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Multisensory, multigenerational messages are memorable

At The River Community Church in Edmonton, Alberta, pastors Karen Wilk and Bruce Gritter find that using multisensory or multigenerational elements makes messages easier to remember.

At The River Community Church in Edmonton, Alberta, pastors Karen Wilk and Bruce Gritter find that using multisensory or multigenerational elements makes messages easier to remember.

Many churches could adapt these ideas that have engaged worshipers at The River:

  • Invite anyone from age 12 on up to join a choir that will sing for a special service. Wilk says they had people from age 12 to 60s in an Easter choir.
  • Recruit people to do a celebratory dance that uses ribbons and flags. Girls and women from ages 5 to 50 participated in a ribbon and flag dance to celebrate Easter at The River.
  • Ask an artist to draw or paint interpretations of or responses to the Scripture and message. Project the artist's actions on a screen so everyone can see it live. The River added an extra touch by handing out paper and pencils so worshipers could express themselves artistically during the service.
  • Use mimes or puppets to illustrate Scripture or a sermon theme. The River has several times asked youth in grades 5 through 11 to be the puppeteers.
  • Create a week-by-week drama for a sermon series. The River used the same four people—a seven-year-old boy, teenage girl, mom, and dad—to play the Addams Family and illustrate the human version of each “Vertical Habit” (way to connect with God).

One of The River's more involved multisensory services happened during a Sunday focused on confession. The sermon used The Voyage of the Dawn Treader story of how sin transforms Eustace Scrubb into a dragon. The story helped people understand how we get locked into a lifestyle we no longer want.

Brian Doerksen's song “The River” expressed the relief of surrendering our sins to Christ's cleansing. Instead of letting people leave thinking, “That's a nice idea and good song,” Gritter and Wilk gave them something to do with their desire for forgiveness.

They invited worshipers up to simple handwashing stations, where a member of the congregation would gently wash their hands and say, “In the same way that I'm washing your hands, God is washing you. God has said that when he washes you, he makes you as white as snow.” These leaders also offered to lay on hands and bless the people whose hands they washed.

“I'd prayed that a few people would come forward and had even told a few about it ahead of time. But the response was overwhelming. People were lined up at each station—seniors, children with parents, 19-year-old young men. There were many tears, much release, and joy. The Spirit just took over,” Wilk says.

Two excellent books on making worship more multisensory are Alternative Worship: Resources from and for the Emerging Church, compiled by Jonny Baker and Doug Gay, and Dan Kimball's The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations.

For more stories on involving more senses and age groups in worship, browse these stories on visual artsart that preachesdrumming in worshipchildren's choirsintergenerational worship, and worship for older people.

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