Article Art by Steve Stone

Crafting an Experience

Posted by Michael Buckingham on July 01, 2012.

Author: Michael Buckingham

The church should be applauded for stepping up to the challenge of bringing creativity, design, and art into our weekend services. We’ve come a long way since clipart and pixelated images. As we continue to embrace the look of church and how we communicate we can now begin to look at the feel of church. The evolution of design in the church is experience, where look and feel comes together.

As artists, it is tempting to jump to the good stuff, the big creative ideas, the new design style you’ve been itching to try out; you’re an artist and artists live to create. But before we can create we must understand why we are creating. This can be one of the most challenging processes of creation, but it is the most important. Take a sermon series as an example, we get the topic and we start digging into a name for the series. Our creative team just did this for a series on prayer. We talked about prayer and the amazing gift of being able to talk to God, hearing His voice, etc. and came up with two title suggestions, “Whispers” and “Conversations” (the pastor prefers one word titles). We started talking about different directions we could take each of these creatively, video ideas, styles for design…but we were missing an important part.

When we gave the ideas to the pastor, they didn’t resonate. As we talked and asked questions the reason was clear: the pastor was talking about the power of prayer, how it moved mountains not the soft relational side of prayer. With this vital element we put together “Breakthrough”, and shot a video of someone running through a brick wall to set the stage for a series on the power of prayer.

Experience must center on saying something, not just looking good.

Experience must center on saying something, not just looking good.
Discover what type of emotions you’re touching on, the scriptural basis you’re starting from and also the context of other series surrounding it. Part of the reason for going with the power of prayer was because we just came out of a softer, I ❤ Church series. Just as a sermon needs ebb and flow, so do our preaching series.
Just as a sermon needs ebb and flow, so do our preaching series.

Once you have the why nailed down you can dig into the fun stuff. This is where the “feel” of experience comes to life. For me I focus on three areas:

  • Creating surprise
  • Causing people to pause
  • Adding dimension

Creating Surprise

The brain hates being bored.

The brain hates being bored.
 It’s why your camera shot is constantly changing; why songs have highs and lows and why creating something to go on your screens isn’t enough. This isn’t just a cultural thing, this is how our brains our wired. When we give something unexpected, the brain, specifically Broca’s Area, lights up. Broca is a major player in our decisions and persuasions. Roy Williams has done some extensive, and brilliant, study on this in all his books and talks about it often in his Monday Morning Memo.

An example: We did a family series in which people could write down their questions, challenges, etc. Normally these would be dropped into a bucket or box somewhere. But for this series we built a house out front of church with a mailbox, as you walked into the churches mailboxes, complete with fake grass, where all over the church. This is where you dropped your questions.

Causing People to Pause

Closely tied to surprise is creating something that causes people to pause, even if for just a second. Especially on a Sunday morning, people get into normal rhythms and just go through the motions. It’s why so many accidents happen on the way to and from work, people are within their zone and don’t see anything else. By creating something that generates pause; you have thrown of their rhythm and have their attention.

An example: For a financial series (talk about the need to grab people’s attention) we created a series brand “Navigate”, the graphic was a maze. As soon as you hit the pavement in front of the church there was a dotted line (created from gaff tape) winding throughout the church building leading up to the sanctuary doors. An added bonus was sitting back and watching people subconsciously follow the dotted lines. This not only caused people to pause (people actually started talking about the lines) but it also connected to the series art. Which brings us to the third area to look at.

Adding Dimension

Often when we talk experience, we start at the stage design. There are even websites dedicated to stage design (nice subtle plug). But we can’t stop there. I tell creative teams to look at all the layers that make up church: stage, lobby, kids area, entrance, parking lot, and community. Each of these zones are opportunities to bring dimension to your brand. Repetition is the key to mastery, and when combined with surprise or pause captures people.

An example: I was working on a standalone sermon about listening to God. Side note: Stand alone sermons are the most challenging since you only get one shot at it, but just as important as a 4 week series. Our challenge was to talk for :45 about quiet time with God. See the irony, we’re talking about being quiet. Our solution was “static”. We brought dozens of TVs into the church, lobby, etc. all put on static (which is actually very difficult as most want to go to blue screen). But the experience went beyond just the lobby it also found it’s way into the sermon. It opened with the pastor walking on stage, sitting in a chair, and all the screens filled with static, with words introducing the sermon. The pastor would preach for :10 sit back down, and back to static. It was a standalone sermon, but the number one sermon people talked about all year.

Focusing on experience doesn’t have to be an expensive effort either. I worked with a pastor on a sermon called “Hello, my name is” that focused on how God sees people. A secretary printed off dozens and dozens of sheets of paper that were used to label everything in the church (door, church, usher, pew, etc.). Cost very little but it grabbed people’s attention and set the stage for everything to come.

As you enter into your next series, ask the team what new layers can you bring, what can you do to create surprise or cause people to pause and enjoy the experience of church.

About the Author

Michael Buckingham | T
Michael Buckingham is Experience Pastor at Victory World Church in Atlanta and Owner of Holy Cow! Creative, focused on the how of church and the art of preaching. Michael is working to launch Creative Cadre, a place for creative peer critique. Sign up to receive more information here.

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