Environment Matters

This post is for those whose church meets in a single location on a regular basis. That is assumed but no more is assumed. The environment in your church matters because any “visitor” who shows up will evaluate “what you offer” by what they see and experience. They could be 95% wrong and wildly inaccurate, but that wouldn’t matter because they made a decision on the basis of what they saw and experienced. Maybe you don’t want that sort in your church … I’m not so sure that’s the way we are to approach “visitors.” Either way, environment matters.

If you are against “environment matters” you will create an environment that matters.

Now if you have any aesthetic senses environment matters to you and it will matter to visitors.

If you don’t care about environment, hop to a different post or blog; if you do, read this summary of Andy Stanley’s section four in Deep & Wide.

Before we get there a story: we once visited a church because we had heard about it. We got there about 15 minutes early and no car — no car — was in the lot. So we drove around and came back to about ten cars. We walked in the front, and no one greeted us; within a minute or two several people had walked through the lobby area but no one greeted us. We sauntered into the “sanctuary” and sat down in a rather cold (temperature-wise) room … people sat at a noticeable distance from one another … a few greeted us during the passing of the peace … no one said anything to us after the service ended… we left, never to return. Fair? No. Evaluation? Yes. Environment matters.

Unless you want a church for church people or a church for those who are already a part of that particular church. Or unless you want people just like you. Stanley’s model is attractional and it is pragmatic; it doesn’t say everything; it says important things. Some in the missional group oppose attractional, but I believe attractional can be missional.

Environments are the message before the message (157). The sermon begins in the parking lot (157). You (should) choose what message your environment will communicate. “Time in erodes awareness of” (159) — that is, the longer you indwell your environment the less you notice it. At North Point they try to create irresistible environments. You need to define excellence. Maybe you don’t care about that, but that will be your definition of excellence. They (North Point evaluators) have three ingredients leading to these three questions:

1. Is the setting appealing? Good stuff on physical environments.
2. Is the presentation engaging? Very good on combining engaging presenters with content creators — they are not always, or even often, the same.
3. Is the content helpful/useful (capable of transforming)?

So North Point seeks to create an irresistible environment with three rules of engagement: engage, involve, challenge. Each of these is given a full section in the chapter. Worth reading.

In the engagement: preservice experience, opener (1/4 to 1/6 weeks have an opener), welcome.

In the involvement: signing, baptism (2-3x per month), special (songs, interviews, sketches, videos).

In the challenge: title package and message, closer.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    To build: it seems to me, especially among emerging generations, environment is essential mentally for worship.

    There is an idea one should be able to worship God anywhere. In church this is like a husband telling his wife the 20 dollar hotel room he rented is romantic enough.

    Even if its unconscious, a worship inspiring environment matters to our connection to God.

  • phil_style

    This reminds me a little bit of the “ship of fools” website.
    For those not familiar, they have “mystery” church attenders, who write up some (often quite humorous) reviews of various churches they visit.

    For some people, the website is a little bit irreverent/ cheeky. But it is written by Christians, so it’s not entirely there to bash.

  • Paul

    If the visitors to your worship service arrive without an invitation (that is, they were not invited by someone who is present on Sunday morning), then I agree that environment matters. If there is however a personal connection with those present on Sunday morning (that is, we invite the visitors that are present), then I don’t think that environment matters as much as the post above seems to imply. In my experience many folks will stay at a church (especially a smaller church) because the people are kind, loving, and inviting.

  • Joe Canner

    How to welcome visitors is a very delicate subject. Some people (say, introverts like me) want to be left alone, sit in the back, observe the service, and leave. Others (say, like Scot in his story above), will be turned off if they are not greeted before, during, and/or after the service. Unfortunately, it is hard to know by looking at someone which experience they would prefer, although body language can sometimes be very revealing. I would say we should probably err slightly on the side of welcoming, but be careful not to overwhelm people or single them out for extra attention.

  • Cameron M

    Visitors should always feel welcomed as well as challenged. However, it seems to me that evangelical churches tend to cater to “seekers” in a way that often takes away from the reverence of worship. For me – and I’m speaking from an Anglo-catholic perspective – “church,” that thing we do on Sundays, is more about community reverence and worship for the living God than it is about giving off a “seeker-friendly” vibe. Certainly, to some extent, all churches should be seeker-friendly, but what I’ve experienced in evangelical churches is the abandonment of reverential worship for a “Jesus loves you so much” message geared toward individuals making “the decision” or feeling happy emotions. Throughout my evangelical past, I often felt that the pastor was more concerned with the power of his rhetoric on individuals’ souls than he was simply proclaiming the story of the King. It’s the whole “individualistic salvation plan” rather than the gospel that we see in scripture.

    My question is – Is church (in the meeting-in-a-building sense) more about personal evangelism (the pastor’s rhetorical skill) or worshipping God in community with an open invite for “seekers” to join in? For me, evangelism (i.e. conversational apologetics, leading people to Christ) is done outside of the church service.


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