Throe Me a Rope

In my youthful zeal, I sometimes do things that may not fly well at all. Especially in a church that has a long history of trying not to contain anybody for any reason. At our church, we have comment cards.  About a year ago, we put an “unsigned comment cards will not be read” warning on them so that people wouldn’t treat the card as a poisonous dart, letting staff know what they liked or didn’t like (all in the spirit of Christian humility and unity). Well, there was a season at the turn of the year where we got many-a-card with a specific comment that sounded something like this:

I don’t like the ropes at all!!!!


Ropes? you ask. Yes. Let me explain. (If you don’t like explanations, skip down to “Now, enough about the dynamics of a room.”)

At the time, our sanctuary could hold roughly 400-420 people. However, our services are almost never that large (Christmas Eve and Easter being the exceptions). Our 9:00 service tops out at around 150-175 and our 10:45 at 175-200. Now, a room at 50% capacity (or less) is, well, not the most exciting room you’ve been in. Trust me. And given the fact that half of that number walks in at any given time during the first 15 minutes of the service and, well, you walk in and wonder if you showed up at the right place. On top of that the sanctuary is also very shallow and long, so these 200ish people are spread out in quite a funky fashion .

I’m not short on genius ideas, so I kicked it around with the worship leaders. “What would happen if we roped off the sides and had people sit in the middle?” Here was my thinking:

  • Getting people together might help the worship environment; people would be able to hear each other sing.
  • Getting people together might help the room feel less empty.
  • Getting people together might help the facilitation of aspects of worship such as communion and our offering.

It was iron-clad. Clearly only a genius pastor would’ve come to such a conclusion.

Now, enough about the dynamics of a room. 

Ken, our incredibly wise and tenured worship pastor (who has been on staff as long as I’ve been alive), told me that he’s wanted to do that for years but never has. Evan, our incredibly wise and untenured worship pastor (who has not been alive as long as I’ve been alive), said we should give at a run. Kevin, our incredibly wise senior pastor, who generally preaches at our other location, said, “Good luck.” (He didn’t actually say that, but it sounds cooler–and more humorous–to say he did.)

So in November/December of last year, we roped off the side sections, opening them up when the room started to fill.

You would’ve thought I had installed disco balls throughout the sanctuary. 

I am not sure that any other change in my time at The Chapel has received as many comments as the ropes. I laugh about it now (through my tears), but just about every week, I was having a conversation with someone about it. I even had lunch with a friend who goes to our other site, and he mentioned it to me (cue music: “Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been adding some ropes.”). Now that I think about it, disco balls would’ve been less offensive.

For weeks–no, months— I was having long meetings, writing emails, fielding comment cards, and hearing about the ropes from dear, dear people. I wanted them all to be heard, and I wanted to address as many as I could so that they knew what I was thinking. Ken and Evan were getting more of the same. Some people considered moving locations or changing churches. Among other things, they felt constrained, controlled, and babied.

I gotta be honest. I didn’t expect the move to annoy that many people. Still, there were some great lessons to be learned from something as innocuous as ropes in a sanctuary :

  • People want to be heard–People don’t comment simply because they might want to go back to the way things were but because they need to be heard. If you can value the person (even if you don’t agree), it can go a long way. I didn’t succeed in this every time, but I tried.
  • Any shift in a worship setting carries significance–There is always a reason the way things are the way things are. It often runs unquestioned, untested, and unexplained–it gets down to a value that expresses itself in a behavior, but that value isn’t discovered until the behavior is changed. Especially when you are dealing with people’s worship habits.
  • It’s a big deal to someone— Don’t see things from only your perspective. See things from someone else’s. How about the person who has to pee? How about the person who cannot move quickly? How about the person who comes late? A mom with small kids in the service? A small change to you might be a huge change to them.
  • Have support–Talk things over with people–on staff and not on staff. I didn’t do that and, thus, it felt like “the suits” were making some kind of crazy decision. And, in my instance, the suit was 29 years old. incredibly attractive, but still 29 years old.
  • Love people–Don’t mock, don’t hate, don’t malign, don’t slander. In front of and behind closed doors, love your people and show them Jesus, even in an (in)significant change.

It’s now June. The ropes are still there. The comments have died down. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Some are ambivalent.  Sometimes we forget to put them up. Some move them almost every single Sunday and sit where they want. We don’t police it like crazy. I figure, if you are so bothered that you need to move the ropes, then I don’t need to cause any issue at all with it.

I wonder how much disco balls cost. . .

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