Monday, January 19, 2009

to be or not to be... on stage

I'd say it's the norm for worship teams to set up on stage and visually be the center of the room. Usually it's because it's the only place to to set up and that's just how it's done. But in bigger spaces there's a choice that's made about what will be the focus (visually) of the church. In some extremes I've been told to move a few inches to my left or right because I'm not centered with the other side of the stage, or that I need to smile bigger so people can see it from the back! On the opposite side of things I play at places where the band sets up on the ground in front of the stage and we're basically standing in the front row so other things can be the visual center of attention. I don't think either side is more right or more wrong, and it really doesn't bother me one way or the other, but I think it's worth discussing and thinking about. I'll make the argument for both cases and you comment to share your ideas. As a side note, these are just my opinions and obviously don't represent the official stance of either church pictured below. 1,2,3 go:

The worship team should be on stage:

Two pictures of Willow Creek in Chicago. The musicians are on stage and also on the screens. These were shot at a conference, so I can't say whether it represents Willow Creek on a regular Sunday but it is an example of a worship service.

The worship team has two jobs, to make music and to help people connect with God. The difference between playing a worship CD and having a worship team is the human element. Being able to see the worship team helps the congregation connect. They can see the worship team's emotion, see them worship, and it helps the congregation. Some people will be new to church and not sure what to do, seeing the worship team worship will give them an example. Some people don't need to see the worship team so they simply close their eyes. When the worship leader speaks between songs they need to be seen, otherwise it's weird to just hear a voice coming from somewhere. The human interaction and connection is just as important as the music a worship team makes.

The Worship team should not be on stage:

Two shots of my home church, The Upper Room. The top picture shows where the worship team stands and the bottom picture is a better shot of the room and where the focus is.

Whether we realize it or not, churches visually center around that which they worship. When churches worshiped power and wealth they were built to look like castles, when they worship knowledge they're built like a classroom, and when they worship entertainment they're built like a concert hall. That's not to say all churches that have their musicians on stage worship the musicians, but in a society that DOES worship rock stars, why blur the lines? Instead churches should make the statement that they definitely do not worship our musicians. Churches built in the early 20th century often put the musicians on the balcony in the back of the church. We don't go that far, but we do set up on the floor, not the stage. That way we, and the congregation, feel like we're on the same level, all worshiping something bigger. It's easy to forget the band is there and get caught up in moment. The visual focus is the cross, the words to the song, or the imagery on the screens or on stage, rarely the musicians.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

The point is as you said- as long as the musicians are not the focus. I've played where the band is off center so the cross over the baptistry is more the focus. Or we now split in half- 1/2 on left, 1/2 on right, still cross on Baptistry is focus.

Karl said...

Wow. Really cool stuff that I have to honestly say I have not thought about. I mean, ya, I've thought about the 'where's the congregation's focus thing', but not purposefully pulling the worship team off stage to give focus to some kind of symbol or screen, or decor or something that points them to Christ.

Very interesting ideas. Thanks, Mike!

Mike said...

lpDr - that's cool. I haven't set up like that before!

Karl - I was talking about this with a co-worker and we decided most churches just haven't thought about where the worship team is, it's just the way it's been done. I think too much so I figured I'd share :)

Pat said...

I just found your blog via your DIY pedalboard setup, and stuck around :) I'm adding you to my RSS reader.

I love this post. As a former church planter and pastor, I think we would do well to think though 'why we do things the way we do'.

In my current church, where I'm just a part of the family but not the leader (and also 2nd acoustic on the worship team), our musicians are off to the side a bit, and the lyrics are at the center.

It's probably that way logistically because it's a small, rented room, but it's a good focus point anyway.