Church Set Designs Can Send the Wrong Message

I’ve been thinking about church stages lately. It seems the trend—which probably isn’t a surprise to many of you—is to do more with lighting and projection instead of building big elaborate sets as in the past. The stages at churches I’ve visited have been simple. There may be some interesting draping with big white curtains, simple wood structures with clean lines or fun shapes to allow for projecting video or special lighting effects. But on an average weekend, I’ve rarely seen the big elaborate sets that match that weekend’s sermon or series. And that comes from a guy who’s made a few trips to Willow Creek.

Having noticed this trend is why I was surprised to hear of a church still building those big sets. I understand the communication strategy of providing a fully integrated worship experience in which the idea of a sermon series is carried through in set design. It can be a really cool experience. But I wonder if elaborate sets are sending a bigger, less positive message than worship leaders intend? In a church where budgets are tightening, people are being laid off and members of the congregation are feeling the pinch of the great recession, what does it say about the church if they’re still dropping lots of cash on a set that will go away after a few weeks?

How different of a message would it send if a church scaled back their staging budget and used that money to reach out to people in need in their community and in their congregation? What if a church was known for solving real life issues by using their money to show compassion instead of for their flashy sets? Chances are the same creative people who build big sets could use simpler materials and creative projection to provide a similar, powerful experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely opposed to building sets. They can make sense especially around times like Christmas and Easter. What I question is the need to do it for every sermon or series throughout the year. As with anything, if it makes sense for your church, do it. But if you are doing anything just because it’s what you’ve always done—or because it’s what the church down the street does—take an honest look to see if it really makes sense. Is it really the best stewardship? We live in a time where people are more and more skeptical of the relevancy of churches especially when it comes to their finances, so let’s be smart about what we’re communicating.

What are you doing in set design? Have you transitioned into doing simpler things or are bigger sets still your thing? Or are you still debating if there should be an American flag on the stage? I really am curious to get a pulse for what churches are doing.

(By the way, I also came across the site Church Stage Design Ideas that shows what some churches are currently doing with their stages.)

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