Worship Space

Something I’ve come to truly appreciate lately is that the medium is not neutral in communication. I would also extend this to the church building. Consider the sanctuary or worship center or meeting room, whatever it is called, at your church. When you walk in and sit down and engage in corporate worship, the layout of the room is not neutral. It communicates also.

What is most central in the room? I mean, what does the room point to, what are the chairs aimed at, what is not obstructed and what is? It says a lot. If there is an elevated stage, when you are worshiping you are looking up toward it. That is very much a posture of worship. What is before your eyes?

In some churches, there is a piano and drum set and microphones and guitars in that central position. The worship band is there. I’m not saying that you are worshiping the band, but what does such a configuration communicate about the significance of the worship band? When the pastor comes to preach, is he on the same level as the equipment or below it? Doesn’t that communicate something, even subconsciously?

Where is the cross in your worship center? Is it central or off to one side? I remember back in the early 90s reading a commentary in CCM magazine by someone I whose name I don’t recall. He said that he preached at a church and standing in the middle of the stage was a huge cross. It got in his way. He had to look around it. At first it really bugged him but as he thought about it, it made perfect sense. The cross should be central, it should be “in the way” and any message the pastor or preacher has should come from the cross. Period.

So where is the cross, that emblem of suffering and shame, in your church? I have been in some churches that don’t have one at all. But what if one is present but is set off to the side at the back of the stage? While the attitude of the leadership might be to glory in the cross of Christ, the arrangement implies otherwise. With no cross present at all I don’t think there is any message implied.

The way I found myself dealing with this issue today was because of my prayer before my time in the word. I usually pray something about coming under the word and being conformed to the image of Christ by it. I’ve been trying to design a worship space (in my head) for a while that communicated what I think is important for a church. My prayer kind of clicked for me. So here is the worship space I’d like to make:

A round room, two stories tall. In the center would be a platform raised about two or three steps. All the chairs would face it. Four projectors would face in opposite directions from each other. All mikes would be wireless. The musicians would be in a loft on the second floor looking down on the worship center. They would be miked as well. A choir loft would be similarly situated. A large cross would be suspended above the raised platform.

Here’s the meaning of the room. When we gather to worship, Jesus and the cross should be central. When we sing, we are commanded to sing to each other (Eph 5:19). With the chairs surrounding the central platform, the congregation faces each other as they sing. The band and choir are out of picture because worship is not a “concert” experience. Yet, the music must be present and the musicians and singers should not be excluded from worship. The worship leader would be on the platform to lead the singing. Or maybe not. What would it be like to have an empty stage? Gotta think on that one some more.

When the word is preached and the congregation is seated, they are literally under the word. The word is central to worship and to the room. Even when the Scriptures are read and the congregation is standing, they are still “under” the word. The preacher stands slightly elevated from them and yet well below the cross. He stands in between the people and Jesus, bringing His word to them. At the same time he too is below Christ.

When the congregation prays, they are not facing all in one direction. We no longer pray toward the temple or Jerusalem (Dan 6:10). God is omnipresent and our prayers are intended to cover the world. As a congregation, we are facing all points on the compass when we pray. We pray to God who is everywhere and our prayers are for all people (1Ti 2:1).

When it is time to celebrate communion, we would have four tables surrounding the central platform. During the devotion the elders would come and stand at each of the table. The elder leading communion would be on the platform. When it is time to partake, all would come forward and receive the bread and wine (WINE! No grape juice!) at the tables. We are coming to Christ (the cross suspended above the platform) and we are coming together when we celebrate the bread and wine.

Baptism would be different. I think there should be a baptistery at or near one of the entrances to the building. There could be a video feed to the screens in the worship center so baptisms performed during the service could be seen by all. Baptism is the entry way to the church (1Co 12:13) and so I think it belongs at the entryway to the building.

Some might complain that it would be distracting to be facing each other. And it would be, but we’re supposed to be together when we worship. It is indeed easier to not pay attention to the back of someone’s head, but that is because they aren’t a person to you then. You can retract into your own personal space and just “be alone” with God. But we’re not called to “be alone with God” in a large group every Sunday. We are called to corporate worship. We are called to come together. That person across from you is one for whom Jesus Christ shed his blood (Acts 20:28), s/he is a trophy of God’s grace, the workmanship of your master! We may not have icons in worship, but that other saint is the image of God (Gen 1:27). Jesus said that what we do to the least of these, we did to him (Matt 25:40). American individualism will indeed be hard to overcome, but it must be. The church needs to think corporately and not individually. What is best for us, not what is best for me.

It would be a challenge to preach in the round like that, but I think the symbolism of the room is pretty neat. It would also render the room pretty much useless for any other purpose. No AWANA circles on the carpet or dinners served there. It is a sacred space, a place that is set aside for the congregation to meet and worship their God. Other rooms could be built for other purposes but the sanctuary would be special.

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