Back in college my professor of American religion gave us an interesting assignment. We had to visit a number of local churches, sit in their sanctuaries, and write down our observations of the spaces. Based on these observations, we were to deduce the theological beliefs of each congregation. How were the seats arranged? What was the visual focus of the space? Why did the Presbyterian church have a soaring pulpit? Why did the Episcopal church have a baptismal font at the entrance? (The most fascinating churches were ones where their explicit theology did not conform to the implicit theology communicated by their space.)
Because of this assignment I was intrigued (and rather proud) when I discovered my 9-year-old daughter conducting a similar exercise. A few years ago, Zoe had joined me at a number of different churches. During one of the services I noticed her writing in her journal. She later showed me a list of things she had observed in the worship gathering that were different from our home church.
The fact that she did this on her own, with no knowledge of each church’s theology, ecclesiology, or philosophy of ministry, meant her observations were the simple insights of a 9-year-old. But I was fascinated by what she noticed, what she didn’t notice, and what left an impact on her.
Based on Zoe’s notes, I think I can conclude that the non-verbal elements of each church impacted her most. Symbols were very effective. What might we learn by viewing our worship gatherings through the eyes of a child? What values are we implicitly communicating by our spaces, music, and liturgy? What do we hope people leave with?
Here are Zoe’s observations from two churches. I’ve copied them here in their raw, unedited form:
1. When you are singing the first song the pastors walk down the isle and the first is holding a gold cross that is placed on a wooden stick thingy.
2. One of the pastors walking down the isle and close to the end is holding a very pretty looking bible. When she gets to the stage she places it on a wooden table.
3. The pastors are dressed in decrotive robes.
4. The church does not have a screen that has the words of the songs and passeges and prayers. instead they have a little books that has all the songs and prayer in them.
5. The pastors sit on little wooden chairs and listen to who is talking.
6. They have time to confess their sins and the pastors sit on their knees.
7. One of the pastors prepares the table for cumuan.
8. During cumun someone in a plain white robe holds the bible.
9. They say this during cumuan “Christ has died and Christ has risen Christ will come again”
10. The pastors bow after they finish talking during cumuan.
11. When you are taking cumuan there is one cup that the adults drink from and after the person that is holding the cup wipes it.
12. When church is almost over one of the people in the plain white robes holds the gold cross and when it goes down the isle you have to bow.
1. They have 3 screens
2. In the back there is a little station that does the lights and screens
3. There are 2 girls singing. And when you sing the lights turn off and these cool lights go on. The music is really loud.
4. In the seat in front of you their is a poket and in that poket their is a welcom thingy and an evolope wich you can give money with
5. There is no cross in the front
6. Their are cool but weird things on the walls
7. Very cool set up
8. There is a coffee shop