Many of us have been in a worship gathering where something in the environment has distracted us from being able to truly worship and experience God. One’s prior experiences and expertise can play a role in how freely they can worship in certain settings. Personally, I have a really difficult time worshipping in certain settings because of my production and design experience. If the sound mix isn’t quite right or the visuals are distracting, I have a hard time focusing. For some of you, it may be the color palette of the room or the decorations due to interior design experience. For others, it may be the song choices or the accuracy and skill of the musicians leading. It’s through these chances for distraction that we can see how vital environment and aesthetics can be in a worship gathering.
As the Media Arts Leader for Vintage Church, one of my responsibilities is overseeing production and design for our gatherings. That entails sound, media (or presentation, as some refer to it), and lighting production, as well as room and stage design. I have worked in production for years, dating back to high school. It has grown to be a passion of mine, and even more so in my time with Vintage because I have come to realize how important environments can be. My goal in what I, along with my Production vTeam, do for gatherings is to create an environment or atmosphere where people can freely worship God without distraction. For this goal to be achievable there has to be considerable time, thought, and effort put in to the environments in which we worship.
One of my Production Leaders likes to give me a hard time about the media and lighting cues that change throughout a gathering. He likes to say, “Chris, you know that nobody notices light or background changes.” My response: “Good. They’re not supposed to.” What I mean is that what we do behind the scenes is meant to enhance the environment. You may never notice a change in lighting color, but those changes are important because certain colors can evoke certain emotions. One quick example is the lighting we use during the sermons. I’ve been asked many times, “Why blue?” Well, that’s because blue is often a comforting color and conveys a sense of trust. You wouldn’t want to use red lighting, a color associated with negative emotions and feelings of anger, when a pastor is wanting to gain the trust of the people he is speaking to. I could give tons of other examples and situations, but my point is that it requires a lot of planning and preparation to enhance an environment.
We can see the importance of environment and aesthetics in the strict guidelines God laid out for Israel when building the Temple (2 Chronicles 2–4) and Tabernacle (Exodus 25–30) in the Old Testament. These were places where He would dwell and where His people would go to connect with Him. This looks different for us today because, in Christ through the Spirit, we have the freedom to experience God anywhere. However, aesthetics are still important in a gathering space because that’s where His church comes to worship corporately.
Let me make a very important point of clarification here: I am not trying to emphasize an experience. We cannot base our worship, faith, and life in Christ off of experiences alone. But, we also can run the danger of not allowing people the opportunity to experience Christ if we don’t acknowledge the importance of environment and aesthetics.
There are churches who focus too much on aesthetics, and there are those who don’t focus on them enough. Vintage wants to be a church that lands in the middle. We want to focus on the environment and aesthetics of our gatherings, but we do it because we want people to be able to experience and worship Christ freely and without distraction.