So what theology / methodology / philosophy is the idea of “interactive worship” born out of?
At Westwinds our first goal for weekend worship service, Fusion, is to create an environment—celebratory, liberating, engaging, full of hope and expectation, affirming, restoring, free of distractions, thought provoking, and reflective—where individuals can meet with God (though it will not always be all of those things at once). Our goal is not to get people to worship. That is often an end product but it is not the goal. Worship is an act of an individual’s will. That will is something we cannot control or manipulate; at best we can influence it.
Second, our goal is to have a service that has multiple layers that organically emerge and connect. We want some overlap at the seams of the layers so Fusion feels seamless, but enough individuality to the layers that there are multiple themes people can grab, not an eclectic hodge-podge of totally unrelated elements or inert ideas. There is a lot of give and take on this but our goal is not simply one clear theme we are trying to beat to death.
In other words, our goal is not an entirely mono-thematic design. An interactive worship element, a video for a story of a spiritual journey, a Top 40 song, or aesthetic design may or may not bring about a tight thematic link but the experience, freshness and window into a real life make it all worthwhile. It is a moment-collection.
The days of creating a power-themed service have drawn to a close for us. While we definitely want to be sure of “where we are starting” and “where we are leading people”, theme plays only a partial role in planning. The question of “what element best ties in with the message” has been replaced by “what are we going to design in order to help people engage God and the things He is calling us to grapple with?”
Every week we are given a moment-collection we call Fusion. We have 60-75 minutes to do something that will move people a step closer to Jesus Christ. If we keep in mind the idea of a continuum it will be a lot easier for us to think about our hoped-for outcomes. We want people to make steps and move closer to Christ.
At Westwinds, we believe we are called to design Fusions that have never been tried anywhere, even though innovation—in and of itself—is not the goal.
Here are a few scenarios just so we are on the same page about the “kind” of things that fall into this category :
A mural is painted on the entire back wall of the auditorium as a “theological plotline” of the Old Testament and the New Testament. In connection with Communion, participants take chalk pens and write in their names where they identify with God on the plotline.
A life-size replica of DaVinci’s Last Supper is created with lumber, foam, and fabric. The “heads” of the disciples are Mac computers that play a looping video with each disciple telling his story of martyrdom. Participants visit the table and listen to the stories on headphones while taking Communion.
Magazines are scattered throughout the auditorium. Everyone is encouraged to rip out a page in a magazine that best describes them. They hold on to that page throughout an entire series on identity. At the end, they are given an opportunity to exchange that page for another if they feel they have been changed in the process.
A candlelit room houses one video camera with rolling tape. Throughout the hour, participants wander in to the room and confess to the camera knowing their tape may be shown in Fusion.
Steel panels have been installed on all exterior walls of the auditorium. Giant magnetic words are scattered all over the panels. For 15 minutes, while piano music plays softly, the congregation writes love poems to God by rearranging the words.
A “stream” of white gravel about 3’ in width winds throughout the auditorium. Participants grab pieces of red gravel out of a bucket and place them in the stream to signify different points where they have sensed God’s movement in their lives. Computers at the back of the room are fed to the screens. Participants type short messages about God’s movement and the stories are displayed on screen.
A series is taught through the book of Jeremiah. Each week, a new icon is revealed to help tell the story. Each person has been given a scrapbook for the series including maps and notes and diagrams. Each symbol is then sketched into the book by the individual.
A large underlit table has been constructed and covered with plexiglass. Undermounted on the plexi is the entire text of Ecclesiastes on transparencies. Throughout the series, at any time, participants may grab a chalk pen and make notes and reflections on the text that is displayed.
A grand piano sits in the middle of the room. Surrounding the piano are buckets full of broken tile. The tiles pieces represent our brokenness as a community. As we discuss our commitment to one another as a body and our commitment to the community at large, we write the name of a persone we are praying for on the back of a tile and glue the tile face down on top of the piano. The piano is then grouted and the mosaic stands as a monument to our commitment to be viewed every week (see picture above).
Worship interactives should not become the tail that wags the dog. We should feel no pressure to create a funky new hands-on experience each week. However, with each new week we have an opportunity to ask how we can best communicate truth, how we can best create an atmosphere conducive to worship, and how we can encourage participation in the dialogue with God and one another.