January 19, 2021

The Evangelical Liturgy 1: The Worship Setting

FBCLB_MPRoom_2008_0824RESOURCE: Excellent piece at CICW on designing worship space.

NOTE: Someone asked where I got the liturgy bug as a Southern Baptist. Here is Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, where I was on staff for 3 years. From the Chancel. And exterior.

New Covenant worship can take place any place and any time. There is no setting specified in the scriptures, neither is there any arrangement of worship externals that we are told to imitate.

Our Roman Catholic friends have a very intentional- and quite fascinating- approach to worship space that seeks to place every house of worship in a pattern that is continuous with the revelation of God in the old and new covenants. Evangelical worship space design is certainly affected by this, but our approach to worship space is more influenced by the pragmatic concerns of worship, the centrality of the Word and the various traditions that influence a particular congregation.

There is nothing in evangelical worship that demands an abstaining from features that might be considered “Catholic.” However, it is likely that as reformation influenced Christians and evangelicals with particular distinctives there will be some attention to other traditions- some local, some historic- that will influence the arrangement of worship space.

What is important is to know that the evangelical worship space is free to be as simple or as complex as a particular congregation may desire it to be. There should be a new covenant sense of freedom in arranging and rearranging the worship space. Evangelicals should understand the concept of sacred space, but in a way that emphasizes the new covenant fulfillment of old covenant designs.

What should a worship space be called? A sanctuary? A worship center? An auditorium? These choices may reflect prevailing theology in the particular congregation, but none are Biblical mandated.

Following an evangelical understanding of the Gospel, however, I would say that an evangelical worship space should, at the minimum, contain:

A table for the Lord’s Supper. (It is unlikely any evangelicals will comfortably refer to this as an altar. I believe this should never be done.)

A baptistry, in keeping with the confessional understanding of the congregation. For some churches, a baptistry may not be possible because of cost or location. (Point to the sprinkling and pouring Protestants.)

A pulpit. Centrally located pulpits speak the centrality of the word in Protestantism, but a split chancel is no hindrance to the centrality of the Word.

A public copy of the scriptures. This recognizes that the Bible is the church’s book, and not just our individual book.

Instruments that are NOT centrally or distractingly located. Again, for some congregations, this is not an issue. I do object to the locating of an ostentatious band or organ in a central visual position.

Art that complements the worship space and is, again, not located in a distracting way. Banners, etc. should flow naturally into the space and not dominate it. For many evangelicals, a cross- not a crucifix- is an appropriate central focus of a worship space. I agree.

No flags of any kind.

Projection Screens are currently becoming a central feature of many worship spaces. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to their use that will be discussed when we address hymnals and singing. My point would be that screens should be small, retractable and, to whatever extent possible, not EVER placed as a permanent visual presence in the worship space, even if this requires some temporarily distracting movement. The similarity of a large centrally located screen to a movie theater is not insignificant.

Sound systems should operate by the same rule. They should not dominate or distract, but complement and blend in. Over amplification is a worse error than insufficient volume. For many evangelical churches, a limited budget and frequent changes in the worship space will mean that a set of movable speakers may be the best choice. Again, the “club” atmosphere of large and distractingly placed amplification is not helpful.

The same is true of special lighting. What lighting options are used should blend in and not dominate, distract or make the worship space into something else. The temptation to play with sound and visuals is too much for some worship leaders. Restraint is commendable.

Seating is a matter that depends on many varying factors, but there is nothing wrong with comfort, and much wrong with discomfort and a lack of easy entrance and exit. There is much to not like about pews, and much to like about a good collection of chairs that can be rearranged.

I would mention that evangelical worship is free to utilize a great deal of variety in means and presentation, so there is much to commend a worship space that can be easily changed into whatever form is needed for various kinds of presentations. Again, we aren’t looking at our worship spaces as cathedrals, and most churches will not be able to have multiple spaces for multiple kinds of services. If a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service requires flexibility for rearrangement, drama and effects, that is nothing to be avoided.

A worship space for evangelical worship should be flexible, simple, usable by many kinds of ministries and kept free from distractions that could impede its central purpose of a gathering of God’s people around God’s gifts.


  1. How about a cross, Michael? I know some Evangelical worship spaces have begun seeing this as superfluous; I think the omission is unfortunate.

    • I think that an argument can be made that the cross while still an absolutely compelling icon is not as idiosyncratic as it once was to the Christian faith. One merely has to point to pop culture and clothing to realize this. Yet I would not use this as a rational for removing a cross, merely as an observation on why the cross is not nearly as prominent as in ages past.

      • Christiane/L's says

        My own opinion: a ‘cross’ has great meaning.
        For me, a crucifix represents the reason I’m there.
        It’s symbolic, iconic, yes. But the imagery calls me to worship, as does the ‘sanctuary lamp’.
        There IS something to a ‘setting’, whether it is a cathedral, or the trappings of the final sacrament at the bedside of a dying person: that calls one’s mind to ‘purpose’.
        Whether this is a ‘conditioned’ response, or a habit, I cannot say.
        But from the moment I dip my fingers into the holy water of the Baptismal Font on entering Sanctuary, until I repeat that process as I am ‘dismissed to love and serve the Lord’,
        I KNOW why I’m there. No question about it.
        A non-catholic setting that makes use of imagery and purposeful arrangement of
        Sanctuary or ‘worship space’ may actually be retrieving some of its Christian heritage that need not have been disgarded. A case of ‘progress’ by going back to one’s roots.

        • Cross/Crucifix: The usual comment in evangelical circles here in Austria (still predominantly Catholic) is that a crucifix is wrong because Jesus is no longer on the cross. That has never really convinced me as a reason for not having a crucifix — I don’t know any Catholics who believe that Jesus is still on the cross, either. Some of the crucifixes around here are strange — from outright kitsch through to bizarre gore, but either a plain cross or a crucifix does for me as the central focus. I also like the Christ figures with arms extended as if on the cross, but without the beams behind it. Anything really that says “Christ is central in this space and in what happens here.”

          • Rick in Texas says

            Jesus is no longer on the cross – but he WAS. A crucifix does not show us what IS but what WAS abd it is a blessed thing that it WAS. I am not Catholic but I have never understood why evangelicals (my camp, generally speaking) get worked up on this one.

          • Steve the anglican says

            I _think_ that somewhere in “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” that John Henry Newman says something to the effect that “Many of the common people say that they have heard that our Lord was crucified, but they don’t actually know what that means”.
            Newman was a high-church-leaning Anglican who later became a Roman Catholic cardinal. The Church of England in his day was very austere and very influenced by the puritan movement.
            Sure, common folks then didn’t have some of the resources that we do today, but the image is something we need to keep before us, I think it’s a reasonable thing to exhibit in a church.

          • I always put the Puritans at the low church end of the Anglican spectrum, far from anything anglo-Catholic.

          • As much as I don’t like some of the cruicifixes I have seen, I still think it’s a good thing to have it central in the worship space of the church building. It reminds us of what God/Jesus did for us out of love and it reminds us that we all have some suffering to do before we experience the glory. I am not sure if this is fact or not, but someone told me that all Catholic cemetaries have a crucifix too and I have noticed them in Catholic cemetaries. There is something moving sometimes about seeing a full-size one of those, especially in a cemetary.

  2. Good post Michael. I look forward to the unfolding of this series. I’m curious though, do you have any thoughts about the division of worship space? What I mean is, for example, the ancient division between narthex, nave, and chancel. What do you believe is the place, if any, of this sort of division in a post-evangelical context?

    • As I said, it’s part of what we can borrow from the Catholic tradition and many Protestants do. Evangelicals may find that this, however, contributes to a lack of pragmatic freedom which many small and modestly resourced congregations value. It’s an area of freedom, but obviously applies to a fairly sophisticated worship structure.

  3. I agree with your idea that lighting, sound, displays, ect, should not overpower the worship experience or become more important than the Word being spoken. I went to a church in San Francisco, CA once that had so much special lighting and displays that I felt like I was at a concert, even when the pastor came out. Then there are the grand choirs as well in some churches, that make the service more about a performance than worship as well, so just because I come from a more traditional background doesn’t make me immune.

    The thing is not to make worship a performance.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Preciscly – that is one of my major issues with the contemporary approach to worship in many situaitons and the same can be said in more traditional approaches as well but, I tend to think that the traditional approach, from the evangelical perspective, tended to be less showy and performance oriented.

  4. Is your objection to the term “altar” based on the RC doctrine of the “sacrifice” of the Mass? I was under the impression that liturgical traditions think of the altar not only as the table but as the entire central space where the pastor, as God’s representative, gives thanks for and distributes the gifts of God to the people as they celebrate the sacrificial feast of the Lord’s Supper.

    • I am pretty strict on this one. The “altar” flies in the face of “we have one altar.” I see nothing but confusion. It’s my least palatable part of Catholic worship space. A festival of misunderstanding.

      • I find it interesting that the Lutherans seem to have no trouble using the word. Any Lutherans want to help a newbie Lutheran understand why?

        • I’m not Lutheran but I would imagine it is because Lutherans are under the impression that they did not abolish the Mass at all. They believe they merely pruned it of certain distractions and harmful customs, such as Mass stipends, private Masses and Communion under one kind.

          From the Augsburg Confession, “Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence.”

          I’ve read nothing to indicate that Lutherans do not believe that their Mass has a sacrificial and expiatory character, so using the term “altar” is appropriate.

          • [*Disclaimer*
            The following is written from a Lutheran perspective; not to be used as a platform for debates about the real presence, etc.]

            I’m afraid this isn’t right. Yes, it’s true that Augsburg Confession says that the Mass is retained among Lutherans – but in that context it simply means that the Lutherans continue to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. What the Lutherans did abolish was the sacrifice of the Mass, i.e. its expiatory character as a work done by the priest. Lutherans do not sacrifice Christ in any sense (I know RCs don’t speak of re-sacrifice either – I’m taking a shortcut here). The altar is still called an altar, however, for two reasons at least:

            (1) Because of the true bodily presence of Christ in the sacrifice, in the Lord’s Supper the one true sacrifice of the cross is made present by to those who partake of the Supper. Christ, who sacrificed Himself before the Father, brings Himself in His body and blood so that we can eat the sacrifice. Christ is the priest at that altar. The Mass as understood in the mediaeval church was abolished; or, put another way, the Lutheran Reformation re-discovered the evangelical meaning of the Mass, by reinstating Christ as the priest and reversing the direction of the activitity from a human work of expiation to a divine work of grace.

            (2) The altar also serves as the focal point of the church building, symbolising in a way the presence of God among the believers. Whenever the liturgist addresses God, he faces the altar; whenever he speaks words of God to the congregation, he faces the congregation with his back to the altar. And so the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (and in many churches of monetary offerings, too) are brought to the altar.

            BTW, in liturgical jargon, the top surface of the altar is called the mensa – ‘table’. So you can have it both ways. 🙂

      • Ah…I see what you mean now. Good point.

        Still, I can handle calling a table an altar much more than when the term is used to refer to an elevated platform. “Come bow down at this altar!

        No, that’s not an altar. That’s a stage.

    • I would object to the communion table being called an altar because to me, growing up in my own low church setting, the “altar” is the railing at the front of a church where you pray during the altar call (or during the earlier prayer time when all who wish are welcomed to come and pray at the altar) – but thinking about other points against calling anything such, it makes me wonder just why we called it that…

    • The set up in a Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican, even Orthodox church is roughly similar to the OT Tabernacle in that the Altar of Sacrifice is the Congregational Body (In the NT we bring ourselves as living sacrifices and offer our prayers and praise). The Position of the “Altar” is equivalent to the Ark – Mercy Seat and as in the OT the Locus of God’s Presence, in the NT represents the Sacrifice of Christ, a big visual aid, and also the symbolic locus of God’s ultimate presence in the Sacrament – which is a special focus because it is different than the usual two or three gathered presence, which can be anywhere.

      Its not perfect, but visually it speak to much of what is going on. It is also useful to have a focal point in the space. While an “Altar” is certainly not required for Lutherans, it has been a choice in Evangelical Freedom for us to have one.

      Practically you do need a flat surface of some type to prepare and administer the Lord’s Supper.

    • I know that during the Reformation in England, particularly in the Edwardian reformation, they were very strict on replacing the stone altars with wooden tables for precisely this reason – abolishing the sacrificial aspect.

      This is just one expression of the very different understandings of what is going on. I agree that using the term “altar” would not be appropriate in these circumstances. The Anglicans and Lutherans, broadly speaking, retained a lot of the furnishings and practices, though with different emphases. The Non-Conformists and continental Reformed changed radically both in practice and theology.

      To quote a Missal from 1964: “The Mss is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ really present on the altar under the appearances of bread and wine and offered to God for the living and the dead. The Holy Mass is one and the same as the Sacrifice of the Cross. On the stone of the altar and on the wood of the cross the same Priest Jesus Christ offers the same sacrifice, that of His holy Body and Blood”.

      The purpose of the Mass as sacrifice is Adoration, Thanksgiving, Seeking pardon for sin and Prayer for every blessing needed by the Church through Christ her Head and by all her members.

  5. I agree that flags have no business in a place of worship–that’s always been a bone of contention for me.

  6. While indeed typical, beware of the designation “every” in terms of Catholic worship: “every house of worship in a pattern that is continuous with the revelation of God in the old and new covenants.” Some Catholic places of worship are very, very simple. And recall that a Catholic Mass can be celebrated anywhere, including outdoors.

  7. I agree with Scott in his question “Why not a cross?” That is the one thing that kept looking for as I read through your list (which I mostly agree with). We are saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection and the cross is where that death happened. As followers, we are also asked to carry our cross. I think a cross should be centrally located and not obstructed by such things as screens.

  8. I said in the intro post that I was describing non-Anglican/non-Lutheran evangelicalism. I don’t know those two traditions enough to write about them.

    • Thanks, iMonk. I will do my research in other places about the “altar” from a Lutheran perspective. I guess, thus far, as a non-denominational evangelical new to Lutheranism, I have pretty broadly interpreted the word “altar” and have appreciated that it is central in our sanctuary and under the symbol of the cross. For me this has communicated an evangelical Gospel message rather than confusing me.

    • I follow the Puritans and their heirs on much of my understanding of evangelical worship. I can appreciate and enjoy the Catholic tradition, but if I have to make a choice, I will generally go with the Puritans. But that’s just me.

      I also have a lot of “Come to the altar” revivalistic language in my head form being around the Baptists.

      • Northeasterner says

        I’m interested in how the “come to the altar” language became imbedded in a tradition that generally frowns on the term “altar.” I sense that the Baptist definition of the term does not exactly apply to the table from which the Lord’s Supper is served, but refers (as earlier commenters mentioned) to the general area of the stage, or the rail.

        I would welcome some historical education on this!

  9. I also appreciate the bit on flags. I want to send this post to every Baptist church in the Houston area.

    • They are idolatrous and offensive. I wish about a million Christians would just all write their pastors and say so.

      • Lol- at our church’s Vacation Bible School each year they say a pledge each day to the American Flag, The Christian Flag, and to the Bible as in

        “I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.”

        “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”

        I usually find a reason for a water break or a bathroom break. The flags sit in each corner of the Sanctuary the rest of the year except for the 4th of July when we sing patriotic songs instead of hymns. Some traditions die hard.

        • I never even heard of a “Christian flag” before, and Wikipedia enlightened me greatly 🙂

          If ever I thought of one, I would have imagined it to be the one associated with the Agnus Dei, that is, the red cross on white pennant.

          I can only speak for Ireland, but this whole flag thing seems to be purely American. We hang out the Papal flag (really it’s the Vatican flag) with bunting outside churches for occasions such as confirmations, but it is not at all the practice to have it, much less the national flag as well, inside the church as a common thing.

          Are you surprised to learn that there very nearly was a heresy called “Americanism”? 😉

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        Could be wrong on this thought but, I don’t know that it’s the pastors that have the issue with flags (there are exceptions of course in our area of the country) – I think it’s more the people in the pews that have that issue. We’ve always had them and all the other lame arguments that you and I know so well. At my last church I put them in the far corners near the exit doors on each side of the front of the auditorium – that was still to obvious for me but is about as good as could be done it minimize their presence. Never got them completely out of the room though.

      • ReadMoreMom says

        This is a surprise to me that many of you are so against flags. I’m not wedded to them and wouldn’t argue that they are necessary, but I do enjoy having them in the back of the sanctuary where I worship. We have a wall of hanging flags representing all the nations where we have have done mission work. You only see them when entering or leaving, but they are a reminder for me to pray for all the nations and a reminder of heaven where there will be a great multitude from every nation, tribe, and people standing before the throne in front of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:8) I could be critical of several things about my church, but flags isn’t one of them. They actually give me a feeling of connectedness with the church universal, remind me that American Christendom is not all there is, and remind me that Christians in many lands suffer for their faith. Does this make me an idolater?

        • No Embassy flys the colors of the host country inside the embassy. I think the church building should be treated no less than our embassies.

          The countries and flags represented will come and go – our connection to the church universal is our prayers for those under persecution and for the church as a whole.

      • The American flag in a worship space is a symbol of the domain of a pagan government. I do not worship America. I can pray for America without the symbol of its authority in my worship service.

        Flags outside of the worship space to remind someone to pray is fine, but why not just put up names of countries? I don’t know 10 countries by their flags.
        Can you imagine the first century Christians having up the Roman Eagle in their worship.

        We have a different king and are citizens of a different kingdom.

        • Fearsome Comrade says

          Fun fact: Lutherans introduced flags into the sanctuary during WWI. As many Lutherans were German-speaking at the time, they were under pressure to prove their patriotism.

    • Ditto. I know an E. Free church which moved the flags to the foyer. I was very impressed.

  10. Just coming from a church planter perspective and a guy who is now experiencing “church” in apts and warehouses… I find the sacred space thing tough to get my Biblical brain around. Is a swimming pool sacred when you baptize in it. Does wine (or juice) become sacred or crackers or pita bread when used in worship. Want to hear more on “sacred space” from Scriptures when you get time. PS Love your stuff.

    • Christiane/L's says

      You wrote: ” Is a swimming pool sacred when you baptize in it. ”

      Yes. It has something to do with this verse in Scripture:

      ” . . . the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen 1:2) …”

      The waters of the Earth have all been blessed.

  11. I don’t want to be rude, because I love you guys, but this isn’t going to become the “Let the Catholiics Explain What They Are Doing” thread.

    I’m not critiquing evangelical worship. I’m explaining a generic version of it that reflects my approach.

    • Christiane/L's says

      Sorry Michael, it is hard to know the parameters. I will learn from my mistake.

    • Not a mistake. Past experience here at IM predicts what will happen when happy Catholics get a chance to tell evangelicals their story. We’ve done that a lot here. I’m trying to not do it with this.

      • Christiane/L's says

        Not offended at all. I am enjoying your blog. AND I will try to respect limits.
        If I ‘stray’, it will not be intentional, I assure you. But please delete if I go over a limit.
        No hard feelings if you delete.

    • Annnd – that’s exactly what I’m doing again, isn’t it?

      Sorry, Michael. It’s just that the impulse to explain “No, we’re not actually inventing this out of whole cloth, there are reasons we do this crazy stuff!” is very hard to resist, particularly when you’re not going to be called an idolater/follower of the Scarlet Woman/spawn of the Antichrist for doing so.

  12. We have a split chancel and choir, with the lecturn and pulpit on either side and the altar table (how’s that for a compromise?) behind them and in the middle, portraying that the centrality of the communion with Christ and that it is the setting for proclaiming the Word.

    Oh, and we’re Baptist. Not your daddy’s Baptist church, though.

    • I absolutely love that. The “higher” liturgy Baptist churches are out there, but mostly under the radar. I love the more old south, formal Baptist tradition when done well.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        Definately under the radar – I’m raking my brain about baptist churches here and none are “higher” liturgy as you describe…. not even FBC downtown which is probably the most traditional in the area. Would like to find one though.

      • I spoke on the Creeds at this evening’s service. One of the ladies at our fellowship said that when she was growing up, the local 1st Baptist church in our city recited the Nicene Creed. That was suprising to me in a good way.

  13. I am glad you said, “a split chancel is no hindrance to the centrality of the Word,” but I know that them’s fightin’ words in many churches. Smacks o’ liberalism, you know.

  14. I might add the dictum (as originally conveyed by Winston Churchill, I believe) the ‘we shape our buildings and then they shape us.’ There is certainly a place to criticize the shopping mall architecture in many modern evangelical churches–given that our worship spaces in some way reflect our view of who God is. I don’t want to think to deeply on the fact that many church complexes do in fact look like shopping malls.

  15. One of my assumptions here is that most congregations are small and many will never own or build a building. That’s why I keep talking about limited resources and flexibility.

  16. Like the overview.

    I do see the reasons to prefer chairs, but I also would like pews and kneelers. At my church, we have pews but no kneelers, and the pews are spaced too close together for kneeling to a regular thing. Indeed, I don’t remember ever communally kneeling to pray or anything.

    • I don’t know of an evangelical church that would have kneelers. Creates some hazards for moving in and out of a pew that can be problematic. (I’m all for kneeling in prayer btw)

      • it allows college students to accidentally make lots of noise during recitals too…

        • “accidentally”
          I have this bridge…

          “There is much to not like about pews, and much to like about a good collection of chairs that can be rearranged.”

          Pews have a nice advantage in that what airlines call “customers of size” can fit easily. Plus those 2, 3 and 4 year olds can lay down and sleep easier. 🙂

    • Northeasterner says

      Kneelers would be nice, but my church doesn’t have them. I put my kneecaps on the hardwood which is uncomfortable and awkward. Most of my congregation does not do this, but it helps draw my attention to the confession that my lips are speaking.

  17. there may be other versions, but i know folks who will not go to a baptist church unless it has the church Covenant posted, the one by J. Newton Brown I think, I could be wrong, also don’t forget the SS boards and the offering boards, when i first went into an anglican church i was like “dude? why are the song numbers on the ss board?”

    serioiusly though, if i could design a perfect baptist church

    at the entrance would be an in-floor baptismal pool, a central isle, with pews facing in towards each other, a table in the center, with a “pulpit” on the other end, that or a table in the front with a split chancel

    I like the symbolism of the gospel being carried out amongst the congregation and read there

  18. The old order Anabaptists still kneel. Found that out the other day when my Old Order Dunkard Brethren – German Baptist raised parents visited our Evangelical Anglican service. Odd world. Amen on the flags.

    • You will all think I’m crazy, but I have two constant concerns about kneelers:

      1) tripping resulting in serious injury, esp broken hips for elderly
      2) small children’s fingers caught in the mechanism when someone doesn’t realize it

      • Yup, there is a whole process to be used with kneelers. When putting it down, you first make sure that you are not about to land it on someone’s foot. When putting it up, you make sure the person in the pew in front of you does not have such long legs that you will hit their foot if they happen to still be kneeling. It would be nice if you put it up and down without making a racket, but I think some folks like to make that thump…it says “I have now put down the kneeler. Take note, world!” Some kneelers are positioned too far away from the pew seat so that you cannot comfortably kneel PLUS rest your butt on the pew the way I (with my hurting back) and many others do. I am happy that the Catholic Church building where I go has positioned them nicely. That pew is kind of hard as my butt hits up against it, but I do have lots of “natural padding!”

      • Really? I have attended a church with kneelers for decades, and never have I once witnessed or heard of anyone being injured by them. My regular service is the 4:00 p.m. “geezer mass” with more canes, walkers and wheelchairs than you can imagine, and these parishioners manage the kneelers just fine.

        I suppose sensible pew spacing might have something to do with it. But also, the kneelers are only down when it’s time to kneel. They are flipped up when they are not needed.

        And yes, if you introduce kneelers to a church that never had them before, the kids might try to fool around with them at first. But they’ll find that 1) they aren’t much fun, and 2) an adult in their pew will quickly deal with kneeler abuse.

  19. I like church buildings with flags from many nations, especially if they represent actual missionaries to those countries.

    • That was a great piece!

      Is this just an American practice? Are there national flags in evangelical sanctuaries in other countries?

      • Germany in the 30s and 1st half of the 40s. Guess which flag. And why German Christians are aghast when they visit a church in the US with the US flag up front.

      • It is fairly common in some very missions minded Evangelical churches here in Canada to have flags from all over the world, signifying all nations before the throne. A good intention, but I agree with Michael that they are better left out of the sanctuary.

  20. “What is important is to know that the evangelical worship space is free to be as simple or as complex as a particular congregation may desire it to be. There should be a new covenant sense of freedom in arranging and rearranging the worship space.”

    Amen. I think the items you mentioned (baptistry, communion table, cross, altar railing, etc.) are items with a universal place and meaning throughout the history of the church and shouldn’t confound any attempt at cultural diversity within a congregation. Other things can be added or removed, based on the expression of a particular congregation. I don’t think the battle is against looking Catholic but against feeling the need to look white and western.

    Besides the whole law-gospel thing, Lutherans have a pretty good grasp on the subject of “adiaphora”, or “indifferent things”. What makes something essential is whether or not it supports the proclamation of the gospel. It doesn’t mean other things can’t be included, but they are not to be used in a way which distracts the gospel message. If distraction occurs, these items should be removed or de-emphasized. I think this is a healthy view, because it also avoids unhealthy, dehumanizing asceticism. It also permits congregations to live within their means: if a church can proclaim the gospel from a tiny chapel or a converted movie theater, it shouldn’t undertake an expensive building project. God’s grace is sufficient.

  21. Sounds lutheran, except for the altar and flags. After wwi, lutherans had to show their patriotism, and its been tough to get those flags out of there. I don’t think its a big deal, we have christian freedom in such things, and it helps remind us of the two kingdoms God has instituded on earth.

  22. so they had liturgy to go along with that amazing building? wish I could find that here – I can’t even find a UMC thats actually liturgical in this part of the south…

  23. BTW, Highland Baptist is one beautiful church. One of the most beautiful, gothic revival structures in my city is an old baptist church.

  24. I look forward to this series. I hate to admit it but if how a space is laid out says something about our worship then my church is in sad shape. The focal point up front is the band/equipment. We have no pulpit-the pastor simply stands up front. The communion table is up front but we have theater style pews (sloping downward back to front) so you can scarcely see it. And your comment about overamplification of music being worse than insufficient volume-amen, and amen to that!

  25. Thoughts

    1. Assistive Listening Devices such as Audio Loop systems may be extremely useful to those in the congregation who are hard of hearing

    2. Making sure people in wheelchairs or who have difficulty in walking can get into the worship space.

    3. I’ve seen kneelers both of the long cushioned plank sort that folds down and also of rectangular firm individual cushions that hang from a hook until put on the ground.

    • Most of the older Catholic churches over here in Europe have kneelers which don’t fold up thus no mechanism to get kiddie’s fingers hurt. Hardly hear of people, even old people, tripping — I guess if you grow up that way and are thoroughly familiar with them you are not likely to trip on them.

  26. I guess your statement about no flags was about not having an American flag (and/or Christian flag) in the main meeting room? (By the way, a Christian flag? Only in America, I guess.)

    One of the things we did in my church in the US is put up flags with all the countries we were involved with through missions. Hence, we were in America, so we put up an American flag because we were walking out mission in the US. But, again, it was hanging along with multiple other flags. I wouldn’t suggest putting up the American flag (or Christian flag) for some obligatory religious reason.

    Also, being currently in an international community in Brussels with about 10 or 12 nations, I have considered putting up flags of all nations from which our people come from. Hence, an American flag would be raised because at least I am there (though there are other Americans). 🙂

    I just can’t see the problem with raising flags of nations, unless it is for that religious reason that some churches think they always need to have the American and Christian flag raised (but then they get into the debate of which one should be raised higher – eeeesh!).

    I’m assuming you would be ok with that, iMonk. 🙂

  27. Steve Newell says

    In the Lutheran tradition, the Worship Space must also contain a place for the Sacraments: The Alter and the Baptismal Font along with the Pulpit. This is reflects the fact that God comes to us through Word and Sacraments. Many churches have no place for either the Alter or the Baptismal Font/Pool as part of their worship space. This is at odds with Church design over the centuries.

    Another aspect is to have the “praise” band up front along with the Pastor. In traditional church design, the chair and musicians set in the back, usually in a balcony compared to the many of today’s churches which place it at the front. I would like to see how many praise bands would be willing to move from the front to the back of the church. Their role is not to “entertain” those at worship but to help lead. It is interesting to observe how many musicians “act” when they are infront of those at worship compared to when they are behind. There should be no difference but there is many times.

    • Our Episcopal parish (St. Bartholomew’s) in suburban Nashville (www.stbs.net) has been using modern worship music, in concert with traditional hymns for over twenty years, all from the choir loft in the balcony behind the congregation. No projection – the words are in the service bulletin. The congregation faces forward with eyes on the cross and altar, as the music is led from behind. Hymns with the pipe organ, as well as modern music with acoustic grand piano (no synth), guitar, bass, percussion (not a drum set), and usually one other instrument (cello, flute, harp, accordion, etc.). The organ will also join the other instruments at times. I wouldn’t have it any other way, nor would our congregation. And it does weed out those looking for a platform to become a famous worship leader.

  28. Returned just in time for the summer series on church design. Like the other comments, love the flag dialogue (and the pledging of the flag in the sanctuary – respect and love our God by keeping the flag out of the sanctuary, please). Now that I have seen several Evangelical churches in the Midwest (thanks to the valuable phenomenon called Junior Bible Quiz or Bible Quiz Team), I really like the fact that some churches can dunk for baptism and then clear away the aisles and practice their behind the back basketball dunks. Oh yeah, and sell concessions during the game as well. We’ve come a long way from the cathedrals of old.

    Two quick but unrelated questions: a) Coffee or beverages in the church – is this a future post? b) stained glass – does that become a distraction?

    • “Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?”

      The first time I came to worship and someone walked in behind me with a full Mcdonald’s meal, I was stunned. If someone has an area to serve coffee, great. Keep it out of the worship space. It’s antithetical to worship.

      • *jaw dropped*

        You know it’s going to be a long sermon when the congregation bring their lunch in with them 🙂

        I have to hear that story, Michael. What? Where? When?

      • Many evangelical churches have become so informal that bringing food into the sanctuary/worship center is quite acceptable. In many newer evangelical churches it is quite common.

      • “If someone has an area to serve coffee, great. Keep it out of the worship space.”

        There should be no need. Most SBC churches around here have it in the halls outside of the SS rooms. Otherwise no one would go to SS. 🙂

      • What about smaller churches that meet in a single space that is used for all purposes- meals, outreach, etc.? We meet for a meal every Sunday, then clean up and have the service in the same space. Can I assume that, with the food kept out of the worship time, this would be ok in your perspective?

  29. I don’t see it in every Catholic church building I don’t think, but in ours we have a U.S. flag and a “Catholic flag” – actually the flag of Vatican City. I won’t go into my opinions about whether there even should be a Vatican City state (maybe I just did) but I could do without the American flag I have to walk by periodically. I say – in my context – let’s keep the church “catholic” (universal) and keep the country flags out. Ah well, I just do my best to ignore it.

    Kneelers – never seen anybody fall or any fingers get chopped off. I think it’s a matter of something you get used to. If it’s part of your church “culture” people will learn to deal with it. I’ve been in a few Catholic churches that don’t have kneelers. I don’t like it. They do make those chairs with kneelers on the bottom too – for the pragmatic moving around concerns.

    • I agree with you, Alan. I never saw or heard of anyone getting injured because of the kneelers. It is one of the things I miss since leaving the RC. But then again, there is no way my current congregation can afford to have all the spaces my former RC parish owned. We only have our sanctuary, worship space, or whatever you want to call it and that space must be able to be reconfigured for many different types of gatherings.

  30. we use pillows for ‘kneelers”… when u see a pillow, get on it and pray… works on our concrete floors and in limited space like an apartment living room. You can also sit on them if for some health reason you can’t kneel. I like the little personal kneelers best with the table for the Bible on them. Love to design a worship space using only them… study and sing and pray from the kneeler.

    • I would like to see the personal kneelers, Bobby. If I had space in my house, I would like a little prayer room. But I don’t have the space. I pray lying on my bed, sitting in my chair, etc.

  31. Altar – kind of sad that we are so put off by the idea / word “altar”. Perhaps because of abuse in the past or because we want to emphasize that Jesus removed the need for the sacrificial altar once and for all… But in the Tabernacle there was the altar of sacrifice and also the altar of incense. The altar of incense is what is depicted in Revelations as the altar where the prayers of the saints waft up like perfume as a constant remembrance before the Lord. I love remembering that as I pray, I’m actually bringing my prayers as an offering of incense and putting it on that altar right before the Lord as He’s reigning from His throne. It helps me rather than thinking of abstract prayers just vaporizing into space. The altar reflects a heavenly reality.

    Anyway, just mentioning that since you’re talking about finding, or rather placing, meaning in our worship services.

  32. iMonk,

    Count me confused.

    First, I’m not sure how much of this supposed to be prescriptive and how much is supposed to be descriptive. This describes, for me, most Evangelical church spaces in America today. And yet, you use the word “ought” throughout, as if what is currently common practice is something you recommend. That doesn’t square with the intro to this series, in which you say that the future for evangelicalism is in adopting “the resources of larger, deeper, more ancient church.”

    In keeping with that expressed desire to see protestant churches become “post-evangelical,” I’m also surprised at all the hairsplitting in these comments about what is Lutheran, Catholic, etc. The distinctions in worship spaces in these traditions, in my mind, are mostly cultural and not theological. Or if they really are theological, than we are missing the forest for the trees, since we have bigger fish to fry than what to call the surface on which we place the wine and the bread.

    My biggest bone of contention with most evangelical worship spaces is that they are so artless. I think evangelical protestants have been so caught up with function that they have neglected the art of the worship space. I wrote a whole post about church buildings on my blog (http://lamentations323.blogspot.com/2009/04/in-defense-of-church-buildings.html), but the gist of it is this: our buildings, like anything else we create for worship, should aspire to become ikons, windows through which we glimpse the Creator.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I think evangelicals should be much more adventurous in their worship space design, but in a far more artistic and reflective way than they have been. I other words, let’s not use our adventurousness to merely replace pews with chairs, or apply greater aesthetics merely by choosing a tasteful color of speaker-cloth to cover the speakers.

    A worship space should be more than just “not distracting.”

    • Steve Newell says

      The design of a church can say quit a bit on their theology: Churches with a Sacramental Theology will have the Pulpit, Alter and Baptismal Font at prominent part of the worship space. In many churches, the cross is the center of the Naive.

      • The design of a church can also say a great deal about their means (or lack thereof). Many churches- increasingly so- are having to share space, use non-traditional space, etc. for lack of options. Some of these factors listed here are ideals, not available to all. Having traveled and visited churches around the developing world, this topic takes on a different direction.

  33. In response to the space – especially including art – I propose that the construction deliberately include natural materials, stone, finished wood, and so on to give a sense of permanence as well as a more, I don’t know how to describe it – earthiness (?) as opposed to the aseptical/utilitarian nature of so much of our architecture and building styles today – the picture for the thread demonstrates this bland and almost sterile nature perfectly.

    • I deliberately said that many/most evangelical congregations will never be able to build. Building is not a foundation of my views on worship.

      • I agree that a building is not the foundation of worship – but I think Sacred space should be as your post mentions. My post above leans heavily on architecture. I reread your post – I still think the principal stand in my post stands in relation also to the items used a space designated for worship. The worshipping space/community is best served if the items tend to the earthy side of the spectrum versus artificial (Wood versus Plastic for example).

        Space used in Worship can be affected simply by the gathering of the people and the materials set aside for use in Worship. Its been a recent “fad” among some of the newer Lutheran churches I have seen to make the pulpits and lecterns out of solid tree stumps, stripped of bark and varnished and thats it.

        The binding for the church Bible, the Vessels used for Communion, the Baptismal Font – can be seen as opportunities in art as well giving careful consideration of the materials they are constructed of – these items alone, in their construction, can add volumes to a blank space, and like the tree stumps, you don’t need an ecclesiastical supplier, just some wood workers, perhaps potters, some people that sew – God gives the congregation what they need – to transfer the mundane, the secular, or the blank space into something that bespeaks the sacred.

        I’m familiar with a lack of a building – on hospital calls and shut-in visits, many people would find it amazing what becomes the table/altar for communion – but I always lay a cloth (cut from the very altar cloth used in our church – thus connecting that space, even if it is in Intensive Care – to the community gathered on Sunday), and use well crafted, beautiful vessels. It is not necessary of course.

  34. Our pastor preaches from a stool. No pulpit, just a music stand. I assume Jesus would do the same. No pulpits on the mount. However, convincing my church to include a pulpit as well as a sanctuary copy of scripture will prove unreasonably difficult.
    The flip side of the coin is we actually had somebody leave the church over us not having a pulpit. Seriously…. his actual reason!

  35. “Evangelicals should understand the concept of sacred space…” As I process my Christian walk I don’t know that a building should have any signifance as sacred space. God is with me wherever I am, I can worship him wherever I am. It’s true buildings are very useful for corporate worship but to say we can only experiance God in a particular room in a partictular building does not seem right to me.

    • The concept of sacred space doesn’t mean you believe you can only experience God in a room.

      This comment makes me want to close the discussion. Do I really have to defend the idea of sacred space? Why don’t we just deconstruct everything so that nothing we do matters at all. Wow.

      • Not to put you on the defense, Michael, but a brief explanation of what sacred space is and why it’s important would be helpful to those of us who honestly don’t get it.

      • Space dedicated to what is sacred.

        Wrigley Field= sacred space.

        Not the only place the sacred appears, but where our primary purpose is to meet and recognize the sacred.

        If you say that everything is sacred it’s a recognition of one kind of truth. If you say nothing is sacred, it’s another. Somewhere in the middle is the recognition that even the new covenant recognizes that the gathering of believers is a different purpose than a gathering of fishermen. God is at both, but one is dedicated to the purpose of hearing and worshiping God.

        A sacred space is a space that we dedicate to the work of worship, or contemplation, or prayer.

        I have a sacred space in my classroom. We have several on our campus. It’s not bounding God, it’s intentionally recognizing God.

  36. If a church chooses not to have a pulpit, cross on display, or has a flag, does any of that really matter?

  37. The evangelical church I most recently attended had flags. US and Christian. And during “missions emphasis” weeks, they put little paper flags all around the cross (plain wood, nicely stained cross that was over the Baptismal Tub. At one point in time, it was either the Christian flag or another one that stood taller than the US flag. I confess I reminded the leadership of the US Flag Code. The US flag is to stand taller and be to the one side of the other, either separate or together.

    Looking back, the US flag had no place in the auditorium. Of course, neither did the Christian flag. It’s an icon.

    The worship band was called the “worship team” because ‘band’ sounded “entertainy”. The youth group’s band took center stage during youth meetings, but the Sunday AM band had to be off to the side. Just not a lot of consistancy in the use of sacred space.

    Of course, I don’t believe that the space itself is sacred. I’m sure Monk will probably turn on mod after this, but when the curtain tore top-down, not only were we given freedom to enter the Holy of Holies, but God, Himself, came out to join men and women and work among us.

    Rob Bell comments in a recent sermon about the fact that Jesus is in the common and too often we place premium on space, time, and money (including professions) while discounting other space, time, and money building the Kingdom outside of the sacred space.

    Michael, I’m just getting going on this series, but it looks really good and I look forward to reading along to the end.

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