The pastor closes the service with prayer. The worship band plays one last song as people begin gathering their bulletins and bibles and then filing out. The song ends and 1/3 of the congregation is still in the sanctuary fellowshipping (Christian-speak for "talking with friends"). What do we do next?
The moment we walk on the stage and start wrapping cables, we are sending out a message to everyone. The message is this – "it is over." In the words of Jake Elwood, "You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here."
What is the purpose of the sanctuary once a service ends? Here are the uses I’ve seen;
- Prayer (people staying and praying in their seats or with friends)
- Clear out chairs (in case of a multi-purpose room)
- Fellowship with friends
- Meet/greet new members or newly baptized
- Members talking with first-time visitors
If "tearing down the stage" is part of your normal routine, try delaying that for ten or fifteen minutes after the "official" end of the service.
Instead of total silence from the speakers, play a few songs that fit your congregation. For example, with an older crowd, play instrumental versions of classic hymns. For a younger crowd, you might play CCM worship songs. Don’t forget to lower the volume. The goal is to provide background music that sends the message of "it’s OK to stay."
I’m reminded of times in our lives when we, in a way, slow time.
- Enjoying the after-dinner cup of coffee.
- Watching the credits roll at the end of a movie.
- The quiet moments after the last song of a new CD plays on the home stereo.
- When we counsel friends for as long as it takes because they are more important in that instant that anything or anyone else.
- We we pause at the top of a mountain during a hike to take in the view.
- When we forget everything and just pray.
It is in these times that we have our best conversations, our biggest epiphanies, and enjoy the most beautiful sunsets.
The mood in the sanctuary after the service should promote the feeling of slowed time. Let’s not break that mood.