Clark’s Top 3 Strategic Tips for Great Church Environments


Earlier this month, I met with the team from Clark (formerly Clark ProMedia) to learn about future church needs, how Clark has evolved to meet these needs, and what they have learned in the process.

In the beginning, Clark was a production company creating audiovisual environments for churches, but they realized the best worship environments are created from a seamless master plan that lets the architects, audiovisual team, and worship leaders collaborate. So Clark has rebranded themselves and expanded their services to include everything needed to strategically create environments for pre-launch church plants all the way up to multi-site gigachurches.

Services include strategic facilities planning, development, and management as well as designing performance space, audio visual lighting, acoustics, and multi-site/virtual teaching solutions. They also offer worship leader consulting and online strategy. And for the extremely tech savvy, they are one of the few companies in the world offering holographic telepresence.

Cofounder Houston Clark was kind enough to share three leadership philosophies that have driven their strategy in creating environments for churches of all sizes:

    Without a seamless big picture strategy, churches can find themselves in a battle with their building. This can lead to the architecture hindering the audio visual needs and neither one being able to best meet the ever-changing ministry needs of the church. Get on the same page. Developing a holistic plan that meets each area’s needs will not only make you more effective but also save you lots of money.
    There is no way to predict the future, but it is wise to be aware of trends that could affect what people need, want, and expect from your church in 5 years. For instance, people in many areas are becoming more locally-focused and interested in community, so Clark spends a great deal of time studying how to create church intimacy regardless the size of a church. Staying current allows you to create environments that are more sustainable since you have a better idea of what the future needs.
    Just because a technology exists, does not mean it is right for your church. What you do must fit within the context of your worship environment and church culture. Having a 3D hologram preacher isn’t right for every church, but it is for some. Never do tech for tech’s sake. Always do tech for context’s sake.

Clark helps churches identify and implement the right environment for their unique context. If you want to know how they could help your church, just contact them. They’d love to talk to you.

Special thanks to Clark for supporting Church Relevance by sponsoring this post.

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

Church on the Move (Tulsa, OK) has a reputation for experimenting with creative arts to tell the story of Christ. I like the simple execution but powerful imagery of the backdrop for their Easter weekend worship.

As worship leaders led the congregation in song, three painters began writing bright red-pixeled letters in the background.

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

It spelled “Amazing Grace.”

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

At this point, they began singing the song Amazing Grace, and the red letters became a crown of thorns as an image of Christ on the cross appeared behind the letters.

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

Creative Easter Church Media from Church on the Move

To see the complete opening performance, watch this video:

For Discussion:
- Did your church do something creative for Easter? Share the video link or tell the story in the comments.

Blinded by Tech Novelty (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I used Adobe Photoshop to illustrate how people can be blinded by tech novelty. To recap, tech novelty is a self-coined phrase I use to describe:

Tech Novelty is:
Being blinded by the novelty of an exciting new technology and consequently misusing the technology for novelty’s sake. Misuse of technology may be caused by lack of training and/or from the inability to focus on anything except the novelty.

We are all susceptible to tech novelty. But perhaps the area of the church that is most prone to tech novelty is church worship. With so many innovations in audio, video, lights, music, and other resources, it is easy to become overwhelmed and blinded by the excitement of it all.


Some describe the responsibility of a worship leader as:

Leading worship is the art of removing distractions.

Today’s worship leaders can choose from a wide variety of tools. And in the tools’ defense, most do offer some type of benefit if used correctly. Often by themselves, the tools are beneficial, but when gluttonously used all at once, they can overstimulate worshippers’ senses and distract them.

You need to understand the pros and cons of the individual tools you use, as well as, what happens when you mix a bunch of tools together. In The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, Shane Hipps offers this warning:

An extensive use of video clips and short films in worship turns the congregation into an audience expecting to be entertained. When electronic media are taken to extremes, we become spectators of the gospel rather than participants in the kingdom of God.

When used correctly, I think modern worship environments can spark wonder and awe in the beauty of God’s creation much like the architecture of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals did. Or when used correctly, worship environments can help, often through simplicity, guide worshipers’ attention to what truly matters – God. When used improperly, worship environments distract worshippers from God and even at times focus their “worship” on the worship leader, another church “celebrity,” or even technology itself.

Whether you like it or not, we are biologically wired to be influenced by our environment. What this means is your worship environment is a factor (not the factor) that influences if a person “feels” like worshipping. If you disagree, study color psychology and atmospherics and read Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Underhill’s Why We Buy, and Rushkoff’s Coercion. The problem is many worship leaders do not realize how each worship element influences their environment.

Unfortunately, sometimes worship leaders become blinded by tech novelty. They use technology for novelty’s sake. Symptoms include stages overwhelmed with elaborate sets, strobe lights, ellipsoidals, subwoofers, high decibels, fog, guitar solos, jumbotrons, and projection screens with lyrics on top of fast paced video loops. I think there are exceptions, but in most cases, using all of these is more than the congregation can handle.

On a personal note…

Speaking personally, my best moments of worship are when I am alone driving. In the simplicity of the car, I find it easy to focus and own the words I am singing. In a church setting, I have also experienced incredible worship in almost every type of worship environment imaginable. But typically, the ideal environments are the ones that remove distractions while subtly using technology to create an intimate, relevant (in alignment with the tone/theme of worship songs), and often beautiful environment.

The key is to keep the worship environment subtle enough that it is not a distraction. Determine the sensory threshold of the congregation within the context of the songs being sung. For example, combining fast lights with fast video could be a dangerous mix.

As with Adobe Photoshop, do not get caught up in the excitement of what technology can do. Instead, focus on what will remove distractions and enhance the experience. Usually, it requires subtle finesse.

- These are my rough and imperfect thoughts. I want to hear what you think about tech novelty and worship.

Top 10 Pet Peeves About Worship Leaders

DISCLAIMER: This list is not my (Kent Shaffer) personal opinion. The opinions in this list are not from one person, but rather it is a mashup of opinion from 150+ people (most not experts). That is why one opinion may contradict another opinion. The goal is to learn the diverse (often selfish) opinions of those in the pews. It is saddening. The opinions in the list are not my own.

WARNING: This list may offend you, particularly if you are a worship leader. It is saddening that people think this way, but I know that I am guilty of thinking some of these complaints before, too. Unfortunately, many people have thought these complaints. Reading this list may be offensive, but it can also be insightful into how picky congregations can be. It can give insights into what can be stumbling blocks of distraction for worshippers. And it also makes it clear that you can’t please everyone.

Last month, Carlos Whittaker of Buckhead Church (Atlanta, GA) blogged the dangerous question:

What is the biggest gripe you have about something a Sunday worship leader does?

The 185+ responses were fascinating, insightful, and offensive to some. To cut through the clutter of all of the opinions, I made a very rough tally of all the pet peeves to determine the top 10 pet peeves about worship leaders. Keep in mind these are subjective opinions from 100+ people.

Top 10 Pet Peeves About Worship Leaders (with examples)

  1. Asking the Congregation to do Something (21 responses)
    >> Makes us shake hands with the people around us.
    >> When a worship leader tells you to lift up your hands, it takes a meaningful personal action and turns it into a obligatory command.
    >> Talks like they’re at a high school pep rally, “Let me hear ya!”
    >> Asks how everyone is doing. We’re not at a concert, so we’re not going to scream.
    >> Tells you what to do and how to worship… to the point where it makes you feel guilty if you don’t conform yourself to her/his understanding of what worship is.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders script the worship too much by telling people what to do. I’ve had worship leaders completely distract me from God when they start telling me what to do.
  2. Mini-Sermons & Talking (20 responses)
    >> Talks between every song.
    >> I am distracted when worship leaders start talking about anything that is not directions on what we are about to do.
    >> When they repeat the same catch-phrases every week.
    >> Breathy speaking between songs.
    >> Sermonettes are annoying if too long or common
    >> You can tell a mile away when a worship leader is “sharing” because he feels obligated to. It’s always a cheesy or over emotional blurb. When God’s really laid something on a worship leader’s heart, it’s cool. But even then, say it in less than 45 seconds! Don’t meander on for 3 minutes.
  3. Not Focusing on God (17 responses)
    >> Forget that the audience of worship is God and start making it a performance for those sitting in front of them.
    >> When they perform rather than worship themselves.
    >> Showing zero emotion, standing still, focusing too much on perfection.
    >> Worship leaders who seem really wrapped up in being “cool.”
    >> Sometimes you can tell they’re being fake and/or showy.
    >> I hate it when the music guy/gal asks the crowd to praise God but soaks it up like they are Bono and the crowd is really praising them.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders don’t lead people.
  4. Unprofessional (14 responses)
    >> Starts service late.
    >> Typos on the screen.
    >> Talks to the praise band while leading worship instead of using hand signals to tell them what to do.
    >> When the leader changes the key of the song and does not tell the rest of the team.
    >> Goes out of order or adds another song in the middle of the set
    >> When the leader and/or band member turns away from the people to mess with their gear.
    >> When the production team on stage are laughing, joking, and gesturing behind the worship leader to the soundboard guys in the transition between worship and the message.
  5. Singing (11 responses)
    >> Can’t sing very well.
    >> Doesn’t know the lyrics.
    >> When worship leaders run words together.
    >> When they put their own little spin on simple, common words.
    >> Repeating the same line in a song 3.6 million times. There’s the Spirit’s leading and then there’s just plain losing people.
    >> Our old church’s leader would sing so high that no one could sing along. She provided no harmony for us to pick up. It was to showcase her own voice.
  6. Appearance (9 responses)
    >> Sing with their eyes closed.
    >> When singers act like they are really bored up there.
    >> Wears crotch hugging jeans.
    >> Looks or sounds seductive.
    >> One of our young worship leaders had a really big hicky on his neck a couple of weeks ago.
  7. Prayer (8 responses)
    >> Inauthentic prayer – too scripted or so random that it doesn’t make sense, or rushed/dragged out to make the prayer fit the interlude.
    >> Prays the words of the songs.
    >> When they can’t talk or pray appropriately between songs.
  8. Bad Transitions (5 responses)
    >> Transitions between songs take long time.
    >> Allows uncomfortable dead time between songs.
    >> When they pray essentially the same prayer at a transition moment.
    >> Using the song name as an introduction/transition – “You know I was thinking about how much God has done for me…it really is ‘Amazing Grace’ isn’t it?”
  9. Lifestyle (4 responses)
    >> When he’s obviously ungodly during practice and throughout life, but turns into a saint on Sunday morning.
    >> I hate to see a person who is suppose to be leading worship acting like a jerk before service and then getting up on stage acting like nothing ever happened.
    >> As a Pastor, I hate it when the music guy/gal is lazy apart from their 30 minute set on Sundays.
  10. Catering to the Congregation (4 responses)
    >> When they hold back because they are obviously conscious of what the congregation and/or pastor will think.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders/pastors play to people who think the worship somehow revolves around what they like and what makes them feel good when it has absolutely nothing to do with our preferences or likes.
    >> Has to risk being a cheerleader because the people that claim to love God exhibit no sense of joy when singing about Him.

Some of the pet peeves also have supporters. For instance, many people find it important to ask the congregation to raise their hands or shake hands with others. Ultimately, what matters most is that the worship leader is a Christlike example that can lead people’s focus into intimate worship with God. I like the quote that one commenter referenced:

Leading worship is the art of removing distractions.

For Discussion:
What tips do you have for creating an effective worship experience?

Unconventional Worship Programming

The Church at South Las Vegas (Henderson, NV) has created some unconventional worship programming.

Sandwich 1 worship experience between 2 preaching experiences.

In other words, instead of adding a full new service, they simply added a half service. Not only does it let the band play one less service, but it also allows The Church at South Las Vegas to maximize the number of services they can have on Sunday mornings.

They do not use this format for every service. They currently have services on Saturday evenings at 6:00 and Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:00, 11:00, and 1:00. For Sundays at 8:30, they begin with preaching, and then the 8:30 service stays for the worship at the 9:00 service.

After a month, so far the feedback is positive, and about 90% of the 8:30 service stays for the 9:00 worship.

For Discussion:
- What are some other unconventional formats for worship programming?

How to Have a Worship Service like Fellowship Church

Back in January, I highlighted a short video of the 2007 Christmas service at Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX). Today, Pace Hartfield uploaded even better videos of the Christmas service as well as a glimpse of how Fellowship Church designed the creative elements.

The Christmas Service

The Creative Video

How They Made the Creative Video

For more details about Fellowship Church’s production process, read Pace’s full explanation on his blog.