The following is a list—in no particular order—of things you can enact in your church to create a greater openness to the arts with your congregations and become more friendly to artists of faith. Some of these ideas are small and relatively easy undertakings, and some are flat out BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Some are quite inexpensive, and some are quite resource intensive. Some might be totally inappropriate or even ridiculous to your situation, and some might be your next perfect step. Mostly, I hope to inspire you into thinking about what it is that you can do, and do well, in your unique church context.
[UPDATE: For a discussion of principles and practices regarding this list, please see the accompanying blog, Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church.]
Do you have some ideas? Share them, and I’ll add them to the list!
1) Start an Art Gallery in the Lobby or other area of your church building. Really, all you need is a large hallway or a blank area and the desire to run it.
2) Sponsor a Live Music Cafe on your church campus. Better yet, create a Live Venue at a local coffee shop and have your musicians play there.
3) Turn your Vacation Bible School into an Arts Camp. This can include tracks in music, dance, painting, photography, woodworking, craftmaking, and even culinary.
4) Create an Art Bar in the back of your sanctuary, a large hands-on workstation with pastels, watercolors, colored pencils, and other art supplies that people can use freely during services or other events.
5) Start a monthly Songwriter’s Guild where your musically creative people can share their songs, hone their skills, and encourage one another.
7) Start a Project Recording Studio as one of the ministries of your church, and make it available to artists of faith for free (this is a good way to recruit musicians for your worship teams, by the way).
8) Bring your visual artists together to create a Large-Scale Mural to hang as a backdrop behind your stage in your sanctuary.
9) Start a Drum Circle, and use it to lead worship occasionally. Drum Circles are easy, communal, and fun.
10) Host a Film Festival. Yeah, I know that’s pretty big. Maybe you should grab some of your folks and attend one first.
11) Create an Open Studio, a regular venue for gathering a community of artists of all kinds, to create together in a relaxed and affirming environment.
12) Invite visual artists (such as painters, pastel artists, or sculptors) to create Performance Art as an expression of worship during your services.
13) Support an Artist Missionary, locally or internationally. Here’s a place to find some.
14) Storytelling is a powerful communication tool, and the theatrical arts are an effective way to tell that story. Recruit actors to build a Drama Team that will perform during your services.
15) Related to the previous idea, your Drama Team will need Drama Sketches in support of your message. There are a variety of resources to draw from, or empower the writers in your church to write scripts for you.
16) If a Drama Team is too risky for your congregation, start with a Drama Team in the children’s ministries area. It’s an easier audience to hone your acting skills, and it is quite rewarding.
17) Allow the bands or solo musicians in your church to do Mini-Concerts between or before your services. This gives them a venue to share their music with their church families, and encourages them and your congregation as well.
18) Start a Book Club, reading a book together and discussing it.
19) Establish an After School Program for the Arts. This can take many forms and sizes, from Art Classes to Dance Lessons to Photography to a School of Rock.
20) If an After School Program seems too daunting, then consider offering your facilities to local Music Teachers (e.g., Guitar, Drums, Piano Instructors) or Dance Instructors mid-week, so they will have a place to teach. Note: This may have tax implications on your non-profit organization, so understand how that works first.
22) We encourage people to Doodle in their Church Bulletins. In fact, we have a space in the program for them to do so.
23) Encourage your Songwriters to write Original Worship Songs and incorporate them into your services as an expression of your congregation.
24) Take your visual artists Gallery Hopping.
25) Host an Arts Festival and invite all the artists of faith from your area to participate. Set up arts and crafts booths, put up a stage with rotating bands, install an art bar for the children, and see who shows up.
26) These days, paintings and other visual pieces can be digitized and turned into Large Tapestries that can be hung from the walls of your sanctuary. Using original art, you can create tapestries that are seasonal, topical, or are related to the liturgical church calendar.
27) What do you do with all those people in in your congregation who play trombone or clarinet? Start a smaller Horn Section, String Quartet or Brass Choir (during Christmas) to spice up your worship services and give you more musical diversity. This is lots less work than an entire orchestra, and is easier to make sound good.
28) Experiment and incorporate Visio Divina into your corporate worship experiences. (Note: If you don’t know what this is, I strongly encourage you to hit the link.)
29) Start a Movie Club, where you take a group to see a current movie at a local theater (or just in your home with popcorn), and then discuss the Christian themes and narratives of the movie.
31) Start a summer Music In The Park Series featuring bands and music groups from your church. Use the proceeds to benefit your local food bank or other non-profit organization.
32) Start a Book Study for all the artists of faith in your church or arts community. There are a number of good books you can use, including The Heart of the Artist (Rory Noland), Walking on Water (Madeleine L’Engle), Unlocking the Heart of the Artist (Matt Tommey), or my Book.
33) Send your creatives to an Arts Conference. Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll also be instilling vision and building community too.
34) Create an Ambience Team whose job would be to create the ambience and decor for your sanctuary. This multi-disciplined approach includes graphic arts, interior design, floral design, and set design.
35) Present a Theatrical Play. One Act or Full, Comedy or Drama, Musical Theater or Murder Mystery, this can be a great outreach for your church, and can tap into a whole host of artistic disciplines—acting, set design, graphics, music score, lighting, visual arts, etc.
36) If you are a worship or creative arts pastor or director at a church, establish a regular Worship Leader Meeting with the other churches in your area. Not only will you be able to share songs and ideas, but as you grow in relationship, you’ll be able to go deeper, sharing the challenges and disappointments and triumphs of ministry. (I can’t stress to you how important this is.)
37) Challenge the gifted Writers in your church to write Short Stories, i.e., modern parables, that can be shared in children’s ministries or even in services.
38) Compile and publish those Short Stories as an expression of the writers of your church. There are a lot of reasonable self-publishing options these days. Have everyone donate the proceeds to a non-profit organization.
39) Have an old-fashioned Quilting Bee.
40) Start a monthly Jam Night for all musicians. This gives people who play unusual instruments like banjos and french horns a place to express themselves, and you can use it to sniff out new talent in your congregation.
41) Forgo preaching a sermon occasionally and use First-Person Storytelling to preach instead. (Warning: Don’t attempt this if your preacher is a bad actor!)
42) Another way to incorporate Drama to tell story in your services is Reader’s Theater, a dramatic presentation typically read from scripts on music stands or in binders. This allows you to get people involved who are intimidated by memorization.
43) Many art forms just don’t fit on a Sunday morning. To give a venue for these expressions, present a quarterly or semi-annual Evening With The Arts featuring different artists from your church, such as dance, music, poetry, drama, and other arts. Similar to a Talent Show, but without the awkward judging.
44) Use Poetry in your worship services.
45) Dance in the church can sometimes be controversial. If this is your scenario, consider using Children, preferably those with a dance academy background. Make the movements minimal below the waist, dress them appropriately, choose a special occasion and a special song, and make sure they smile a lot!
46) Give your your Technical Artists the tools to be creative. Purchase adequate lighting for your lighting tech, an adequate mixing console for your sound tech, adequate computers for your multimedia tech.
47) If you have quilters or tailors in your congregation, have them create Tapestries to hang in your sanctuary, or Tablecloths for your communion table.
48) Is there an English Teacher in your church? Start a Literary Arts Group, where people can share, encourage and critique their fiction and non-fiction works.
49) If producing a full play production seems daunting, start smaller with a Dessert Theater. This also gives your Culinary Artists a chance to show their stuff!
50) Ask your Graphic Artists and Photographers to create Original Backgrounds for the Lyric Slides you use during your worship services.
51) Get your videographers involved in your services by having them produce Video Announcements. You can also use these in your church websites.
52) Bring in an Expert to work on skills and craftsmanship. It can be a Musician, a Director, a Writer, a Choreographer, or a Speaker on Faith and the Arts. Often an Expert can help kick start an Arts Team by stirring up interest.
53) Establish a rotating Breakfast Team that will feed your creative arts volunteers on a Sunday morning between services.
54) Most churches have websites these days. Your church can have an area of your website devoted to the music, visual arts, photography, film, etc. An On-Line Media Gallery is a great way to promote the arts, and the artists, of your church.
55) Send your photographers out to take nature photos, then use them in your worship as a Visual Call To Worship. (Good song for this: “This Is My Father’s World.”)
56) If your church has a portable PA System, loan it out to aspiring bands in your area as a way to encourage artists of faith to play out in the community.
58) Encourage your children to express themselves with their digital cameras and smart phones to create a Children’s Photo Gallery. You’ll be surprised by how different they see the world than we do.
59) Create a Website specifically for your Creative Arts Ministry, featuring different ministries, artistic expressions, and people in your church. Check ours out here.
60) Invite the teenagers in your church to share their favorite Song Lyrics (appropriate of course), hand-written and framed, for your Art Gallery. Related to the previous idea, this also is a window into the minds of our teens.
61) If there is a faith-based Theatrical Company or Dance Troupe in your area, offer to host their next production. This is a good way to establish a rapport with outside arts organizations.
62) Related to the last idea, if you have community performance groups in your area (such as a community orchestra, chorale group, or theatre troupe), offer your facilities as a Rehearsal Space. Though you should always be mindful of who you affiliate with, this is an excellent way to establish a relationship with other arts groups.
63) Encourage your Songwriters by playing their recorded original music as background music before and after services.
64) Start a Photography Team, which will take photos of all the events of your church. Post them on your website. Every year, compile the best of them and create a video montage celebrating the life of your church.
65) Grab those people in the Movie Club you started, and make them responsible for finding suitable film clips you can use in your Sunday sermons. Note: You will need a CVLI license to legally show the clips (similar to a CCLI license for worship songs).
66) You’ve heard of Improvisation as it relates to Music, but have you ever tried tying it to Improvisational Painting and Improvisational Dance? Here’s a thrilling way to try it.
67) T-Shirts. Create brand identity for your arts ministry by putting out T-shirts for different events. Give a free T-shirt to new recruits to your ministry.
68) Here’s a fun community art project: Invite your congregation to create a Stained Glass Window, made from colored, geometrically cut plastic sheets that they can paint on and bring together in a mosaic on a large window.
69) Produce a Worship CD with your musicians and vocalists. This raises the values of worship and musicianship with your people, and can be used to promote your church.
71) Whenever you have a visual artist do a show in your Art Gallery, make sure you give an Artist Reception for them. This is not only a good celebratory act, it can be an outreach to all the friends and associates of your artist of faith. You can do this between services or on a special evening.
72) Take your creatives to View a Local Theater Presentation, then critique it for artistry and content, looking for things you can incorporate yourself.
73) Start a Culinary Arts Club. Yummy.
74) Start a Worship Choir. You can start small with a one-time event, and work towards seasonal or year-round participation.
75) Use Chalkboard Paint in your Youth and Children’s Rooms.
76) I’ve mentioned a number of different groups that you can start—A Songwriter’s Guild, A Movie Club, A Literary Arts Group, etc. Here is a list of Rules of Engagement for starting and maintaining such groups.
77) Send your Artists on a Missions Trip. There are a variety of ways and means for this. Here’s one.
78) Don’t be afraid to Commission a work of art if necessary. You pay for the plumber to work at the church; make it okay to occasionally pay for a work of art.
79) Create a youtube or vimeo Video Channel of your church’s multimedia and video pieces.
80) Establish a Big Idea Group made up of the most creative artists in your church to come up with a hundred more ideas you can enact in your church. Good things happen when Creatives come together. Hint: For maximum creativity, always feed them.
81) Pray for your Artists.