The Art Effect

By Jennifer Johnson

Many churches look at summer as a time to coast; attendance is down, staff members are vacationing, and everyone is tempted to take it easy.

Not The Crossing Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year the creative arts team developed Art Effect, a seven-week emphasis on the arts tied into senior pastor Shane Philip’s sermon series on the book of Proverbs.

From hip-hop music to paintings by children, The Crossing used summer 2015 to stretch its people—and themselves—with new expressions of worship.

A Variety of Approaches

The Crossing’s creative arts team includes several staff members, including Lee Coate, executive pastor of ministry and media; David Cowan, arts pastor; and Michelle Shepherd, musical director, as well as volunteers with experience in art, film production, and script writing.

“April, one of our volunteer members, suggested the summer might be a good time to flex our creative muscles and do something different highlighting the use of the arts in the church,” Shepherd says. “It wasn’t about being ‘attractional’ and getting new people in the door; instead, the goal was to explore ways to express our relationship with Christ and what his sacrifice means to us.”

Art Effect began on June 14 with spoken word artist Hosanna Poetry and her original piece called “Redwoods.”

“It was a great connection to the first message in the series, based on Proverbs 1,” Shepherd says. “‘Redwoods’ talks about our roots going deep and how we need each other to stand tall.”

The team also asked her to read the Scripture text for the morning, Proverbs 1:20-33, as a spoken word piece to reinforce the theme and bring new energy to a familiar passage.

Meanwhile, artistic expression for Father’s Day began that week, as well—and involved some of The Crossing’s littlest artists.

“On the 14th—the Sunday before Father’s Day—we visited our kids’ program and asked the kids to draw pictures of their dads,” Shepherd says. “We chose some pictures that really stood out to us, then called the parents and asked if their kids could participate in the Father’s Day worship services.”

It was a big commitment—The Crossing currently offers three services on Sunday morning and one Sunday evening—but 13 families agreed to participate. During each worship time, 13 kids stood at 13 easels and recreated their original pictures while the band played “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” by Darius Rucker.

The following week, The Crossing invited Los Angeles artist Jennifer Main to create an original painting.

“That week we talked about waiting being the hardest work of hope,” Shepherd says. “Jennifer painted a beautiful portrait of a woman in a posture of waiting with the word hope added across the top. We incorporated the song ‘Waiting Here for You’ by Christy Nockels, and it was a powerful moment, especially since it was the Sunday after the church shootings in South Carolina.”

The Crossing’s arts pastor David Cowan (above) was himself the featured artist on July 12. Cowan wrote a script for a video called "Scars" and shot it in Monument Valley.
The Crossing’s arts pastor David Cowan (above) was himself the featured artist on July 12. Cowan wrote a script for a video called “Scars” and shot it in Monument Valley.

On July 5, Gina Pero shared a contemporary lyrical dance to a song called “Here’s My Heart” by Lauren Daigle, and on July 12 arts pastor David Cowan was himself the featured artist.

“The main thing I bring to the table from an artistic perspective is video,” Cowan says. “I wrote the script for a video called Scars and shot it in Monument Valley. The idea is that every path in life leaves scars, but only following Christ leads to life.”

As Art Effect neared its final weeks, the creative team wanted to feature a completely different style of music from another culture.

“We discovered a young lady named Yun “Celine” Peng who plays the guzheng, a large Chinese instrument somewhat like a harp,” Shepherd says.

The song “Again” by artist Jon Foreman features the guzheng, so The Crossing’s July 19 worship included a live performance of the song featuring Celine.

“In addition to being a great musical experience of worship, it was also really well received by our church because we have a large community of Asian believers here,” Shepherd says.

Art Effect ended big on July 26 with a hip-hop dance number performed to the song “Eye On It” by TobyMac.

Although The Crossing is a large church with significant resources, gigachurch status isn’t necessary to use the arts well in worship. The most important thing, Cowan and Shepherd say, is to begin with a theme and a team.

“For us, the creative process is a full-contact sport,” Cowan says. “It’s not arguing, but it is having a trust level that allows us to push ourselves and each other for the best idea.”

A Single Focus

In addition to working collaboratively, it’s key for the group to begin with the main point of the message or theme of the service.

“We didn’t decide to have Hosanna Poetry do a spoken word performance because it would be ‘cool,’” Cowan says. “We began with the Scripture passage for that weekend, which talked about wisdom calling out into the streets. That prompted us to think about the power of words and how that could fit into worship.”

The pastors encourage churches of all sizes to challenge themselves to think about familiar topics in new ways.

“Sometimes simple is best, but we try to avoid the overly simple or obvious choice,” Cowan adds. “Again, that team dynamic is crucial to dig deeper and avoid the easy answer.”

“The past couple of summers we’ve done a series building on various movies and their moral ideas,” says Shepherd. “It’s always worked well, and our people like it. But this year we wanted to push ourselves and try something more challenging.”

Finally, no matter how big or small the church, it’s important to remember the use of arts in worship is about worship, both on Sunday morning and in all of life.

“We wanted to inspire people in their relationship with God, reflect the character of God, and then hopefully demonstrate new ways people could express their worship to God,” Cowan says. “Art Effect showed people there are many ways to be creative like their creator and use their personal gifts to worship. We wanted to ‘expand the canvas’ of possibilities.”

“People sometimes find creative expression risky because with art comes freedom,” Shepherd says. “Art Effect was a way to let people know that art is given to us by God and can be used to express our hearts back to God.”

Jennifer Johnson is a freelance editor and writer living outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Learn more about The Crossing Church at www.thecrossinglv.com.

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