Church Stages that Look like a TV Game Show

A couple months ago, I was a contestant on the stage version of "The Price is Right."  It was something of a childhood dream come true. I won the opening bid on contestants row after successfully outbidding three other women on a pair of designer high heels (don't question my manliness), but was unable to sink a putt on the famous game, "Hole in One."  Even so, it was a pretty cool experience.

Recently, I was watching an online video of certain preacher that I've followed a little bit over the years.  I noticed that he was speaking at a church I wasn't directly familiar with.  But as he was speaking, I became somewhat bothered about the platform he was standing on.  In my mind, I couldn't help but feel that the super trendy church that he was speaking at had a stage that looked like something you might see on a TV game show.

As I sat there and wondered about the stage of this particular church, something in my heart just felt a bit unsettled.  I couldn't help but wonder, "To what degree does the architecture and aesthetic design of a church building and sanctuary have on a local congregation?"   Of course, questions like this are things that get fleshed out primarily in places like seminary. It is something you've probably never considered, and have little concern about.

Most people just shrug at such questions as these.  "Architecture and building designs are completely neutral!" you probably say.  "All that matters is that God is there when we show up!"

And part of me would be inclined to agree with you.

Except for the fact that no architect or designer worth their salt would ever say that the design of a structure is a completely benign and neutral thing.  Such would be like an author saying books in themselves have no meaning and are completely neutral things.  Both notions are equally absurd on face value.

Whether we like it or not, the design of a church building and the stage of a church is one that is full of great meaning and purpose.  They are not theologically neutral buildings or rooms, and I believe that the design that goes into a sanctuary says a lot about what that church thinks about its relationship to God, and to each other.

And if you think that the design of a church is still a completely neutral thing, then ask yourself a simple question: Why is it that churches often go out of their way to design a sanctuary in a certain manner?  Why is so much money spent on jumbo screen monitors, giant crosses, stained-glass windows, pulpits, multi-colored stage lights, fog machines, scented air (and yes... you read that right, some churches pump in their own scented air), back-drops, and a host of other bells and whistles?  If it's all the same, why not just make churches giant concrete cement blocks with four walls and no windows?  It would save churches a ton of money.

No matter what mental gymnastics you might use to shrug off stage designs, at the end of the day remains the fact that how you build a church building conveys a subtle message about what is happening on and off stage.

And if the stage looks like a TV game show or American Idol, what's that say about the people on the platform?  And equally important, what's that say about the people who are not on the platform?

I fear that our increasingly flashy platforms at church are changing the dynamic of what the church has been.

Increasingly, "the congregation" is becoming nothing more than a mere "audience," compossed of nothing but mere "attendees."  And if you have ever had the opportunity to stand up on such stages (I have), then you'll understand that those on stage are practically overwhelmed by the brightness of the stage lights, and in most cases, can seldom see anybody in the congregation beyond the first couple of rows.

Imagine the impact that such a thing has on a preacher and his relationship to his congregation.

Increasingly, the preacher on such a stage becomes further and further removed from his congregation.  As a result, he may be tempted to look at his congregation as mere pawns to be used to further his own agenda, and exploited for his own personal gain.  And to the congregation, the preacher will become something of a celebrity.  After all, he is on an awfully big stage surrounded by a lot of lights. And due to the multi-site church phenomenon today, many don't even get to see their pastor in person.  He's just a guy on a jumbo sized monitor.  He becomes something of a TV game show host.

We should find that troubling.

Especially in light of the fact that when we open up the Scriptures, we see that ministry was a very intimate and personal thing.  Even when Jesus was surrounded by the crowds, he was still able to single out one person to minister to.  And when the apostles established the churches that they planted, the primary meeting place that the church would gather would be in the living room of other members of the church.

We've come a long way from those days. And instead of continuing down the road of new trends, I believe we need to seek out the ancient paths of those who came before us, and walk the roads they walked. And we need to increasingly think about the way we do church, and what impact that has on the life and ministry of our churches, as we seek to be faithful to calling placed on us.

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