Imagine if the local church became the place in culture to experience beauty, imagination, creativity and transcendence.

It is possible.

Hundreds of years ago churches were, in many ways, centers for these experiences. Somehow, over time we’ve abdicated that role. Now, many churches are moving in that direction again and there’s a growing desire to begin developing creative arts programs. (See Notes 1.)

The arts are inextricably intertwined with our culture. The average person encounters performance, music, design, image and the media arts daily, even hourly.  Most churches would like to become more fluent in the use of the arts in order to communicate truths about God more effectively.  That’s a worthy goal.  He designed the arts to jump over our barriers, slip past our intellect, and penetrate our hearts and souls.   But God’s value of the arts goes beyond human thoughts about how they could be “useful.” He values them because He IS beauty and creativity. Whether His beauty and creativity are expressed in nature or through the arts, embracing them enables us to more fully understand His personality and enjoy His presence.

Many in the Church are recognizing that God is now calling us to reclaim the arts and integrate them and artists into our worship and outreaches. But most churches around the world don’t currently have an arts ministry or programs, though there are talented artists in their congregations.  If God has been nudging you, speaking to you about incorporating the arts into your church, here are a few thoughts on how to get started.  Part One offers tips for Pastors and Leaders, Part Two for Artists.

Part One:  For PASTORS AND LEADERS who want to start an arts ministry, program or outreach at their church.

1. Start praying now about what God wants to do with the arts at your church. Just as pastors have specific messages from God for their congregations at specific times in history, so it is with the artists He has planted in your congregation.  As you train them to hear God’s voice they will bring powerful messages that enhance what He is doing in your congregation. Read a book like Finding Divine Inspiration or Heart of the Artist to better understand how to disciple and encourage artists. The arts have endless applications in ministry. They can enhance worship, illustrate or enhance ideas and concepts, stir emotions, add beauty, enliven outreach and intuitively communicate God’s messages (see Notes 2 for ideas.)  Ask God to give you a vision for what He wants to do through the arts in your church.

2. Pray for the right person to lead your artists. You want an arts ministry to develop naturally, in God’s timing and to not be forced. Arts leaders can be difficult to find. Your ideal arts leader will need to be a mix of pastor and administrator. Their pastoral tendencies will be important to shepherd, encourage and understand the artists, and thier administrative skills will  help with the follow-through that artists and artistic projects need.  It’s helpful if the leader has artistic talent, but not necessary as long as they understand the creative temperament. Make a commitment to disciple this person; they will be a huge asset to you and your church. (See Notes 3).

3. Invite Artists to meet and pray. Put a notice in the bulletin inviting interested artists and creative types to meet at the church or a nearby coffeehouse to pray and talk about possibly starting an arts ministry. Use the time to gather contact information and circulate a survey (see Notes 4 for survey). Share the vision God has given you for the arts in your church. You might also take some time during the meeting to brainstorm and listen to God together, asking Him how you can collaborate with Him through the arts to bring His messages to your congregation. (See Notes 5).

4. Understand where they are coming from. Many artists have been offended by the church or Christians. Just spending time with them will help heal that. You will bless them immensely if you take the time to pray for each of them individually at some point during the meeting. As these artists flourish, your congregation will flourish.

5. Later, when you have an Arts Leader, have them call a meeting–which you attend–to talk about specific arts project you and they want to do. Your attendance will help commission them and clarify direction. NOTE: It is important to meet at least occasionally with your arts leadership. Discuss difficulties, challenges and dreams they have. Give them a list of dates, topics or services you’d like to see the arts integrated into. MAKE SURE you’ve spent time listening to them first. If you give them ideas first they may be overloaded. Help them to set up a plan for discipling the artists in their care. Let them know you and the church stand behind them.

Part Two: For ARTISTS who want to start an arts ministry, program or outreach at their church.

1. Start praying now for God’s guidance.  First, it’s important to take some time to pray through what role God would have you play in starting or facilitating an arts ministry. You want to ask Him to check your motives, prepare your heart and confirm if He is calling you to step out and initiate or lead.  Ask someone else to pray with you about integrating the arts in your church, and for God to open the doors. You want this to happen naturally, in God’s timing and to not be forced. (See Notes 6 for prayer inspiration and direction).

2. Talk with someone in leadership about integrating the arts into your church.  Get some input from leadership. Your Senior Pastor may or may not be the person to approach to start this dialogue; it may be the Worship Pastor or maybe an elder who “gets” you. Many churches are somewhat entrenched in the “way we always do things,” so you need to be patient, respectful, and trustworthy in your approach. If your church is more open to the arts, explore where leadership would like to go with the arts in the future. Ask for dates when arts projects would fit in to services. Get permission to hold a meeting for artists, if that seems to be the next step.

3. Invite Artists to meet and pray. See if you can put a notice in the church bulletin inviting interested artists and creative types to meet at the church or a nearby coffeehouse to pray and talk about what integrating the arts into your church might look like. Use the time to pray, get to know each other, talk about possibly starting an arts ministry, gather contact information and circulate a survey. (See Notes 4 for survey). Talk about tentative dates for another meeting, possibly a repeating time once a month or once a quarter.  Try to make future meetings a time to connect and be authentic with other artists. Pray for needs, for healing, for projects, for commissioning.  Maybe anoint each person with oil, if you do that kind of thing, or have everyone place their hands on the person being prayed for. Foster connection! If you have a large group, break up into groups of 4 people or so.

4. Pray about a project or idea you might suggest during the meeting. It’s a good thing to give people something to do after you get them excited. There are many project ideas that can get your artists, the congregation and leadership involved (see Notes 7 for ideas). If you have someone who can hold a workshop on an area of the arts, see if there is interest in that. You might also take some time during the meeting to brainstorm and listen to God together, asking Him how you can collaborate with Him in the arts. (See Notes 5).

Starting an arts ministry in your church can be a challenging process, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit it may become one of the richest and most enjoyable ministries your congregation has.

When the arts and artists begin to integrate into a church, that congregation becomes more complete and mature because the Body of Christ is operating as it should, with each part and gift building up the other. (Romans 12:4-6) (See Notes 8).

There is a renewal of the arts– a New Renaissance—that God is activating at this time in history. He wants to restore beauty, creativity, imagination and transcendence to their intended purpose, His glory.  A reintegration of the arts into the Church and infusion of spiritually inspired art into the culture is underway and God is inviting you and your church to take your place in it.

Notes:

  1. See a growing list of churches with Arts Ministries at http://TheNewR.org under, “The Arts in Your Church” , “Church Arts Ministries”
  2. For more information, ideas and resources go to The New Renaissance Rising at http://TheNewR.org.
  3. Revolutionary Leadership by Tri Robinson is a good book to read and pass on to arts leaders.  See this article: Embracing the Arts in the Church: Pt. 2 for ideas on how to integrate the arts and maintain a standard of quality.
  4. Arts Survey available at http://TheNewR.org in “Materials and Ideas”.
  5. See the book Finding Divine Inspiration (http://FindingDivineInspiration.com) for more on leading artists to hear God’s voice.
  6. “Prayers for the New Renaissance” provided at http://TheNewR.org in “Material and Ideas”.
  7. See “Materials and Ideas” at http://TheNewR.org.
  8. See this article, “The Arts and the Maturity of the Church”.

J. Scott McElroy is Founder and Director of The New Renaissance Rising, the author of Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity (Destiny Image) and Director of Arts at Vineyard Community Church, Indianapolis, IN. He blogs at http://jscottmc.wordpress.com.  Reach him at: Scott@TheNewR.org.

Jessie Nilo is Director of Church-Artist Connections for The New Renaissance Rising, Founder and Director of VineArts, the arts ministry of Vineyard Boise Church. VineArts operates with a team of 13 leaders that facilitates arts workshops, mission trips, outreach, studies, a gallery and more. Their permanent studio is open weekly and provides space for the visual arts, writing, culinary arts, film, and design. Reach Jessie at : Jessie@TheNewR.org.  

Publication date: April 5, 2011