As I’ve thought more about the impediments introduced by the church coffee shop and bookstore, I see a great deal of value in moving in the opposite direction of the “mall church” trend and instead designing a friction-free worship environment. This would be one which leads a worshipper directly from the narthex to the chancel (or in modern language, from the doorway to the altar) with as few obstacles as possible. Consider this passage from Isaiah as we reflect on the intentional design of our celebration event;
A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3)
and this one
And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people. (Isa 57:14)
Each of these verses serves the larger context of the passage in describing the movement of the Lord to the holy place in which He meets with His people. Because He is the King, his people’s desire is to smooth the way for their meeting by removing obstacles and straightening the path so that there is as little friction as possible in His movement toward the destination.
I’m getting the feeling that the ‘all-in-one’ church design is beginning to deter from the core reason for the Sunday celebration. We may not all agree but from the perspective of a pastor, my understanding of the Sunday (or Saturday or Tuesday as it applies) gathering is the corporate worship of God. With this objective placed properly in the hierarchy we can then clearly examine the effect that other activities might have on accomplishing this goal. For example, an issue I raised in an earlier post has to do with the distraction caused by the church coffee shop. It has a certain stickiness, an attractiveness that introduces friction on the path to worship. I am tempted to stop and enjoy a cup of coffee on my way to sanctuary, perhaps justifying it as fellowship, rather than moving deliberately toward the altar, physically and mentally.
When we introduce friction in this manner, we are placing obstacles in our people’s preparation and attendance to worship. Their minds can become distracted from the purpose of the gathering and thus, they become not fully present to God. Our task as the called leaders of the Church is reduce rather than increase any friction between God and His people. Must we do away with the coffee shop or the bookstore? No, they serve a purpose in the community of the church and the lives of the congregation. Perhaps we might consider closing them before and during the worship gathering and opening them afterwards to contribute to the fellowship and growth of the family of God. In doing so we accomplish two things. One, we establish the priority of the corporate worship event and practice in the life of the Christian and two, we make straight the path for the worshipper’s heart so that there is a frictionless path from the door to the altar. What do you think?