5 Ways the Church Can Make Great Art Again

Reclaiming the Church's calling to reflect the Creator.

The church was once the workshop for the greatest art the world has ever known.

Past tense.

Wander through an ancient cathedral. Rest in front of a Renaissance painting. Listen to a 19th century hymn. All of these are amazing feats of art inspired from a desire to lead creation toward its Creator.

Where are we today? Worship music that sounds like a bad U2 cover band—or if we’re really hip, a bad Mumford & Sons cover band.

Many churches are no longer seeking to create unique encounters with God. Instead, we’re often settling for following a successful model from a book or personality.

Real talk: there is very little about the modern evangelical church that is creative. And this is a huge problem.

If the Church is going to reach the current generation and those to come, it must engage culture with more than cover bands and cults of personality.

We must rebuild our creative heart. We must reclaim our place as creative leader in the story of humanity. Here are some ways this restoration can begin:

If the Church is going to reach the current generation and those to come, it must engage culture with more than cover bands and cults of personality.

1. Embrace The Crazy Beauty of Artists.

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Depending on whom you believe, this was said by Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson or even George Carlin. Probably a great minds thinking alike type thing.

The fact remains: Most of us can’t hear the music anymore. We’ve grown creatively deaf. So when faced with an artist who can still hear their internal song loud and clear, it’s easy for us to assume they’re crazy for dancing.

But it’s such a beautiful kind of crazy—innocent, raw, unfiltered. And absolutely necessary.

Artists can be a challenge to work with. They’re an emotional crowd. But that’s only because they’re more in tune with their emotional spectrum than most. That’s how God designed them. And because of that, artists can give language and vision to our deepest emotions. When we reach the end of our limited emotional bandwidth, artists take us further.

Welcoming a little artistic insanity into our churches is a crucial first step. If for no other reason than it might start our souls dancing again.

2. Pay for Great Art.

We’ve come to rely too heavily on the free contributions of our artists. I get it. We are called to offer our gifts, finances and time as sacrifices. But there is a problem when we always apply this thinking to artists and their art.

In 1 Timothy, Paul states the importance of paying ministers. We need to start seeing our artists as ministers and start paying for their contributions. We rightfully take offerings for missionaries and guest speakers. But when it comes to artists, we pay only with opportunity and platform.

We need to rediscover the value of art as ministry. What if more churches had artists in residence? What if the first question we asked artists wasn’t “how can you serve us” but, “how can we fund your creations?”

Great art costs the artist. The least we can do is compensate them.

3. Demand A Higher Standard.

In an interview during his prep for the movie, Ray, Jamie Foxx tells the story of the first time he played piano with Ray Charles. Foxx sat down, trying to calm his nerves and just get through it.

Disaster struck. He hit a wrong note.

Charles’ response was priceless. “Now what’d you do that for? You know where the right notes are. Just hit the right ones.”

While art is subjective by nature, there are elements that are objectively good or bad. An out-of-tune note is displeasing to the ear. Wooden dramatic performances are uncomfortable to watch. Poor writing fails to engage the mind.

The Church is, of course, meant to be a place of support and encouragement. However, we have to be careful that we don’t extend this to a point that costs us objectively good art.

We have to stop blindly encouraging our artists and instead encourage them to aspire to the best version of themselves.

Criticism and critique aren’t bad words. Sometimes they’re necessary. We have to stop blindly encouraging our artists and instead encourage them to aspire to the best version of themselves. We need to be willing to say when some art isn’t ready for the congregation yet.

We need to be willing to hit the right notes.

4. Refuse Mimicry.

Many worship teams today are required only to print a chord chart, listen to a track and then karaoke the experience to the best of their abilities. To be sure, there are extremely talented teams and leaders who are fantastic at this exercise. But here’s the problem: It is wholly uncreative.

If the Church is going to re-establish itself as a birthplace for creativity, it has to take a stand against mimicry. Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but when our efforts end at imitation, I think it borders more on insult.

You Might Also Like

It’s certainly easier. It’s safer. But it’s wrong. With so many new songs to write, new sermons to speak and new pieces to perform, why would we ever settle for the art that’s already been created?

5. Take Risks.

Standing on the front lines of a revolution will always carry with it greater risk. Many of us who take up the charge as creative leaders will find ourselves taking the first shots from the opposition. Many will be thought crazy, irreverent and even sacrilegious.

And we will likely fail. A lot. But that’s when we get up and keep creating. Art that hinges on the hope of success will never reach its potential for greatness.

Great art is an investment of self and soul. Any investor will tell you that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Artfully leading people into the story of Christ is the most risky endeavor of all.

But that’s only because there’s no greater reward than inspiring creation to return to its Creator.

Let’s go build some new cathedrals.

Top Comments

Luke Worle


Luke Worle commented…

An absolutely fantastic article that really isn't afraid to be part of the solution instead of obscuring/denying the problem. Christians and great art should be synonymous because we have the Great Creator residing within us, but there is a decided lack of great art being executed in Christian circles. From music to cinema to the printed page, our art has been compromised so as to adhere to a tight fisted agenda that means the happy ending must wrap up by page 99 or by the time the credits roll. Instead of showing the emotional gamut of the soul, like the Psalms, we pepper our films with abysmal comedy filler/ice breaking and pander to families at the expense of creating something deep and even cerebral. I'm sure God is thankful that there is an audience for this sort of thing, but outside of that decidedly limited demographic, the rest of us would like something that gauges our intellect and is filled with the level of depth/range that is the human experience. Whatever is the current trend or fad of the moment, it seems that too many well meaning (or perhaps not well meaning) Christian music/film industry stalwarts adopt all in the name of making commerce applicable to that demographic. It's no different then the big business model in the world. It's all designed to hawk a product or to find WHO to hawk it to. It really saddens me, because art should come from within, not be this faceless corporate force at a board meaning by design. I love Vincent Van Gogh. He painted from experience and from his soul's observations. You can truly see God the Creator and father/friend inherent inn His work, even the more surreal or darker work. His work was so real. I wish the Christian creative arts were real again and that they were deep. I also am fed up with U2 and Mumford and Sons being the clone/sound alike musical model for virtually EVERY worship service in North America. God is a God of broad creative taste and he's given us so many creative colors to choose from! I wish we would all paint with ALL colors of the rainbow instead of localizing things and making them stagnant and convenient. The world needs to see that we are the trend setters and establishers of something new, not those who cash in on what the world says is selling or is hip! They can smell a clone, believe you me, and a poor one at that. As Christian artists, or artists who are Christians (however you want to label it), there is a way to keep our faith first and foremost without making our creativity a tepid compromise. It's just a daring and unfamiliar stance to take, which is why most people opt for the formulaic lazy approach that has built an empire out of the relatively ''safe'' and creatively tame Christian music and film empires. I believe it's time for us to get so fed up with stagnancy that we creatively revolt and color outside the boring margins of mediocrity. Those of us who are apart of today's young generation should especially be the impetus for a creative revolution, and I think it's time we let our disgust with watered down Christian culture give way to us creating God ordained masterpieces that excel those out there in the world. With the living creator in our hearts, can we do any less?

Brantley Vosler


Brantley Vosler commented…

as i was reading this there was so much in me that resonated and wanted all of these things to be true... And i'm totally not trying to be the "negative nancy" commenter that ruins the party because i think there is some great points in here. i'm just really not sure this is really what we want. do we really want to go back to how things looked in the renaissance? the art part of that was cool i guess and there was for sure some great art that happened, but i'm not sure the early church would see that culture and be super pumped about it. of course, i dont think they would see where things are at now and be super pumped either. And I know that this wasnt saying you want the church to look exactly like the "cathedral days" but I think that stuff might have been a result of a massive cultural shift as a whole in the church that im not positive was good even though some great art came out of it. I just worry we have too much of a knack for worshipping our own art and our own artists above the creator of art and everything else. maybe thats just me that has that problem, i really dont know. it's just a really hard balance to be an artist that actually points people to Jesus with their art vs. just being all about art and adding a little Jesus and spreading the Gospel on the side. i guess its a heart thing and so its not for me to judge... my last concern is that its a stretch to use that 1 Timothy passage as the only biblical support (that was mentioned) because its highly debated what that verse is prescribing in general and thats assuming it is meant for "preachers and teachers." let alone the further stretch that it applies to Christian artists. I think it makes its seem like Christian artists "deserve" to be payed handsomely and this is where scripture says so... maybe that wasnt the intent but that is what it sounded like. anyway... i hope this is helpful. the last thing i want is to be a part of another internet debate on spirituality that causes more dissension than anything else.


Nanette McKenney


Nanette McKenney commented…

I think we as Christians need to learn to appreciate real art before we try to make it. A lot of people in the church have absolutely no taste and don't pay any attention to the arts. You can't make art or even hire decent artists if you don't know what is really good and going on in the arts, either current art or older stuff.

Abiel Sultan


Abiel Sultan commented…

Refuse mimicry. Refuse mimicry. Refuse mimicry.

Rudy Cavazos


Rudy Cavazos commented…

Totally agree, refuse mimicry. If anything, the world should be following our lead. Great article.

Maggie Griffin


Maggie Griffin commented…

I think that the issue isn't this simple. For one, churches have always shared music with one another, and there's nothing wrong with doing something that's been done before. Additionally, the kind of art that was created in churches in the past (visual and otherwise) is culturally inaccessible to all but the very well-educated hipster few. I completely agree that the Church needs restored creativity, but I do not think that the solution is to look back and use the art of old as a model. We need to be in step with culture, and, more importantly, the Holy Spirit, and when that happens, we will become once more creative.

Brian Parks


Brian Parks commented…

Love this stuff... The classic Bible characters have hardly even been explored in areas such as photography. That is what I'm working on; see my Elijah & Ruth portrayals www.ForgedByFaithArt.com

Please log in or register to comment

Log In