There is a trap set for anyone who programs a worship gathering. It’s a sneaky one. It’s the strong desire to create an amazing experience – something to blow people’s minds or something so creative that they can’t help but be drawn in.

Let me be clear: I love this stuff. I’m a fan of it. I think Jesus is glorified by crafted experiences and they can absolutely amplify and paint a picture of the Gospel. I’ve been personally impacted by some incredible creative elements in a service. But they also aren’t the point of our gatherings.

There are many things that a worship gathering should be, and we find these attributes in the scripture, as practiced in history, and even in the culture of your local church. These sources should inform how you program your service. But there is one thing I believe we should be molding our gatherings to be: a refuge.

Refuge means “a place of shelter, protection, or safety.”

A worship gathering should be a place people can experience at least a momentary reprieve from the storms of life. They should be a place where people know they are protected and able to focus on growing in their faith. They should be a place where people feel inherently safe, so that they can respond when they are challenged to step out in faith.

In general, I don’t think we do a great job of programming our services with this in mind – myself included. Probably because it’s much easier to design a cool moment or big opener than it is to cultivate a gathering to be a refuge. It’s the difference between microwaving a meal and tending to a garden for a season.

When a worship gathering is perceived to be a refuge for people, things start to happen. Because they feel safe, they let their guard down as they worship. Because they have space, they can respond to God in ways they normally don’t feel free to do.

When people feel safe, they let their guard down as they worship.

A refuge doesn’t just perform a utilitarian function of being a safe space. It becomes an incubator where people are transformed. When we provide an environment that creates space and safety for people to experience God, we will see Him do incredible things.

Before we get to the practical, I believe it’s important to say this: There is a difference between dead air and space. Dead air is that awkward silence that happens in any kind of experience (live, radio, television, etc) where the silence is deafening because of the unintentional discomfort it creates. Space is orchestrated with the intent of giving people the opportunity to respond.

Space needs to be guided sometimes, with a setup from the worship leader or pastor perhaps, but can also be used to create an intentional uneasiness for people to process something that isn’t always easy to process. The key difference is that dead air is unintentional, while space is crafted intentionally. Space can be our friend.

So how can we make our worship gatherings a place where people find refuge and space to process? Here are three practical things you can start this week:

1. Put Yourself in the Seats

When you’re programming a gathering, don’t just consider how things will flow or how things relate topically. These are good things we should do. But consider your programming from a different perspective by putting yourself in the seat of those who are attending your gathering.

  • How will these elements feel holistically?
  • Do I feel rushed or does the pacing seem good?
  • Are there places where we need to guide and lead people to process or think?

Seeing your gathering from this perspective will help you see what you’re missing or what you need more of. It’s like tasting your food as you prepare it, so that you can add things here and there to improve it before it hits the table. Taste as you go.

2. Use Creativity Intentionally

Didn’t I just say that big, creative moments weren’t the point of worship gatherings? Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to use space creatively. Creativity should be a tool we use to enhance moments rather than for its own sake.

Creativity should be a tool we use to enhance moments rather than for its own sake.

Maybe we could craft a moment where we sit people down, play a song for them with the stage dark, and challenge them to really drink in the lyrics for themselves. Maybe we could create a video element that helps to draw out that feeling of comfort and safety we’re trying to cultivate.

Creativity is a tool to be used. So use it to help create that refuge. Find ways to incorporate space in fresh ways in your gathering.

Creativity is a tool to be used. So use it to help create that refuge.

3. Find Ways to Use More Scripture

Scripture is an excellent element we can use to foster that feeling of refuge and safety. It’s also a great element to utilize to provide space with intent. Focusing on Scripture during intentional times of space is always fruitful.

What about that inevitable awkward pause some of us experience while the plates are passed during the offering? I know many churches that utilize that time to display a piece of Scripture (and not just Scripture about giving). They use Scripture to help setup where they are going that morning in the message or even in the music set.

Scripture is meant to breathe life and to provide insights that even songs or sermons can’t sometimes. Use it to help your worship service become a refuge for those who attend.

Scripture is meant to breathe life and to provide insights that even songs or sermons can’t sometimes.

If you find your worship services traveling a mile a minute, maybe it’s time to rethink. Maybe your services need a bit more intentional space. A bit more safety. Your people deserve a refuge from the craziness of their weekly schedules. Your worship service might just be the perfect opportunity for that.