DESIGNING A CONTEMPORARY PLATFORM THAT WORKS
Years ago, we knew what to expect when you walked into any house of worship. There would certainly be either stained glass, a cross on the wall, or some type of traditional artwork that brought you back several thousand years. However, in the twenty first century, things are a lot less predictable. You can walk into many houses of worship, today and find what looks more like a concert is about to begin, or you might think that you wandered onto a Hollywood soundstage. We’ve come a long way in using what God has given us to communicate the gospel. As a matter of fact, I believe that the closer we walk to the Lord, the more creative we become. After all, is He not the King of creation? But in all of this, I think we have to ask a few practical questions. One being; “Why do we need all this stuff, anyway?” Okay, let’s start here.
Why Care About the Way it Looks?
I, for one, think that this is a valid question. We certainly want to do our best for the Lord and excellence is a noble goal, but I think at times, it looks to many Christians who have been in the church for years that we are going overboard, selling out to the world, is what some say. Although, I can see how one could arrive at that perspective, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Let’s look at Jesus for a minute. Some could say he went a little overboard on the sheep stories. The lost sheep, they know the voice of the shepherd, feed my sheep, and so on. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense in my world. But then again, it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to make sense in first century Israel. What’s good enough for Jesus is good enough for me.
We have a serious need to upgrade our look and our image in the church. The reason is obvious. We need to be relevant to the world that we live in. This line of thinking often gets criticized for trying to copy the “world”, however, we are never going to reach our world with the message of the gospel if we cannot relate to our world. You wouldn’t think about going into a foreign country without having some basic skills in the native language, however, we will design our church platforms in such a way that clearly communicates that we don’t have a clue who our audience is. In order to reach our world with the message of Jesus we must begin to be relevant to the times and culture in which we live.
With that said, let’s look at some ideas and pitfalls of designing a creative platform in your church.
But I Can’t See the Keyboard Player!
Let’s begin with talking about placement. There are some practical things to consider. Can the worship band see each other well? Can the pastor see the worship leader if he is off stage? Can the people see the pastor with all of the drama teams staging? Sounds basic, but you need to think through these things.
Music Team: The band has some basic needs that should be considered. The basic one being; “Can everyone hear what they need?” I do some practical placement when it comes to staging. The first being is that I like to have the bass player right off the drummers, hi-hat. This allows the bottom end to hold down the groove regardless of any distractions that they may have. Being this close together assures that they hear each other, see each other, and can communicate easily. I find that the band is much tighter if the drummer and bass player are synced. Placing them in close proximity assures that this will happen.
Secondly, can the worship leader see the drummer and the lead instrument? This is less important, the longer a team plays together, however, in most churches you have a group of musicians that rotate through the team. When this is the case we want to minimize communication issues. In the creativity department, I was at a church recently where the bass player and the keyboard player, were on opposite sides of the worship center on separate stages from the main platform.
At first it bothered me because all of the band members could not see each other, however, they had played together for a long time, had a good monitor mix and the placement of the musicians brought the people much closer to the platform and to those who were making the music than in most churches. There was a close intimate feel in worship that I had not experienced in a lot of churches. Here was a church that had used creativity to change band member placement, without compromising the quality of the music. The key here is that it wasn’t a haphazard design, but well thought out creativity.
The More Screens the Better!
When considering staging and platform design, it’s important to consider how well the congregation can see the platform. One way to take care of this, in a large facility, is with the use of a video projector on a large screen. The size and number of screens you have should depend on the size and shape of your worship center. You’ll need to ask yourself; what is the purpose of having a projection screen or several screens. It is so that the congregation can see the platform, for word projection, to show special presentations, or a combination of all of these things? This seems obvious, but I still remember visiting a small church in a rural town not too long ago. They had a video ministry with multiple screens which were used for projecting the words during worship. When it came time for the pastor to speak, they projected his image up on the screens. Now, this is all fine and good, but what you need to picture here is that I was sitting in the back row and as I watched the pastor his image in REAL LIFE WAS LARGER THAN WHAT WAS BEING PROJECTED ON THE SCREEN. Houston, we have a problem! Creative stage use and platform design is good unless it makes you look dumb. Consider your surroundings and culture. Just because they had these tools at the last conference you attended, doesn’t mean that you should use them in your church.
Ignore that Man Behind the Curtain!
Quite often we are very concerned with things that may distract the service. I have found that movement on the platform is much less distracting than taking care of obvious issues. For instance, I worked with a pastor for years who liked to use a large podium to speak from. I found it impossible to connect with the congregation as a worship leader if I led from behind the same podium. Our solution was obvious, but one that many churches wouldn’t think of considering.
We simply removed the podium at the beginning of the service and just as my pastor would come up to speak, two men from our congregation placed it back up on the platform. This goes for drama and dance routines, special music setups and most anything that requires the “set” to change. Just do it. Do it quickly and people will not be distracted. It’s better to make changes that allow your pastors and worship leaders to be comfortable, than to watch them struggle with their surroundings so that the drama team could do a skit.
Just a few thoughts in closing. When designing staging for your worship center, think about what it communicates. Whether it’s seasonal, a special series of messages, or a special occasion in the life of your community; make sure that it communicates visually the same message that you are intending. If you are teaching a Christmas series depicting Jesus in the manger, I doubt a Christmas tree is appropriate in that scene. However, if the Christmas message is about Family and the holidays, the tree is absolutely in the right place. In short, let’s make our staging ideas make sense in our context.
You probably have noticed that I haven’t included a lot of How-To’s in this article. That’s intentional. Let’s leave the specific suggestions and ideas to those of you who know your congregation and community well and are able to discern what’s best in your given situation. First of all, I believe that creativity in worship, music, teaching, drama, dance AND STAGING is not only a good, addition, but since we serve the God of CREATION, it’s absolutely necessary. I am confident that as you begin to consider various staging ideas for your houses of worship, that same God of Creation will meet you there in the creative process.