How to make it happen: a beginners' guide

by Paul Roberts 2002 [edited 2012]

The worship environment - layout

This is really up to you. You need to think of:

  • Lines of visibility

  • Safety issues of access to exits

  • Whether you want chairs, or have people sitting on the floor. (Cold stone floors can be tough going...) Remember that having NO chairs might be a bit age-ist or discriminatory against anyone in a wheelchair.

  • What physical points of focus you require besides the screens - you need to take care that the whole service doesn't become an exercise in watching TV.

  • What activities people are going to be doing during your service and how they're going to move in the space

  • Whether you have any focus on a 'leader' - most alternative worship services don't, so the positioning and numbers of people guiding folk through the service is non-critical.

Common environmental techniques

  • Using 'stations' as points of prayer and visual focus: these are small artistic installations, which may have art, poetry, interactive stuff (like writing), symbols (like water/handwashing), or something thematic about them. Usually people are at some point given a chance to visit them and partake in some act of prayer or devotion.

  • Static image 'wash' - filling the space with images which don't change much - use your older slide projectors for this. It's arguable that a non-changing image should be very simple so as not to distract from more detailed stuff going up elsewhere. Logos, simple bits of writing, or basic symbols might be good for this, normally light on dark background so as not to affect the ambient lighting of the space.

  • Ambient music - to give a mood to the place, without distracting the range of personal internal stuff that people might be processing.

  • Coloured cloth or netting hanging from the ceiling - netting is nice because it can be hung across a projector beam and picks up a 'ghost' image of something that's being thrown onto a screen without interfering with the projected beam.

  • Worship/Non-worship Space Demarcation - based on the idea that you have to go through a transitionary experience to really focus on worship. Some services guide people through a particular physical route before entering the worship environment, so that the worship space is set apart as 'special'. On the way in, people may remove shoes, wash hands, etc. to physically prepare themselves and focus before worship. This also makes the sense of being 'gathered together' very apparent.

  • Ultra-violet light - available from most disco lighting suppliers. These mean that any white cloth (not off-white calico) shines brilliantly, even when the visible light isn't very bright. This can be particularly useful if you need people to be able to read something on white sheets of paper, or suddenly want to make white paper shapes shine out somewhere in the environment.

  • A central sculpture - if you need a major point of focus. Can be made from all manner of temporary constructions. Someone in the group will enjoy making this!

The worship environment - safety

As you're changing the layout of the environment, it's important that everyone on the team knows where the exits are, and what to do in an emergency.

It's important that fire extinguishers are not obstructed by equipment or screens. If necessary, move them (remembering to replace them when you finish) to locations where they can be seen and accessed. However, make sure they're not positioned where they could be knocked over and hurt someone. Different countries have different rules about this, so it's worth doing your homework.

Since it's common for alternative worship to use naked flames, fabric screens, electronics and water, remember that these have to be kept away from each other.

Don't ever use suspect or ancient electrical appliances in your services. Keep water extinguishers away from oil-based flames and electrical equipment. Dry foam or carbon dioxide extinguishers should be used.

When setting-up, be careful in your use of ladders. Use good quality, new ladders, and treat with the greatest care when you move them about the space. Make sure two people carry the ladders - one at the front, and one at the back.

Don't set-up or take-down in a hurry. Ladders and PA cables don't mix well, so it's wise to use ladders first before laying cables during set-up, then remove cables first before using ladders at take-down.