“The theaters in our day are full because the world lies well, while the churches in our time are empty because the church tells the truth poorly.” Chris Mitchell, Creative Arts Pastor of Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia, Missouri uses that quote from 19th century Evangelist Charles Finney to describe the motivation behind Woodcrest’s highly creative, cutting edge multimedia worship format. At Woodcrest Chapel, they like to call the process Leveraging the Arts.
My wife Donna and I recently had the privilege of producing a DVD of the church’s annual Arts Weekend and their performance piece, The Artist. Our company, Omega Productions, produces live concert DVDs and CDs all across the country. We regularly team with churches to use existing crew and resources in order to reduce the cost of projects. In this case, many of our award-winning crew teamed with Woodcrest’s staff and members to shoot and record their Arts Weekend performance, The Artist.
Leveraging the community
Designed to communicate the Gospel with maximum impact, the production involved extensive use of music, theater and dance as well as audio, video, lighting and computer graphics. The stage presentation also incorporated visual and fine arts, such as sculpture, photography and painting. The performance was written, produced and performed by the staff and members of the church and rivaled any secular presentation in quality and format. The annual event and the accompanying stage presentation were open to the public and designed to communicate spiritual issues and provoke discussion in new and creative ways often neglected by the traditional church.
Leveraging the message
The Arts Weekend grew out of Mitchell’s extensive use of media and art-related disciplines in Woodcrest’s weekly services, which occur each Saturday night as well as Sunday morning and evening. Every six days, the staff and members prepare performance pieces, multimedia and video which are woven into the services to complement the praise and worship and to communicate the Pastor’s message for that week. These presentations represent a major commitment by Woodcrest’s staff, demanding an organized creative process of scheduled planning meetings, advanced storyboards for each week forecasting out six weeks ahead of the current schedule, as well as a dedication to remain focused on the message of the week. Elements like scripts, dialogue, music, video, lighting, and graphics are discussed, assembled and tested in a collaborative atmosphere more akin to that of a network television special, than a local church.
Leveraging the resources
Leveraging the arts means a commitment to deciding the message of the day and using all the art forms available – theatre, drama, music, video, multimedia, graphics and even the fine arts, to carry the theme. The challenge for Woodcrest and Mitchell’s staff was to coordinate musicians, actors, videographers, graphics artists and people who know technology. To enable them to work together in a creative manner requires an incredible amount of detail. In addition, the staff can’t do it all. Any project of the size and magnitude of The Artist requires dozens of volunteers which must be recruited in every capacity from technicians to singers, band members and actors.
Leveraging the people
In Woodcrest’s case, dozens of members volunteered and provided a myriad of skills. There were those who stepped forward to build and paint the set. Others volunteered to serve as stage crew, as well as ushers and security personnel. Still others who had a background in Theatre and drama were cast as actors and actresses. Because of Woodcrest’s emphasis on Praise and Worship, the church already possessed a resident 10 piece band composed of members who were employed outside the church during the week. This talented ensemble was quickly pressed into service as the musical anchor for the live production. All of the behind the scenes video as well as graphic and visual content for the show were provided by talented Woodcrest media staff with the assistance of volunteer members. All pre-recorded audio elements were handled in the same fashion – staff and volunteers teamed together for the task. The entire production was a marvel to behold and served as an example of what can be accomplished when groups leverage the arts along with their members.
Leveraging the Content
The most impressive thing about Woodcrest’s vision for the arts was the content of the performance. Our company shoots and records live concert, theatre and other forms of entertainment for a living. The selection and performance of the music used in The Artist, was on the level of any secular project we have encountered. The selection of Secular and Christian music cuts alike was a perfect complement to the script, evoking both emotion and thought. The talented singers and Woodcrest’s exceptional band provided the foundation for a memorable evening. In addition, the scripts, dialogue, staging and sets were of the highest quality. Attending a performance of The Artist would remind you of the best in local or regional theater being presented in any major US city. The performances were well received by church members and the public alike, due in great measure to the quality of the theatrical and musical content.
Leveraging the vision
What Woodcrest Chapel and Creative Arts Pastor Chris Mitchell have been able to accomplish through the annual Arts Weekend as well as weekly media arts presentations is commendable, but not unique to them alone. All over the US and around the world Christian organizations are discovering the power of leveraging the arts. They are encouraging members to participate at every level and use their gifts and talents to further the message of the Gospel. What Charles Finney stated more than 100 years ago is still true today. In order to share the message of the Gospel creatively, Christians need to be leveraging every resource, including the arts.
To learn more about Woodcrest Chapel’s use of the arts or other aspects of their worship ministry, including ordering a DVD of The Artist, visit them at www.woodcrest.org. You can also contact Creative Arts Pastor Chris Mitchell at 573.445.1191 or firstname.lastname@example.org