I love to create beauty in black boxes.
Stage design is an evolution within the Church to engage all the senses of its congregations. It’s something to create beauty and visual stimulation and assist in worshiping the Creator. It’s also something we’ve created to fill the black boxes – our sanctuaries.
What we don’t stop and think about is that the first church didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. They met in homes. They met in catacombs. They met wherever and whenever they could, because it wasn’t exactly popular to be a believer.
The first church used what they had. The first church had people. Its resources were relationships. And they pooled those resources. I’m sure one family brought oil for lamps. Another might have brought a scrap of parchment that had some Scripture or words Jesus spoke scribbled on it. Another family would share testimony to God’s faithfulness, and yet another may prepare food and serve. Everyone would rally around the widows and orphans to provide for them. It was simplistic beauty.
These people were in community with each other. Yet they didn’t have a PA, a light show, or a stage design. Some of you can identify with that – meeting in homes, in schools, in coffee shops, some beginning a new church, some struggling to keep an old church alive.
Let me encourage you. You aren’t doing it wrong. There is no formula. You aren’t resource-limited. You are resource-rich because you have people, relationships, and community.
With people as your resource you can do some incredible things with limited physical resources. People are uniquely gifted in creative and extravagant ways – ways to help you think outside the box with materials. Some are even gifted in giving. If you struggle coming up with something beautiful on a budget, maybe you should take yourself out of the equation. Let a volunteer or lay leader take ownership.
If you’re blessed with a staff person, or you yourself are a creative and you have little or no budget, then think outside of the box on how to acquire materials. Most people that attend your church have professions. Is there anyone that might be able to donate materials for your next stage set?
You might have an artist sitting in your congregation that can make that roll of construction paper you have look like 10,000 different things. Many of you have some old, outdated projectors sitting around that might be perfect for some type of stage or environmental projection.
One time I found vintage studio lights in a closet with lamps as big as your head. I could only run them at about 10% brightness but they were killer blinders with a great aged look. Other elements might be construction lights sitting around or a ton of random lamps with or without shades. Old bits of white/yellow wood laying around can create a few industrial/pallet looks and take lighting very well. Fabric is also something usually laying around or that can be donated that can take many shapes and will light well. If the fabric isn’t just the right color to reflect light, consider some old white paint laying around and create some texture splatters! Something I am doing for our Easter set is repurposing newspaper as paper-mache texture on elements I have already created to give it new life.
Designing in the black box can be difficult. It’s go big or go home, but sometimes less, or even nothing, is more. The more we can take out of the equation that fails, looks bad, distracts, moves, blows up, feeds back, trips, or causes complaints, the better. On the flip side, if we are able to create simple, unashamed, worshipful beauty…that’s all the better! Sometimes the more effective your design, the more difficult it is to execute. But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from it! Everyone creates a little differently for different purposes. There is no hard and fast formula for this one.
“The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” – C.S. Lewis
I was out on a bike ride today and saw an accident of a sign going in/out of a church that, I guess, got turned around. As you drove in to the church, the sign said, “You are now entering the mission field”. (It was supposed to be read as you left.)
I had several thoughts about this: some ironic, self-conversations about the state of the modern church, some harsh thoughts on where religion has pigeon-holed itself and some thoughts on those of us who actually work for the church.
Church has gone from a home with people quietly studying and worshiping Christ, to ornate buildings demanding and inspiring attention to the beauty of the Creator, to white walls and organ pipes and living room sets, to black boxes where you have to intentionally create something of consequence.
Christ has birthed creativity, passion, and vision inside of you. All of the rest will fall into place: the ideas, the materials, the resources, and the people. Make a place that people feel comfortable connecting with God – a place where we are unaware of the moving pieces. Simplistic beauty.
Day after day this (church/work/venue) is your mission field.
We are entering that field. Let’s win over our weekend worship experience.
But make our attention on God.