The objection, of course, would be that if we turn our house lights up, our congregations are likely to be more distracted. With the house lights up, there's more to look at than just what is happening on the stage. With the house lights up, it's easier for them to recognize faces next to them or one row over or even across the room and then put more of their attention on their friends or family than on the service. With the house lights up, it's harder to keep the congregation quiet; they might start to talk amongst themselves.
In fact, we know that they will...because most of us came of age in churches filled with whispers and stifled giggles and quiet jokes.
When I was coming of age, we used to sing a song called, "He Touched Me," lights up, and I remember well how a good friend in the youth group gave me that look, then reached out one finger and started touching other persons, ever so lightly, every time we sang the title phrase. I remember sitting next to some of the parents of some of my friends in the church, and the preacher would say one thing or another and the dad would lean over and whisper something in my ear. I remember looking around and noticing who was talking to one another and who was in "the zone" and who was somewhere in between, taking in the testimony of the example of those around me - those I could see clearly with the house lights up - and how their witness helped to form my own faith.
Oh yes, I know well that if we leave the house lights up, our people are going to have a lot more to engage with than just whatever hard-rehearsed, painstakingly-planned, perfectly-timed "event" we're producing on our stages.
But we should hardly call these other things "distractions."
Because these are the very things that form our faith. These are the things that teach us not what worship is, but how to worship. Not what prayer is, but how to pray. Not what community is, but how to be a part of one. These are the things that take us from being persons of God and make us into a people of God, a bunch of stories coming together into one story and into the life of a thriving, vibrant church that is not just watching a service unfold but is witnessing to one another in the presence of God.
As afraid as we are that having our house lights up will be a distraction, the real danger in our churches is that having our house lights down will be a discouragement.
Dim the lights, and I can't see any longer how others are worshiping, and I wonder sometimes if I'm doing it "right," if this is the way I'm supposed to be doing it. Let me question long enough, and I'm bound to stop. I mean, I don't want to embarrass myself by doing it wrong...or worse. Dim the lights, and I can't see any longer how others are praying, and I wonder sometimes if the way that I'm praying is "right," as though there's only one way to pray. Or maybe I even get stuck in my box and forever believe that there really is only one way to pray. I can't see anyone else praying, so there's no one to teach me. No way to look around and see another way. And maybe it doesn't take long before prayer becomes "boring" to me or I need a prayer that doesn't fit this mold, and I don't have one. So, naturally, I just stop praying.
Dim the lights, and I can't see any longer how other families are doing church together, and I wonder sometimes about my own. Maybe my kids are the loud kids. Maybe my kids are the quiet kids. Maybe I brought little toys and Cheerios. Maybe I brought nothing at all. Maybe I let my kids crawl around on the floor. Maybe I demand they stand there and at least pretend to pay attention. But I have no idea what other families, what other children, are doing, and now, I question myself as a parent because there is no witness in my community to show me how having a family in the church works. My way is...my way. Is it a good way? I don't know.
Here's a scary truth: we have families, right now, leaving our churches because they don't know if their children are behaving "properly" in our worship services. We have families walking out our doors and not coming back because they're afraid they are embarrassing themselves, that we're judging them, or that they're a distraction to what we're trying to do.
Let's turn our house lights back up and let them see all of our distractions...and let them see that it's fine. Maybe then, they will stay.
Because we're a people of God, we really are. At least, we're supposed to be. But we can't be a people if we can't see each other. Turn the house lights up.
Doesn't that mean there's a lot more to look at than what's happening on the stage? Yup. Doesn't it mean that our people might be tempted to look around instead of constantly looking forward? You bet it does. Doesn't it mean that we might encourage our congregations to start whispering or even, *gasp*, talking when we're trying to talk? Absolutely.
But that's what makes us a people and not just a church.