Convention and event facilities aren't built for worship services. How can you transform a typical meeting space into one that is conducive to worship?
In 1991, when the Florida State Association of Free Will Baptists moved from local churches to hotels or conference centers for its meetings, the attendees balked.
“We had a lot of our pastors and people who were totally against it,” says Rev. Randy Bryant, CMP, executive director of the association. “They did not feel that you could effectively worship in a setting like that.”
Bryant's organization first made the switch to nonchurch venues with its annual state association meeting, which includes worship services and business sessions.
“After several years, our people have been able to see that you can indeed worship in a hotel or conference center setting,” he says. “It is not the building or location that dictates worship, but the heart of the people and their love for the Lord.”
But what can be done to help attendees listen to their hearts? What's the formula for making a convention or event space feel worshipful?
Music Provides a Foundation
Music, of course, plays a critical role in worship.
Bryant says their music does not vary much in the hotel/conference center setting from what they do in their churches. “We are able to incorporate appropriate prelude music through our sound system or through the instruments in such a way that conveys worship and sets the environment for the worship service. We use congregational singing and special music pretty much the same as you would in a local church.”
Religious meeting planners must understand that many convention spaces pose significant acoustic challenges. The greatest worship music in the world is of no value if nobody can hear it; don't scrimp on audio services.
“The first key element that makes the praise and worship services come to life with spiritual impact is a professional installation and audio coverage of your facility,” says M.C. Coleman, Coleman Connection Ministry, Jackson, Miss. “You cannot under-budget your audio gear. People come to worship to hear what the spirit says.”
Music helps worship participants remember the messages being delivered during worship. Visual elements are crucial, too, in aiding memory. Visuals accomplish one other thing: They communicate powerful ideas.
“They express everything that our convention can't put into words,” Coleman says.
Mimi Nimocks would agree with that. She is in charge of visual arts for United Methodist meetings and events.
“My mission is to encourage worship planners to use lots of visuals,” says Nimocks, who advocates the bold use of color.
Her advice is to use visuals that carry a special theme, or the conference theme, as a focus. “You also want a lot of appropriate color. If it is for a week, you might want to vary the colors as the week progresses.”
And keep in mind that visual elements must be large enough for the space that's being used.
Finally, creativity and freshness are of the utmost importance, according to Nimocks. “Being creative makes a huge impact, because folks will remember something that they have never seen.”
Banners, Plants, and Flowers
Banners are a staple for off-site worship. They can be used to
- make declarations,
- focus the attention of attendees,
- provide directions or information, and
- hide ugly or distracting areas.
“Banners are a way to get the message across to sing, shout, dance, and even pray,” Coleman says.
In addition to banners, plants and flowers can set a worshipful tone. Coleman says, “Flowers should make the delegates say, ‘Look at God!’”
Plants serve a practical purpose, too: Use them to accent the stage area and give it a softer appearance.
Music, color, banners and plants create a sacred mood. Outside distractions can destroy it, or at least interrupt it.
“The biggest challenge to the worship service in a hotel or conference center setting is outside distractions,” Bryant says. “We have had hotel personnel come in during a worship service to empty trash cans and replenish water services. And there is always the possibility of unusual noises and disturbances in the hallways or pre-function area that can disrupt the service.”
To eliminate distractions and conflicts with other groups that are meeting in the facility, Bryant says communication with hotel personnel in pre-conference meetings is critical. “Tell the convention services manager when you will be having a worship service and when you plan to have music.”
Sidebar: Sacraments and Traditions Pose Challenges
The administration of sacraments is central to worship, but they create logistical problems for planners.
“Due to the challenges (like cleaning glass cups and transporting communion ware), we use the disposable communion cups that come with a wafer in the top,” says Rev. Randy Bryant, CMP, executive director of the Florida State Association of Free Will Baptists. He adds that it's not ideal because many people don't like the wafers. Regardless, the message within the sacrament is the same.
Bryant's organization goes one step further with communion — they practice foot-washing.
“We set aside separate rooms for the men and women and purchase cheap tubs to wash the feet in,” he says. “To make it easier, we use bottled water to pour over the feet, instead of having water in a basin. The challenge then becomes towels. In the past we have worked out an arrangement to use the hotel's towels or use disposable ones.”