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Bring the beauty of the arts to your church


By Tricia Brown

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
~ French artist Edgar Degas

Chances are good that there are more than a few artists in your congregation. While the church often incorporates the musical arts within its ministries, there are a variety of other artists who can use their talents to help others “see” the glory of God.

Here are a few ideas on how you can make a place for art when planning your worship service and other ministries.

“The visual arts often speak more clearly and universally than words.”
~ Ashley M. Calhoun, The Work of Visual Arts in Worship

Preaching presentations

A Pentecost Festival of Story and Song at Grace UMC. Visual artist, Abby Norman, leads the worship service in art, painting the "Fiery Dove." Photo by Cynthia Mack, General Board of Global Ministries.

By adding visual art as a component to your worship service or sermon, you give your congregation another avenue not only to worship but also to understand the message you are presenting.

Perhaps your congregation includes a sketch artist, painter or sculptor. Team up with an artist to create a unique worship presentation. Discuss your sermon (or sermon series) with the artist and give him or her the opportunity to think about how to illustrate the primary passage from scripture, person of interest or message.

Allow the artist to set up a work area visible to the whole congregation. During worship, as you preach, ask the artist to work on the piece. Ideally, it should be complete by the end of the sermon (or sermon series) and placed on display for the congregation to view.

Artwork on the floor of the plenary hall adds visual symbolism to the 2015 Iowa Conference annual session. Design by the Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten. Photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa Conference

If your artists prefer to work in private, ask them to create pieces that can be displayed on stage while you preach or that can be included in a display to promote your sermon.

Be sure to compensate church guests and give artists the honor they are due.

“God designed the arts to jump over barriers, slip past our intellect, and penetrate our hearts and souls.”
~ J. Scott McElroy and Jessie Nilo
Starting an Arts Ministry in Your Church

Mixed media

Technology is at once creating new art forms and changing how art is made. For example, videography has helped photography evolve to a whole new level. In the same way, the spoken word has both resurrected the almost lost art of oral poetry and transformed it.

Spoken word pieces concentrate on the “aesthetics of word play.” The presenter’s cadence is as important as the words themselves. This is a particularly popular form of poetry with the younger generation. So, ask around. Chances are someone in your congregation will have this talent. You can ask them to write and perform a piece on a particular topic or ask them to use a prewritten liturgy.

Since these types of presentations can be live but are often presented via video recordings, you can make this a team effort, including musicians to perform background music and artists who are adept at video technology.

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
~ Author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Crafty church décor

God is the ultimate crafter, speaking into existence the beauty that artists often try to re-create. However, there are probably many artisans in your congregation who may not think of themselves as such.

Totem pole carved by the Rev. David K. Fison, St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska.

Knitters, quilters, seamstresses, woodworkers and other craftspeople are all artists in their own right. Give them the opportunity to use their talents to contribute to congregational worship or other church ministries.

They might create rugs or table runners to use in your sanctuary, or banners to be used during worship or special ceremonies. Seamstresses may be willing to help design and create costumes for holiday performances. Quilters may wish to display pieces in special exhibits. Woodworkers can help build stages and props for plays or create special candleholders or other worship implements. Your youth group would love a set of beautifully designed cornhole boards.

Craftspeople also can share their talents through the sale of their crafts. For instance, in Matthews, North Carolina, Matthews United Methodist Church hosts an Arts and Crafts Extravaganza to help raise funds for a special children’s ministry.  

“In order to find a place for our craft in the congregation, we must find the needs around us and search for ways to meet those needs with our gifts.”
~ Craig Pittman, The Christian Artist in Ministry

Other arts for the church

Take time to think about artists within your church who may not often be recognized as such. For example, a sometimes overlooked art form is architecture and interior design. Ask these artists to help when you are designing church nurseries or creating prayer rooms. Pinterest has inspiring church nursery décor ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Writers can help create lessons for Sunday school and write plays, poetry and prayers for special occasions. Graphic artists can help create posters, bulletins and other forms of print media. Florists can liven up the church sanctuary with fresh creations each week.

In addition, art in itself can be a ministry. You may want to consider how the inclusion of art activities might help others. For example, Memorial United Methodist Church in Thomasville, North Carolina, holds an Arts Alive academy that helps provide art activities and lessons to people in the community who might not otherwise afford such opportunities.

Artists can use their talents to minister to individuals. For example, a visual artist might choose to draw portraits of infants as a gift to new parents or paint a memorial picture of a family member.

And, finally, you may choose to simply celebrate the arts, like First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That church hosts an annual Celebration of the Arts, a 13-day festival featuring art displays, concerts, dramas and art activities.

“Art is what it is because God is who he is.”
~ Philip Ryken, Art for God’s Sake

There are many ways to incorporate ministry and the arts. Some churches are creating artisan communities to promote more arts in the church. The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, for example, states that its mission is to help church leaders create “meaningful worship experiences that bring people into deeper relationships with God and each other.”

If you see the need to enhance the ways the gifts of the artists in your church are used, start with these three simple steps:

  1. Pray. Any new endeavor needs prayer. Pray for ideas. Pray for artists who are willing to share. Pray for resources and receptiveness from the congregation.
  2. Meet. Ask any interested artists to meet with you to discuss possible future endeavors. Compile a list of artists who are interested in contributing. Ask them to pray and think about ideas and ways they might feel comfortable sharing their talents with the church.
  3. Start. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, and don’t be afraid to start out small. Find ways to include art in the life of your church.

Throughout the ages, art has been a part of the church. God designed the temple, employing artisans to create its beautiful and ornate workmanship. Churches of old included stained-glass windows created to illustrate God’s word, and even the most simple country churches often include beautiful wooden crosses and podiums. Writers, speakers and musicians have always taken part in worship services. Art is and always has been part of the church. It is simply another way in which people wonder at and express God’s creativity, love and majesty.

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.