Let me just say, right up front, that you may strongly disagree with my perspective. That’s healthy. I just want to get this topic out in the open. There is a specific change to our local churches that I’ve observed during the past twenty years. This change concerns me because some church leaders have added sophistry to their churches because they think their church will grow if it looks like a megachurch.
Most local church buildings can be categorized into two distinct styles of buildings: theaters and modern-traditional.
Let me start by stating that I am not condemning “theater” churches; I just have a concern about them. These modern church sanctuaries are built to be theaters. The walls and ceiling are painted black. Windows have been painted over. There is a sophisticated lighting system that helps to create a theater atmosphere. All eyes are on the stage. The things that the church considers valuable occur on the stage, under the stage lights, and performed by people on stage.
By building a black sanctuary with bright lights shining on the stage, the local church seems to imply that the people on stage are more important than their congregation. To increase this sophistry, the local church has a “house band” that hosts the best musical talent in the church.
This idea of member-spectators most certainly isn’t the local church’s intent, and I’m sure the local church is not purposefully implying that the people on stage are the “important” ones. Still, it is hard to deny that these modern theater churches easily accommodate spectators.
The other common type of church is modern-traditional. The church has padded pews, a good sound system, and well-engineered temperature controls. However, this modern-traditional church is painted in colors that help emphasize a well-lit sanctuary while avoiding harsh light.
Usually, there are plenty of windows in these buildings so people outside can see the congregation; when and where (i.e., in Sunday school rooms) people meet. The local church’s building is as transparent as possible, demonstrating that all are welcome, and nothing weird is going on. There are plenty of modern-traditional churches that use stained glass to fill the sanctuary with myriad colors.
In the sanctuary, there often is a lot of wood. Wood points us to the cross of Christ. Finally, the parking lot is often in front of the church building so passersby can see that the local church is alive and learn when the congregation meets. Typically, the sanctuary is full of light because the local church is everyone. Certain people serve Biblical offices in the church, but as Jesus said:
“And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”Mark 9:35
Please endure my opinion. Regarding the life of a congregation, I’ve observed a distinct advantage that modern-traditional churches have over theater churches. It is much easier for members to identify people who visit or attend their church. My wife and I attended a theater-style church for five years and regularly had someone ask us if that was our first time for us visiting the church. In modern-traditional churches, because the lights are on, everyone can more easily see needs in the congregation during the service. It’s easy to spot mothers that need some relief, couples that need some help, and fathers that are hurting.
When we see these needs in the congregation, the ministry for them comes from the congregation. The congregation is a family.
It Seems Wise
There can be a highly effective congregational ministry in theater churches, but this usually comes from ancillary church activities – small groups, soup kitchens, and so forth. But, to know the congregation, a member would have to participate in all of the ancillary church ministries to know the people.
I am not saying that it’s a sin if your local church is a theater church; however, with all of the recent shootings, I do think it may be safer for the congregation to keep their lights on. And I do believe there are some downsides to theater churches that are difficult to overcome. I am reminded that believers “are all children of light, children of the day…” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Light is a central theme of God’s Word. So is it wise for followers of Jesus to hold their congregational gatherings in darkness when we have the freedom in this country to hold them in the light?
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