Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “The following is excerpted from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press). It is a list of the creative ideas that can encourage prayer which I experienced at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.”
Chapter 5: Vintage Faith Church
The campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church seemed the antithesis of an organic church setting. Neatly trimmed hedges embraced meandering sidewalks amid beautiful window-laden buildings. Vintage Faith Church had grown out of the college ministry of this congregation, and currently worshipped in this boomer church’s multipurpose worship gymnasium.1 I wondered how Vintage Faith could create in this utilitarian space an atmosphere engendering the mystery and wonder of God so preferred in organic milieus.
The answer arrived as I entered. Dark curtaining surrounded me on all sides. Vintage Faith’s simple stage was off center, and thrust into the audience. Three large media screens were placed along a long wall, and on the ends of the auditorium were two “mood walls” where colorful yet muted images of young people lifting their hands in worship imbued this room with a 270-degree sense of expectation. A six-foot metal cross graced the center of the stage, flanked by two candles and a large oil painting depicting a stylized cross. And though this was a bright sunny day, the low lighting, visual images, curtaining, candles, and encompassing artwork transformed a contemporary gymnasium into a peaceful, subdued, and sacred space.2
Church: Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, CA
Audience: Multiple generations, college students, university personnel and faculty, artists, and pre-Christians – people who are spiritually sensitive
Let sacred spaces support your mission.
There was nothing wrong with the aesthetics of the Santa Cruz Bible Church auditorium, for it carried the feel of a conference center or a lecture hall. A boomer predilection for such venues may be due to an emphasis on the church’s teaching role. However, the lighting, art, mood walls, candles, prayer cove, etc. at Vintage Faith may indicate a Generation X preference for balancing head knowledge with heartfelt experience. Vintage Faith created a powerful and encircling atmosphere of mystery, wonder, learning and supernatural encounter.
The following are some of the ways Vintage Faith creates sacred spaces.3
Curtains make the institutional feel of a multi-purpose auditorium more intimate and private. Though Vintage Faith worships in an auditorium that will hold 700+, the encircling curtains help attendees feel they are in a private and personal encounter with God.
Prayer areas are created between the curtains and the outer walls. Large throw pillows, candles and rugs not only create a 270-degree cocoon of prayer, but also keep prayer a focus.
A prayer cove beyond an arched trellis offers a space for extended times of prayer with intercessors. I have observed that over time a prayer room’s proximity to the platform can wane, paralleling a distancing of prayer from centrality in a growing congregation.4 Vintage Faith avoids this, by placing their prayer cove near the stage.
Seating includes tables as well as rows of chairs. Tables allow interaction for those desiring it, while forward facing chairs allow other attendees a degree of anonymity.
The platform was off center, so that a large cross was centered in the auditorium expressing the centrality of Jesus. Subsequently, musicians and the lectern were not centrally located, nor the focus.
Low lighting and candles create a sense of reverence, expectation and mystery. The candles are also “symbolic of Jesus as the light of the world,” stated Kimball. Though lighting was raised slightly during the sermon so notes could be taken, their muted luminosity kept the focus off of the leaders, the audience and other extraneous distractions.
Two mood walls were some of the more creative elements. To create this, the end walls of the auditorium were left bare above the eight foot high curtaining. On the white wall above video projectors slowly and appropriately beamed images correlating to the theme of the night. This worked remarkably well, creating a 270-degree experience (the rear wall was not utilized).
Art of diverse mediums was displayed on the stage and around the room. Large paintings in genres ranging from classic to post-impressionism ringed the room. In addition, congregants were encouraged to participate in interactive artwork, which during my visit included a large mosaic that would upon completion be displayed in the auditorium.
A final caveat.
These examples should serve as models to assist others in sketching their own indigenized elements. They are not to be followed unswervingly, but rather as examples to forge a coalition between church leaders and artists.
1. This multi-purpose gymnasium featured basketballs courts, a stage recessed into one wall, and a cheery, if somewhat industrial, ambiance. Such boomer predilection for light, airy and multi-use sacred spaces seems a reaction to the builder generation’s stained glass, dark wood and inflexible worship venues.
2. Vintage Faith’s goal is to have a ministry center near downtown Santa Cruz and rent a larger worship gathering space. However, presently they are doing a remarkably adept job at creating a sacred space in a gymnasium
3. Adapted from the Vintage Faith Church bulletin, June 5, 2005. For exhaustive ideas for creating sacred space see Dan Kimball’s helpful book written with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler titled Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004).
4. See “Missteps with Prayer” in Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 43-53