When Christians are able to gather together openly for corporate worship, it is a happy thing. Personally, I love old church buildings and sanctuaries that were built with great attention to detail. While the building a church has doesn’t matter, there are great benefits to having a sanctuary that was designed for the purpose of corporate worship. In sanctuaries like this, there are great opportunities for thought and care to be placed on how your sanctuary is set up. How you set up your sanctuary can often speak to what you believe.
Below is a simple list and explanation of certain things that I think are important in a sanctuary and it’s setup. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point. These are not my original ideas, but I hope they'll be helpful to you.
Acoustics: It is a wonderful thing to have a sanctuary that was built for corporate worship with great acoustics. The acoustics make our voices sound great when we are singing together. Although most use voice amplification today when preaching, if we did not have mics, great acoustics would carry a voice from the pulpit well. That is one reason Charles Spurgeon was able to preach to thousands in his church in the 1800’s before microphones. Among good acoustics being a practical benefit, it also displays the reality that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Natural Light: I love it when a sanctuary has many windows and is filled with natural light during corporate worship. We see this less and less today and it makes me sad. Natural light (or if there are no windows, then turning on the lights) displays the truth that “God is light, and in him, there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This is why I am not a fan of dimming the lights and shutting out the sun, as if it were a concert. If possible, opening the windows allows the glory of God in creation to shine in on a congregation. This, of course, aids worship even more, as the glory of God in creation is reason to worship! Letting in natural light also displays the fact that we don’t come into corporate worship to hide ourselves and our flaws from one another, but we come in, warts and all, walking with each other in the light, showing off God’s glory in pouring out his grace on messed up people like us. And not coincidentally, natural light is better for your health!
Pulpit Position: I believe the pulpit should be intentionally placed front and center stage. This, of course, assumes the belief that there should be a pulpit! The pulpit is where the Word of God is placed and from where it is preached. This signifies to us that the Word of God is the primary element that we gather around, because it is a) the Word that shapes us and makes us into the people of God, b) the Word is the primary place where we are given Christ and c) we, as the people of God, gather around the Word of God, the Word doesn’t fit to our desires, or adjust to us, we adjust to it.
Pulpit Size: The bigger the pulpit the better. Since the pulpit is the place where the Bible is placed, the bigger the pulpit, the weightier it symbolizes the Word to be. Along the same lines, it symbolizes the strength and the solid foundation of the Scripture. The Scriptures are not weak, flimsy, or unreliable, they are a solid foundation, an anchor, and unchanging. Don’t let modernity embarrass you for having a big pulpit. Embrace it!
Pulpit Material: I love pulpits that are made of wood, as opposed to glass, or metal, or some other material. The wood symbolizes the cross. Which is, why we are saved - because there was a cross.
The Lord’s Supper: My church takes communion every week. Most churches today do not take it that often, but I would encourage you (if you are a pastor reading this) to take the Lord’s Supper more often. It such a blessing and joy. When you have communion, I recommend, as I’ve seen most churches do, placing the communion elements on the communion table in front of the pulpit on the lower level. That is also not without purpose. Communion represents Christ to us and for us. It is through him that we are saved unto God (John 14:6). And so, as God is being preached from the pulpit, the communion elements stand between the congregation and the God who is being preached. This signifies that Christ is our mediator and that God relates to us in and through Christ. Placing the communion elements there in front below the pulpit during music and preaching also gives us something to anticipate; just as we await the coming of our Lord in the flesh and anticipate eating with Christ at his table.
Pulpit Height: Placing the pulpit on an elevated stage above the congregation is also not without purpose. Of course, with larger congregations, there is a practical need for it. But, it also signifies to us that we, the people of God, sit under the Word as the Word is elevated above us in an authoritative position. In this, we show that the Word is our authority. We simply receive it.
Music and Singing Position: The instruments and song leader should be on the side of the stage; not front and center. This teaches us that when we sing songs together, we are not listening to one man sing a concert to us, but we are all corporately singing together and to one another. We haven’t come to hear one man’s voice but we have come to lift our voices up with one another.
I hope this encourages you to look for those things at your church. Or, if you’re a pastor, I hope this might encourage you to consider why things are set up the way that they are at your church. Knowing the meaning in the little things can make corporate worship just that much more meaningful.