This week I want you to walk through your church facilities with a photographer and take pictures from the eyes of a visitor. We become so familiar with our surroundings that we become oblivious to the faded paint, the frayed carpet, the chipped pulpit, the stack of stuff on the piano, or the burned-out light bulbs overhead.
One way to combat this tendency is to do an Environmental Impact Report on your church. Take pictures throughout your facilities and show them to your leaders in order to figure out what needs to be changed.
Here are some environmental factors you need to pay close attention to:
1. Lighting — Lighting has a profound effect on people’s moods. Inadequate lighting dampens the spirit of a service. Shadows across a speaker’s face reduce the impact of any message.
Most churches are far too dark. I’ve noticed that even churches with plenty of windows often cover them up. Somehow, churches have gotten the idea, maybe from funeral parlors, that dimming the lights creates a more “spiritual” mood. I completely disagree.
I believe that church buildings should be bright and full of light. God’s character is expressed in light. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” I believe churches should be the brightest public buildings. Light was the very first thing God created. God said, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) Today, I think God would like to say this to thousands of churches.
If you want to wake up your services, brighten up your environment. Take the curtains off your windows! Throw open the windows and doors! Turn on all the lights!
Here’s an experiment: This week secretly replace all the light bulbs in your worship center with twice the watts, then notice the change in mood in next weekend’s service. You may have revival!
2. Sound — Invest in the best sound system you can afford. If you’re trying to cut costs, do it in some other area. Don’t skimp here. Saddleback grew for 15 years without our own building, but we’ve always had a state-of-the-art sound system.
It doesn’t matter how persuasive the message is if people can’t hear it in a pleasing manner. A tinny, fuzzy sound system can undermine the most gifted musician and incapacitate the most profound preacher. And nothing can destroy a holy moment faster than a loud blast of feedback!
3. Seating — Both the comfort and the arrangement of your seating dramatically affect the mood of any service. The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure! Uncomfortable seating is a distraction that the Devil loves to use.
If you can get away replacing the pews, I’d advise it. In today’s culture the only places people are forced to sit on benches are in church and the cheap bleacher section at ball games. People expect to have their own, individual chairs.
Personal space is highly valued in our society. This is why box seats are prized at stadiums. If people are forced to sit too close to each other, they get very uncomfortable. There should be at least 18 inches between people if you’re using chairs and 21 inches between people if you’re using pews.
If you use moveable seats, set them up so people can see some of each other’s faces. It will dramatically improve how people respond to the service. If you are planting a new church always set up less chairs than you need. It’s encouraging to your people when additional chairs must be brought in as people arrive. On the other hand, it’s very discouraging to worship in a service when surrounded by empty chairs.
4. Temperature — As a pastor who has preached for years in un-air-conditioned gyms and unheated tents, I say this with the utmost conviction: The temperature can destroy the best-planned service in a matter of minutes! When people are too hot or too cold they simply stop participating in a service. They mentally checkout and start hoping for everything to end quickly.
The most common mistake churches make regarding temperature is to allow the building to become too warm. Some usher sets the thermostat at a reasonable setting before the service without realizing that when the building is actually filled with a crowd, the body heat of all those people will raise the temperature substantially. By the time the air conditioning has cooled everything down, the service is nearly over.
Always set the thermostat several degrees cooler than what is comfortable before the service begins. Cool it down before the crowd gets there. The temperature will rise quite quickly once the service starts. Keeping the temperature on the cool side will keep the crowd awake.
5. Clean, safe nurseries — If you want to reach young families, you’ve got to have sanitized and safe nurseries. There should be no mop-buckets in the corners and the toys should be cleaned each week.
6. Clean restrooms — Visitors may forget your sermon but the memory of a foul smelling restroom lingers on … and on … and on! You can tell a lot about a church by checking out the cleanliness of its restrooms.