January 14, 2014 / Issue Volume 26, Number 1, Winter 2014 / Thought to Action

Artists Welcome

By Jill McFadden

Jill McFadden

Jill McFadden (MCS’08) serves as the Director of Worship Arts at Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. She plays in the folk acoustic trio Ordinary Time who released their newest album, Joy Brand New, in November 2013. Jill studied Christianity & the Arts at Regent College.

Ideas on Creating Space for Art in Church

For the church leader who desires to care for the artists in his or her congregation, and to see faith-deepening and thought-provoking art flourish in the congregation as well as in the community, here are a few things to think about in creating a space welcoming to art and artists.

Creative Outlets

One of the most meaningful ways you can communicate to artists that the church values them and the arts in general is to incorporate the arts into corporate worship for the benefit of the whole body. When you’re planning your next sermon series or looking ahead in the lectionary, try to think of a way to capture or respond to the scriptural theme through the visual arts, dance, or film. If this seems too daunting a task, get an artist involved in the creative process and ask him or her for ideas. Here are two main types of art in corporate worship and some thoughts about each:

1) Art produced by trained artists. It is affirming and often healing for artists to be asked to use their specific gifting in a church setting. We want our congregation members to be stretched outside their comfort zone as they serve (think sculptor serving in the nursery), but at the same time, we want them to be able to use their current gift set and training for the good of the church family. So ask the artists for help.

One caveat: It’s important that the congregation not just become art “consumers” and the worship service not become akin to a gallery event. Sometimes the point is to observe and reflect on a piece of art, and that’s okay. But just like you don’t want your congregation coming to listen to the “real musicians” play, but want them to be led into participatory worship by the musicians, figure out if there’s a way for your congregation to respond to or interact with artwork created for corporate worship.

2) Art produced by the community. Art that the church community produces collectively can be a great, physical way for a congregation to respond corporately to a message or Scripture passage. Ask your trained artists to help you think of projects where they can act as “point person” or chief designer, but enlist the help of many non-artists to actually produce the work. This way it becomes an offering of the whole community and a great entry into the arts for those with little experience. Sometimes this means asking people to come in on a weeknight to work on a project. Other times it means figuring out ways that the congregation can contribute to a piece of art together, during the service. You can display this art in the building for a while, creating a great visual reminder of the things the church body has learned over the last months or year.


This is where the real support for artists can happen. As wonderful as it is for individual artists to see that their gifts are welcomed, it is even better for them to see that they are not alone as they figure out how to serve God as artists, both in and outside of the church. See if there’s a way to help create community among the creators in your congregation. This could be as simple as a meal every few months where artists can talk about and share what they’re working on. Or it could be a longer term arts-related small group study.


Given art’s ability to point out brokenness in the world that can easily go unnoticed, art can act as a powerful voice for the voiceless and the oppressed. Art can be a way of pursuing justice, and it can easily be incorporated into a local church’s current mission, outreach, and social justice projects. Is your church heading for Honduras to work with a local youth centre this summer? Send the artists and art therapists along. Are you building houses in an impoverished neighbourhood in your city? How about incorporating a public mural, or sending artistic interior designers who could help make new buildings beautiful as well as functional?

Your church could also partner with non-profits that you already support to explore the arts and social justice issues. Recently, our church partnered with a local HIV/AIDS non-profit to run an arts program for previously homeless youth. It was a way of building relationships and giving the unheard and overlooked a voice. As the youth were playing with a variety of artistic medium, they were told over and over again that their voice has value and meaning. It was a great learning experience for our artists too.

If you are a church leader taking the first steps toward creating a welcoming space for the arts and artists in your church, take heart! There is a lot of good news:

  • Incorporating the arts into your congregation’s life will benefit the whole congregation, not just the artists. And the response will (likely) be positive!
  • Your first steps, however fumbling, toward engaging artists will likely be rewarded by more and more artists coming “out of the woodwork” to offer their skills. Once they see your church as a welcoming place for the arts, they will respond appreciatively and often want to be involved.
  • You can start small and start with what you have. Find out who the artists already are in your congregation. No matter how good your idea is of a life-size oil painting of the Holy Family during Advent, if the only artists you know are potters, you’ll probably need to re-evaluate.
  • It doesn’t have to be about starting new “programs.” You can look at what your church is already doing and find out ways to incorporate the arts (and the help of artists) into the activities and mission already going on.
  • It’s not all up to you. You don’t need to be a trained artist yourself to lead a creative, arts-embracing church. Ask for help, and get creative people involved in your planning process.

May the Source of all creativity and beauty bless you as you encourage and care for artists and the arts in your church family!

comments powered by Disqus