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Communicating Without Words

Communicating Without Words

The Sunday morning worship gathering is about attention and focus. Those in charge of producing the service have the job of arresting people’s attention and helping the community collectively focus on a central teaching or theme.

When tasked with communicating a message on Sunday morning, the elements that get the most attention are the sermon and the music. From the offset, there’s typically a central theme or concept around which the worship service revolves. Once the big idea is established, common threads can be weaved throughout the service. Music, message, and atmosphere can be crafted in a cohesive and complementary fashion. And services often end there – with a strong message supported by complimentary music and message. It normally works.

However, visual communication is often overlooked in our worship gatherings. At best, it’s often seen as icing on the cake or beneficial – but not needed. I’d suggest that it’s not only needed, but can be the most important method of communication during a worship gathering. That may come across as overly dramatic, but that’s only because we tend to focus so heavily on the sermon. If you look back over church history, however, you’ll discover that visual communication has always been engrained in worship gatherings.

We have seen 2,000 years of visual communication through magnificent architecture, stained glass, and icons. It is clear that the need for visual communication is not a result of our modern, digital age, but is a deep and rich part of our faith.

So how is the 21st century church to engage in visual communication? I would suggest a few simple steps to executing visual communication effectively.

Form After Function

The form of your visual communication must serve a purpose. As mentioned before, our focus is drawn toward God as a result of interacting with visual cues in a worship service. The vaulted ceilings and ornate craftsmanship in grand cathedrals literally draw our eyes upward. And while the 21st century church could stand to benefit from a dose of beauty in both her buildings and worship services, we aren’t talking about beauty for beauty’s sake. This is beauty that serves as a signpost to Beauty.

Chances are, it’s not in the budget to build a medieval facility boasting limestone and stained glass. You may not have Byzantine era icons lying around. But, you can apply the concept that beauty serves as a way to point people to the Creator in your own context. You can use art to set the stage before a word is spoken and prepare the hearts of those gathered together.

You can use art to set the stage before a word is spoken and prepare the hearts of those gathered together.

You may have room in your budget to commission an art piece that supports your weekly message or sermon series. Or, chances are, you have artists in your community that may be able to lend their talent to the communication of your message.

Celebrating Beauty

There was a church in Italy that commissioned an art piece from a local artist in their community. When he completed the painting, the church celebrated by parading the man and his work through the streets of the town and in the church. They celebrated with a parade!

While the artists reading this piece may have only heard the fact that the commission was paid (can we agree that artists add value to our faith, and that their craft should be honored by our willingness to pay for it?), there is a more foundational truth to the story. The church paid for the work, and then paraded it through the town for one simple fact: beauty should be celebrated.

Beauty should be celebrated.

They understood that part of communicating the story of restoration and renewal was done by celebrating beauty. When we celebrate beauty, our hearts are positioned in such a way that helps us also celebrate the Creator. We see glimpses of his work and his Kingdom in the beauty being created around us.

So clearly this is a heart issue. Do you and your people have eyes to see the beauty in their midst? Have their hearts been primed to respond? Do they see their craft as a signpost to something more? Let’s start there.

And from there, we can add in elements of beauty into our gatherings – paintings, digital images, icons, mixed media art, and whatever else the artists in your community are creating in their response to the gospel story. In the recognition and celebration of that beauty, the stage has been set for people to encounter the Creator.

And you didn’t have to say a word.

About The Author

Sam Mahlstadt

Sam writes the blog creativetheology.com, and recently wrote his first book, Creative Theology. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his wife and two daughters.

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