I love to create Experiential Worship Stations, and I would love to teach you how to do so as well! Worship Stations are small installations in a larger space that create opportunities for individuals or small groups to interact with various concepts about God and His Word and to respond to them through using various pathways and sensory means.
Here are some principles to follow and questions to ask that will help you create effective and memorable worship experiences for your community.
- Choose a unifying theme. Worship stations are best when they help the worshipper discover and interact with a single complex concept, rather than disconnected thoughts and impressions. Then participants have a chance to integrate the various experiences and let the different facets reinforce each other in their hearts and minds. This unifying theme might be based on:
- One passage of Scripture. Some texts, such as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, lend themselves easily to individual worship stations. But more complex texts may be unpacked in this way as well. I once designed stations around the multiple references in Hebrews 4:1-11, including stations on Genesis 2, Exodus 17, and Psalm 95 (here is a video I created for this particular station).
- A theological concept or set of Biblical ideas. In the first case, you might expand on a concept such as Grace, or the Lord’s Supper, or the Kingdom of God. In the second, you could build on such ideas as the Seven Deadly Sins, or the APEST gifts in Ephesians 4, or the Seven Last Words of Jesus as described elsewhere on the blog.
- Make sure each station has an “IN” and and “OUT.” All stations should contain both stimulus and response: something for the participants to take in and meditate on, and a way to react and/or apply it. Either one or occasionally both of these may be an experiential element. The “In,” however, should be rooted in Scripture to anchor the sensory experience in solid truth. Here is example from a station on the Timelessness of God (from a set of stations on God’s Attributes):
- IN: After reading Psalm 90:2 (Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God), group sits in silence to meditate on the timelessness of God as a 1-minute timer runs out, noticing how hard it is for time-bound creatures like us to imagine such a thing.
- OUT: Each person writes a response on a paper mobius bracelet (that has no beginning or end) to take with them.
- Decide how to transfer essential information. How are you going to communicate the central truth and directions for what to do at each station, so that the experiential elements have the deepest impact? Think about these means:
- Posting the basic information and instructions at each station. In this case, the material to be read must be simple, clear and easy to see, or participants will likely not understand what to do, or worse, miss the point. (I used to keep around a bunch of sawhorses to which I could tack poster boards with materials on them.)
- Creating a sheet or booklet with basic information/instructions for each participant. This is more easily consulted and can help integrate the facets for the person, with the added bonus that they can take it away with them later.
- Using guides as well as written materials to personally communicate information and instructions. These guides may remain at an individual station, or may accompany a group throughout the experience.
- Balance a variety of sensory experiences. How have you used the different senses in the various stations? Go through all five senses, and make sure that you are using as many as possible—but as appropriate to the content, not as a gimmick. (Using sensory experiences gratuitously makes participants feel the stations are childish.) Make sure you have not overbalanced on one sense; you don’t want every station to be mainly visual, for example. Don’t forget taste and smell—these can be very powerful stimulants to remembering the truths you are meditating on later.
Here is an example of an IN that combines sound, sight, taste, smell and touch as participants eat an apple while watching the video below:
- Consider multiple means of engagement. How will you engage people for whom sensory worship is not a primary pathway? What kind of support or alternatives will you offer them? I have found that there is a lot of value in people doing prayer stations together in pairs or groups, especially if the sensate pathway is not a preferred one. The connection and sharing helps them process their responses. Offering alternatives, such as writing on a Post-It as well as modeling play-dough, also helps for those who are uncomfortable with the more sensate side. I also think through the other Sacred Pathways and utilize such things as:
- Liturgical prayers (Traditional Pathway)
- Silence (Ascetic Pathway)
- Letters or notes to people (Caregiver Pathway)
- Intercessory prayer (Activist Pathway)
- Natural materials & pictures/videos of creation (Naturalist Pathway)
- Quotes from saints and theologians (Intellectual Pathway)
- Picture the path design. The theme you have chosen, the size of the group going through the installation, and the time you have allotted may be determining factors here. Is this going to be a solitary path that the individual follows (such as a prayer labyrinth)? Should people do the stations in pairs? Will groups move through the stations with guides? How many people will you plan to accommodate at each one? Choices run the gamut from individuals wandering randomly from one station to another, to groups moving through stations together and changing at pre-determined intervals on a signal.
- Determine the sequence and flow. Do the stations need to be experienced in sequence, or could they be done in any order? If they must be done in sequence, how will you prevent bottlenecks? Will everyone start at once, or will people be coming in at intervals or randomly? These questions will determine much of your design. With the sequential Seven Last Words stations, which were a drop-in event for Good Friday, I created overflow stations for Art and Writing that people could visit if too many people were at the next one in sequence.
- Work with your environment. How does the venue you have chosen accommodate the stations? Is there a clear path for people to follow? How can spaces be transformed? What environmental features (sound, lighting, video, decoration) can you tailor to the mood and use to reinforce the overall theme of the stations? We have done worship stations in a large hall, in an old Catholic church, in our church office, in our apartment… each of these offers their own limitations and opportunities. For a large group seated at tables that we didn’t want to move around, we sometimes create “worship boxes,” with each station’s materials contained in a box and passed from table to table on a pre-arranged signal.
What other questions might you ask as you set up worship stations? What themes might you be considering? What ideas have you had for creative worship? (And would you like me to publish more sets of worship stations on this blog?)
Categories: Creative Worship