make the best of what we had to work with we
organized two quality control crews. The first crew would come in
before 6 a.m. and set up 42 different classrooms and a gymnasium. The
set-up crew would diagram each classroom's layout on the chalkboard
before moving anything. That way everything could be reset in the
right order by the take-down crew when they came in at 1 p.m. after
all the services were over. Every classroom was vacuumed twice every
Sunday – once at the beginning of the day and once after we'd finished
using the rooms. It was hard work but part of the price of growth.

The goal in all that we do is the same as what Paul said in Titus 2:10
"... so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our
Savior attractive."

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