If you have been around church culture for a while, you may remember the infamous turn-of-the 21st century worship wars. This musical transition time pitted traditional hymn lovers against the new contemporary sounds of younger "worship artists."
I always say, if weekly activities take a full week of preparation, then annual events should start planning a year before!
Well, regardless of your personal taste, the outcome of this family feud - while still debatable - stood as a resounding "tie," wrapped in a shiny new Chris Tomlin package. Most churches have embraced the new, while duly paying homage to tradition.
And now dare I say, younger readers may even be asking, "Who is Chris Tomlin?"
In much the same way, are similar decor battles raging on your church stage? Do you decorate your stage? Or, intentionally design your stage?
The differences are not exactly subtle.
If you're not careful, there could be casualties.
And on the third hand, there are those new statistics about how post-millennials are wanting and asking for more of the traditional.
What do we do with that? We'll get back to that and more in just a minute ...
First, with Easter right around the corner on April 1, churches all over the country are scrambling to make final staging decisions.
There is nothing worse than spending countless hours planning, budgeting and designing a theme-centered masterpiece, only to have a well-meaning church member donate expensive banners, crosses, flowers or other elements that truly conflict with a design.
C'mon, we've all been on Pinterest and thought, "I like this one…and that one ... Oh, and this design is really cool…wait, what on earth is that!"
[Insert hideous combination of light boxes, word art and potted plants]
Does this really happen? Yes.
And of course, we are called to love one another through it all. Is there a way, though, to have a cross-pollination of ideas?
If your church has a perfectly watered and cultivated stage design team, one that never experiences conflicts and has never ended up with well ... "interesting" mosaic motifs - you have my permission to get back to cutting Coroplast.
For the rest of us, these can be difficult moments to navigate, and the most helpful relational advice boils down to three things.
1. Invite people in.
Sometimes you need to go against your instincts and purposefully invite those who have "interesting ideas" into your circle of planners and designers. Doing this will deepen relationships, while sometimes uncovering some hidden talents that you may have overlooked. Some of the best final designs can metamorphosize from some of the "worst" initial ideas.
If those people decline to be a part of your team - you have taken the higher ground.
2. Start planning early.
I always say, if weekly activities take a full week of preparation, then annual events should start planning a year before! This will also weed out many last-minute suggestions and promote organizational honor and respect. Long-term planning always wins.
3. Make sure leadership has your back.
Don't be a rogue designer - especially before big event weekends. Make sure your leadership fully understands your ideas early, and that you understand your authority within the execution of those ideas. Then, remind the pastors of these plans, as the execution phase approaches.
Like you, pastors and other leaders are busy people. And they do have the right to change their mind about sermon themes, etc. Give them that final stamp of approval moment, even if they don't normally require one. This will give you the best chance of survival when an influential person starts to bend the pastor's ear about what the Lord has "put on their heart."
Now, let's get back to holiday planning. For most of us, there are two holidays that seem to be on the calendar every year - like clockwork.
Christmas and Easter are simply seasons of design that we can't avoid.
With some creative planning and forethought, these times don't need to be stressful, if we keep looking far enough down the road. Many of us with budget and time restraints may just need to design our stages in, well, phases.
Borrow the Broadway model of stage metamorphosis
Theaters have long mastered the art of using one piece of set multiple times in multiple ways throughout a production. Sometimes a piece turns around, upside down or even flips inside out revealing a whole new look and feel. Other times, the process of slowly adding elements to an existing backdrop can be magical while using light to guide your eyes to the intended subject.
We should borrow this basic idea throughout our planning year.
How about suggesting a sermon series called "Victorious" and design a contemporary set using geometric "V" shaped elements. Then, at Christmas you can flip the "V" over, crosshatch it with Coroplast and light it, like a contemporary tree. (OK, that may be too obvious for some.)
Maybe try hanging things from the ceiling that can have multiple/seasonal uses (like oriental paper lanterns) that can be used to create an ornament look, general design, or Easter-esque feel, depending on how your design changes on the deck. This is especially helpful for houses of worship that have limited access to lifts and extension ladders.
The point is, no matter what your design choice, look at your ultimate goal of design for the year, and make decisions based on building the end result in phases that look eye-catching and complete along the way.
Now, what about that wonderfully persistent person that bears the love language of multi-colored flower arrangements for this Resurrection Sunday? Depending on your current stage design, how about compromising on pure white arrangements with no foliage? Then, some cross LED lighting that matches the rest of your set could look really impressive. You've just merged (hopefully successfully) the old and the new.
Again, not exactly groundbreaking, but sometimes simple compromises thought through early can forge relationships, spark new ideas and build bypass bridges right over and around those ill-conceived stage disasters.
And who knows? Some carefully chosen stained glass environmental projections on those white sanctuary walls may just be the perfect complement, and renew the traditional appetite of young and old alike.
Romans 12:5 says, "in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another."
In the end, it's all about experimentation, trial and sometimes error. Just don't let the error be found in turning away willing people, just because they have different ideas.
This is the unique challenge of leadership. This is the convergence of the body of Christ.
Continue to serve one another as you serve God, and the most beautiful mosaic masterpieces will be the backdrop for His story and on His stage.