The Geography of Worship
Why do we do what we do?
Welcome to The Bridge Church. If you’re new here, you’ll undoubtedly notice that we do things a little differently here than you might be used to at other evangelical churches. Perhaps it’s the geography of the service - the way we set things up and use our space; or perhaps it the style of the service - either more formal, or less formal than you might be used to from where you came; or perhaps it’s the form of the service - the way we structure and order the elements of worship over the course of 90 minutes. Whatever you’ve noticed, I want to tell you that much of it is intentional, and there are important reasons for why they are the way they are.
If you’re not new here, perhaps you’ve been here for a while and find our unique way of doing things familiar, or perhaps you’ve been here so long that you remember a time when things were different and perhaps long for a time gone by. I want to take these next few weeks on the blog to remind you of why we do what we do, and to help you remember the very intentional reasons we have for the choices we have made. So over the next ten weeks we will be looking at the following aspects of our worship service to better help you understand/remember who we are, why we do what we do, and what are the goals of our choices.
The Geography of Worship - what we want you to notice and experience when you walk into our space for worship
A Peculiar People; a Thankful People - why we start with the offering
Perfectly Balanced as All Things Should Be - how we consider both who we are and who we long to be when choosing a vocabulary of worship (song style and selection)
The Proclaimed Word - rediscovering the public reading of scripture
The Applied Word - why the sermon is dialogical (discussion questions matter)
The Great Unburdening - the liberating power of corporate confession
Recognizing the Body - why we take time every Sunday for the passing of the peace
A Community of Hospitality - how and why we centre the service around the open table
The Power of Presence - why the prayer and ministry time at the end of the service is not just an addendum
Sending - what we bring back into the world
Today we start the series with a look at what we want you to pay attention to when you walk in to church and why we arrange our space the way we do. And we start that discussion with tables.
When you walk into the worship space at The Bridge Church one of the first things you will undoubtedly notice are the tables. I mean, how could you miss them? You go looking for somewhere to sit and find that instead of sitting in a row facing the front of the auditorium and the backs of other people’s heads that you are staring across a table at someone else. Weird huh?
Yup. It is. But it’s by design.
While our furniture lay out has the potential to be polarizing, we have intentionally designed it as such because we want to communicate something through it. In many churches, you will enter into the sanctuary, find your seat, perhaps make some pleasant small-talk with the people to your right or left (or not) and then spend the next 60-90 minutes with your attention focused on what is happening at the front of the room. Perhaps you will sing, perhaps you will pray, perhaps you will listen and be enriched by the teaching, but you will do all of that as an autonomous individual relating to God with no frame of reference to the people around you. That’s not a critique of any of the stuff happening at the front of other churches, it may be great worship, great liturgy, great preaching, but it’s an experience between you and God - and that’s it. At The Bridge Church we believe that a worship service is a communal experience, and that as such we need to adopt a posture that recognizes that when we gather to worship it is not as a collection of individuals in isolation receiving a spiritual service but as a community that meets God together.
When you sit across from the people you worship with you are forced to acknowledge that you have not come to meet God alone, but as a community. You are forced to recognize that people in that community are coming to worship with different experiences than you - perhaps you’ve had a great week, but they have had a terrible one - and wrestle with how you encounter God differently as a result. When you sit across from people, you start to think about how they are experiencing the words of the songs that you are singing, and the scripture that is being read. You can’t help but consider the other that you are now face to face with, and that is driven home when we process the sermon together afterward. We are forced to see Jesus in each other and to experience Jesus beyond our own experience. When we gather for communion we don’t break bread with a faceless mass of people, but with real people across the table from us. We sit around tables because we think it’s better than sitting alone. We want to participate, not just receive and our geography of worship is designed to facilitate that value.
Beyond the tables broadly, there is a specific table at the front of the room that is always there. It is the table of the Lord’s Supper, of Eucharist, Communion - whatever you are inclined to call it. At The Bridge Church we don’t want people to be confused about what our service revolves around. Where many churches these days seem to centre their worship around the music experience with amazing bands and enthusiastic singing, and many others centre their worship around the preached word with long messages, deep exposition and profound engagement - we have chosen to centre our worship around the table. Everything we do in the service builds to an encounter with Christ at the table. We respond to his invitation to take, and eat, and be a part of him. We seek his presence in the broken bread and the cup of the new covenant. We believe that in that meal we encounter God with a vitality and tangibility that cannot be experienced any other way. And so we put the table front and centre and visit it every Sunday because that is why we come.
The last piece of worship geography that you might notice as being unfamiliar at The Bridge is our giving station. We believe that giving is not just an element of worship but perhaps the inciting element of worship. When we give, we acknowledge to God that it is only by his graceful and benevolent provision that we are even able to attend worship. And so we place the giving station at the back of the auditorium where people enter in. When you come to worship you walk past the place where gifts are collected and where our God’s benevolence is acknowledged. When you leave you walk past it again as a reminder of how much God has given you. It’s position at the back also has logistical benefits for our service flow and the multiplicity of ways that people give in the current age, but primarily it is a visual monument to the importance of giving. We’ll get more into that topic in the next blog when we start our service walk through with our celebration of God’s provision.
I hope this explanation of our geography has been helpful. Next week we look at what it means to be a peculiar, thankful people in the first element of our service flow: the offering.