Many churches are employing creative strategies and using a range of multimedia methodologies to bridge the generation gap and attract new congregants.
To learn a bit more about the use of creative "showmanship" in worship, Worship Facilities caught up with Eric Bramlett, creative arts director of Naperville, IL-based Community Christian Church. The Q&A below is an edited version of that exchange.
Alison Istnick: Your creative worship programs have had significant impact. What motivates this artistic style? Is it a turn away from traditional church?
BRAMLETT: I didn't rebel from traditional church. It wasn't because I hated hymns. I mean, my wife and I sang in a choir in a traditional church. Basically, for me as a theater guy, I was marrying the two things that I love: the practice of theater and staging and my relationship with Jesus. It was a perfect match. But it wasn't a rebellion. I wasn't saying, "Church is terrible, and we need to do something awesome."
AI: So, what was the motivation?
BRAMLETT: Teaching is an art. So is music. But if you're exclusively depending on two art forms to reach people, I think that's not enough.
We [churches] tend to play kind of the same music. We're not ridiculously eclectic. So, we've got this style of music we're putting forward. We've got this style of teaching we're putting forward. I just think there are more colors in the box.
I want to encourage churches to brainstorm big and think big about the ways in which art can inspire their attenders to find their way back to God. I think about comedy, drama, dance, fine art, visual arts, painting on stage. You know? That's what gets my heart beating fast. I want there to be more options for people to brainstorm differently and to think more aggressively about art and how it shows up in the church.
AI: How out-of-the-box should a church's artistic style be?
BRAMLETT: I do think you want something that's familiar. So what if our music sounded like U2 in the 2000s and sounded like Coldplay in 2005? I think that's fine. That's not offensive to me. I don't have a bent like, " We have to be changing the culture not imitating the culture." I mean, the culture is what it is, and we can either use it to benefit us or pretend like it doesn't exist. You're going to be influenced regardless. Even if our men and women are writing original songs, there are influences are out there.
AI: What about multisite churches? Do you recommend they duplicate creative services?
BRAMLETT: We used to be like that. When we had five campuses back in the day, we had identical services. I think for smaller numbers, that's a good thing. I would encourage that method as long as you can stay on line and on point. The longer you can be of one voice, the better.
But I think there's a breaking point where you just aren't able to do it anymore. We have one campus, for example, that is bilingual. We have another campus that is made up of 55-and-over seniors. We have another campus that's very multicultural, very urban. You have to embrace those differences.
AI: How do the technical arts fit into the whole picture?
BRAMLETT: To me, the technical arts require this beautiful combination of being able to be very prominent while invisible. It's like asking, "How do you create mood and define a space without broadcasting to everyone that's what you're doing?"
AI: Do you have tricks of the trade for that?
BRAMLETT: It can take a lot of money to be that subtle. It's not as simple as just going without some things. If you're going to use things [employ technology and effects], you have to not let people see the man behind the curtain. You have to be a little more judicious with your moments. There are some great toys out there, but we don't always play with all the toys all at once.
I think it's all about picking moments. You've got rock and roll lighting, but you don't have to be running those lights full out on every song. Ask yourself, "What's the moment of this service?"
The technical artist has a responsibility to tell the story just as much as the person on stage singing or speaking. If those groups of people can be aligned on what the moment of the service is, they can actually work together toward that.
AI: What advice would you give a 300- to 500-seat church looking to invest in technology arts?
BRAMLETT: The most important thing is to be in the space you're in. If you're designing that space, then you're working with some professionals that will be able to scale it out for you.
As you're working with the contractors and designers, I would just encourage churches to be aware of what the possibilities are and to do everything possible set up structures so they can expand.
When I first started doing digital video, I thought mini-DVD was it. I believed, "This is digital, it's never going to downgrade like VCRs." But then there was HD mini-DVD. And then there was 720 and then 1080. Now, there's 4k.
So, even if you can't support the latest gear, I would encourage churches to address the infrastructure so it can expand.
GEOFFREY OLDMIXON, a freelance writer and editor, contributed to this report.