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The Black Box Church

Thirty years ago, the church I was a part of began using video. A lot.

Our numbers had exploded. We were in a former Baptist church building that seated 572; I remember because we had taken the pews out (it was cutting edge back then to not look like a church!) and replaced them with that number of comfy chairs. By the time we left that building, we were doing seven weekend services…plus a midweek. The reason we started using videos was because while churches were following the new “seeker-targeted” approach with short, punchy dramas, not only did we not have the skill set to pull them off (there’s nothing worse than bad church sketches!), there was no way volunteer actors could do all seven services. I remember once as a new Christian visiting a church on Easter where Jesus slipped off the cross and had to jump back on his perch and stretch out his arms like nothing happened. So we began pulling off Dave Letterman-esque style videos (this was when his show was on at 12:30am!). That way we could show them in all the services without having to beg actors to perform in all of them. Plus, since we only had one cheap video camera, we could pull off the “run-out-the-door” hand-held camera sketches authentically...and it was fun! That eventually led to darkened rooms so that projection could actually be seen, mostly because the technology was such that videos were terribly washed out just by daylight from the windows. Projectors were nowhere near the lumens today and affordable LED screens weren’t even dreamed of. Hence, the “black box” church was born. The over-lit Crystal Cathedral approach was old school. Cover the windows and you could completely manipulate the lighting with a simple controller. We were in heaven. Next, everyone painted the back walls black and created a theater approach. Most of the churches I visit now are still black boxes. You walk in and it takes five minutes for your eyes to adjust to find a chair. Seizure-inducing lighting and sub-slamming sound systems now create a spectacular show with multiple video screens and robos taking full advantage of hazed rooms. I love churches that try anything to reach the culture, because if you don’t innovate your outreach strategies and worship contexts, you’ll eventually find yourself with a handful of octogenarians who refuse to change anything. But be careful of the black box or the all-glass cathedral: trends change rapidly in our high-speed globally-linked culture. What’s more, if you don’t have a small group discipling system with well-defined assimilation strategies, you’ll end up with a church of spectators and locked in a trend that the next generation finds kitschy and inauthentic: the Big Show.

Question of the Day: What Current Methodologies in Your Church Need a Serious Second Look?

DAVE WORKMAN | Elemental Churches


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