Interesting series put on by Northpoint Church
Over the years, I’m thankful to say I’ve gotten to take part in many faith traditions (mostly Christian, with a visit to a Sikh or Hindu temple here and there). Churches have come in many flavors growing up: medium, large, mega, small and house, in suburbs and the city.
Nowadays, I’m a user experience designer, and have occasionally applied “usability principles” (typically saved for designing interfaces) to the church, wondering if certain aspects could be tweaked or added to help a church exemplify love.
I’m not saying these seven concepts are perfect, that no church has incorporated these already, or that I’m even looking for a church with all seven. I also believe it’s our responsibility and opportunity to experience God at a church, not that of the church to “serve God to us”. If the guy or gal is reading from the Bible and is putting in the time, it’s on us to look past any perceived imperfections and seek God. We have the privilege to give our Creator glory—the one who glorified us first by coming to hang out as his Son (no pun intended).
God doesn’t seem to have called me into the local church, but if He did, this are some of the things I’d love to put in place for the “user”.
1. Parking for Latecomers
Not the most encouraging sight when you’re late as it is
Okay, so this one’s a little selfish… But the church is all about the lost, right? 😉
The guy or gal who partied late into the night before, the person who was on the fence about coming in the first place, the family who fought for half an hour before getting in the car—if the church is really about people on the margins (Jesus was), this simple gesture can help demonstrate it. The regular/early folks will take care of themselves.
Does it encourage lateness? I don’t believe so. The person may learn that fellowship before a service or worship is critical, and that it’s their own loss if they miss it on purpose. But it’s our job to put them first.
The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
2. No Lights/Video on Worship Team
One of the things I’ve noticed about some big/mega churches, is how much focus they place on the folks leading worship.
The wardrobe selections, the levels of attractiveness, the agenda for diversity, and so on. I feel it can distract viewers in the audience. Note that I just used the word viewers, instead of worshippers. I love concerts, but this isn’t one of them (so I thought). We’re supposed to be pointing people to God, but with the way we do lights and video screens, perhaps we are often pointing to ourselves.
I can imagine the committees that make these “presentational” decisions. When energy and thought are being spent from many sides on this (planners, musicians themselves, aforementioned viewers), maybe there’s a different way of doing things. What instead then? Perhaps lighting should be directed away from the faces/musicians, and left dark whenever possible (natural light is fine of course). Use screens to help the worshippers contemplate the words we’re using, and the meaning behind them. Use ambient visuals for the screen, simple realities of nature or daily life. Draw our focus from faces towards our offering to God and his reciprocation.
A good friend of mine, Caleb Kytonen, who’s starting a church of his own in Seattle, also proposed having the musicians behind or with the congregation, playing alongside congregants towards the Lord. Loved this idea.
3. Have a “Critic’s Corner”
Whether a believer or a non-believer, I think it is healthy to have questions or doubts following a teaching. To foster ongoing conversation and relationship-building, I think a physical space may be designated for folks who still have questions. A place for people who “still don’t buy it” or want to know more to connect with other congregants/church staff who have thoughts or questions.
When we make it hard or unnatural to ask these questions, that is when we tragically lose these questions. How often has a sermon moved you, only for the conversation with friends to tend to lunch plans and afternoon hikes immediately after? While some of this is natural, I would love to see more intentionality from church leadership on preserving and pursuing the thoughts and questions that matter.
4. Serve Food Well
Before a service at any Sikh church (e.g. temple), you can usually head into the basement for a full vegetarian breakfast. After the service, you can head back into the basement for—you guessed it—a full vegetarian lunch. Each week, one family volunteers to prepare and donate the meal (usually easy staples like rice, curries, flatbreads, pakora, etc.) Even though I did not speak Punjabi, it was during these meals I got to know a lot of the kids and have some meaningful conversations about the nature of God.
Good food to me seems like a great investment to seeing relationships catalyze in the church. Think about how you get to know someone. It’s over coffee, dinner, etc. A church that invests in the food that it offers, I believe will see the fruits of its labor. This can be as simple as bringing real donuts instead of those pre-packaged donut holes, or having a sandwich bar and good bread after a service.
5. Kids Lead Kids
When I was a short-term missionary in El Salvador, I spent time with a youth ministry called JCM (Joventud con Mision). What I saw was incredible: college students leading the high school ministry, high schoolers leading the middle school ministry, middle schoolers helping out the elementary kids. Sure, there were some adults to help, but the youth were at the forefront of the planning, executing and discipling. And you know what? I had never seen teens / pre-teens so excited to go to church before.
There was a badge of pride these kids wore in being part of JCM, whether as a leader or attendee. They were proud to go to church—something I certainly cannot say for myself at that age. It’s still rare for me to see it. And I think it had to do with how they empowered the kids to be leaders for the kids younger than they.
Later on in India, I shot a film about a school called Manzil, where the kids teach the kids. And you know, I saw a lot of the same effect. A girl I met had argued with her brother for months just to be able to join the school.
If I was part of a church plant, this leadership model would be one I’d look to cast.
6. No Offering Plates / Donation Buttons
Later on in the same India trip, we came across an organization called GEMS, which was doing extraordinary work in a terrorist-controlled region in Bihar (previewed for 3min in this film). The Naxalites were funded by Chinese communists, and had kicked out the police presence, all the NGOs, except for one—GEMS. God was moving in incredible ways through them in that difficult place.
One thing I noticed about our time they hosted us, as well as their website, is that they never once asked us Americans for a donation or contribution. They gave and gave and gave towards us. At the end of our time, I asked them about it. He told me about their philosophy to rely on the Lord’s provision. They never solicited a need, until the Lord moved in someone’s heart to approach them and ask what they could do. The ministry was growing in impact; it was clear God was providing through the trust these leaders had.
We say “in God we Trust”. Let’s put ourselves to it.
7. Create Culturally-Relevant Groups
Today more than ever (geez I feel old saying that), I think it’s important for kids to see the greater world around them. That applies whether the kids of the church are facing prosperity or poverty. It also includes getting our group to meet and integrate with kids in the other bucket.
Our youth adventures would be designed to bring kids into scenarios they’re were not used to. If we were inner-city, then broadway and mountain hikes; if we were suburb, then inner-city poetry slams.
Then there is something called ACTS— a group rising out of a scheduling complexity for many people in the church. Many folks want two basic things—to be active, and to be in community—but have to choose between the two with tons of options presented during midweek evenings (esp. for 20s / 30s in a city). They pick between the gym and small group, or are double-booked between helping serve at a school and a pickup volleyball game.
ACTS is so designed for people to engage in both—to feel alive communally and physically. Folks get together to engage in worship and led discussion (30-45min) and then an activity (climbing, yoga, strength-training, a sport, etc). Every sixth event is of active service to the city. The seventh event is skipped to take rest and then it all starts again.
Doctrine-wise, there’s a lot I don’t know. I’m a UX designer, not a theologist. I believe in a God that’s knowable and in one that badly wants to know us too! Besides getting to know our playwright, painter, and creator, there’s not a lot of other things I take a hardline stance on. This church would take the stance of “critical rationality” (see 3rd paragraph) and the importance of relationship.
The people who visit should know this church as the most accepting place for a sinner—not the least. If we can do that, I think the Lord will do the rest.
What would you like to see/not see in a church?