What does a fog machine have to do with church?


I heard a telling statistic last night on our BlogTalkRadio show — a fascinating discussion, by the way, about the value of connecting with the writings and the liturgy of the first century Christians who are our brothers and sisters. It’s truly a boost to one’s faith to find out that though time and cultures separate us, the truth and the passion for the Lord is the same.

One of our guests was telling us how he had found, in a recent trade magazine for sound systems and stage paraphernalia, a top ten wish list for churches. (Churches are a major market now for staging equipment which used to service mostly night clubs and rock and roll acts.) Guess what was heading the list?  The #1 most sought after item by churches for their sound and lighting needs: a fog machine.

Let that settle in for a minute while I share some thoughts about relevancy. I think being relevant is now overrated. Forty years of being relevant has brought us to this. I think we have a new generation of people who are done with it. I can say that because I’m one of the people who started this, so I should be able to stop it, or at least try.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I was swept up in the power and excitement of what could happen when you took your passion for the gospel and wedded it to the music of the day, be it pop, rock, folk, folk-rock, country, “gospel” (the style, not the message) and soon to become: metal, punk, rap, hip-hop, scream, glam, etc.. I was excited about communicating the gospel in a relevant way, and I was taken by the number of people who wanted to hear the gospel when you presented it in a popular format. Little did I know what this was going to turn into — full-on rock and roll staging and lighting in churches with state-of-the-art sound systems and the latest video equipment … and fog machines. Pastors used to need associate pastors to help them do the work of the ministry; now they need a production manager.

I honestly don’t think I’m just getting old; I think I’m getting concerned. Gunnar Simonsen, our co-worker and social media expert, has a name for what I’m concerned about: chasing relevancy. It’s an apt phrase, because it carries with it what is the ultimate pitfall of making relevancy your goal: you will never reach it. Culture shifts too fast to always be on the forward edge of what’s hip.

I would say to a church that was contemplating purchasing a fog machine: don’t bother. By the time you build your show around a fog machine, you will be passé. You’re trying to reach the younger generation, and the younger generation is already over it before you start. They want to sit around the room with a guy and a guitar and sing worship songs. No sound system; no lights; no fog machine; no pyrotechnics. Or they want “stations” where they can move around the room and worship however they want. They don’t want to just watch it; they want to be a part of creating it. Or — can you imagine? — they might like to sing a hymn or two. They would actually be very interested in what our guests last night are creating using first century lyrics. They want something genuine no matter what era it comes from. They don’t want something relevant; they want something real. They want people in church (if they’re even going to go) to be real, too. Real is always relevant.

And what does any of this have to do with you, our Catch citizens? This one thing: Be real and you will communicate with anyone from any generation. Come out of the fog. Be true to yourself and you will be true to those around you.

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24 Responses to What does a fog machine have to do with church?

  1. Personally, I think that in our efforts to be relevant, we’ve lost our reverence. As a child I was taught to respect the house of God, His sanctuary. But in this post modern movement to not offend or scare off potential new followers, we’ve opened the door to such similarities that walking into church today is like walking into a club. When we start calling our pulpits, stages and our congregations, audiences, the reverence we once held has now been diminished, Now, a shifting has occurred. Where God was once the focus, entertainment has become what drives the service. And the lines between the “world” and the church have never been more blurred. And that is a dangerous place to be in.

  2. Kris Rudin says:

    Another great post!! I’m sharing it on Facebook!

  3. Mark Seguin says:

    Luv this: “And what does any of this have to do with you, our Catch citizens? This one thing: Be real and you will communicate with anyone from any generation. Come out of the fog. Be true to yourself and you will be true to those around you.” That is one of the biggest lessons or something I learned here @ the Catch – is to be real and share my open & honest feelings, just NEED to use more people skills, so I don’t ruff-ride over others feeling and offend. Just love them where their are…

  4. Andrew P. says:

    Wow. I had no idea how far we’ve drifted into “over-relevance.”

  5. MrPete says:

    As one who has had the exact same caution over the years, may I share an eye-opening experience I had, when a young friend became immediately and deeply immersed in worship upon encountering for the first time a mega-church lights-and-fog experience (along with truly wonderful worship music…)

    When I asked what she found so wonderful about the environment, she said: “Pete, I don’t know if I speak for my generation, but for me… this is my cathedral. I sense the presence of the Lord here like no other place I have been.”

    That really got me thinking. What do stained glass or flying buttresses have to do with church? For that matter, what do golden rings and incense and jewels and gold, silver or bronze artwork have to do with church? (Ex 28-31)… and I realized that perhaps it is as simple as “for glory and beauty.” (Ex. 28:40… and maybe even Ps 29:2?)

    I realized that purpose is crucial. Is all of this just to attract a new audience? Or is it perhaps the inspiration of a new generation from the Lord, who has filled them “with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works…” for His glory? (Ex 31:3-4)

    It was quite an eye opening conversation. I sure have a lot to learn about my assumptions as an old codger.

  6. Bob Hofferber says:

    Years ago my church tried the fog machine one Sunday. Set off the fire alarm in the rented building. Had to evacuate everybody and explain to the firemen that there was no fire. No more fog machines in church 🙂
    Speaking of trying to be “relevant” Years ago I found out that you can sing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” (We thought we were extremely cutting-edge and cool) I recently found out that the same tune works with not only “Little Town of Bethlehem” but also the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” Probably good that we didn’t know that back then 🙂

  7. Greg says:

    Relevance isn’t the problem. If it was, then I’d like to talk about the weather because that’s one of a million subjects totally irrelevant to this post.

    The problem is that we throw the baby out with the bath water. And the reason we do so is because we don’t stop to understand the “why”, the reasons we might do anything. Relevance is necessary to reach anyone. This is why we speak English and not Japanese when writing this post which is primarily directed towards English speaking churches because the last I checked Japanese churches weren’t employing fog machines in the name of relevance.

    Churches started using fog machines to make the lighting look better. The lighting exists because they created a stage. The stage exists because relevance opened the doors to entertainment (the term is ‘worshiptainment’) when it shouldn’t have. Again, this door opened because we lost the ‘why’ as to the reason for relevance. Relevance is how you meet people where they are. It is why if I ask you about the weather you don’t answer telling me instead your thoughts about the NFL playoffs or about how the driver’s side brake light is out on your car.

    Start with ‘why’ and you’ll not abandon relevance. You’ll instead hold on to it and, within the context of Christ, abandon entertainment and more specifically pride. The incarnation is relevance. Christ being Divine could have appeared to us in any alien form but there’s a reason He revealed Himself by taking on human flesh and blood. It was because that is who He was trying to reach.

  8. Sue says:

    We miss the hymns we used to sing at church. We are sad when we see some of the reverence gone that we were taught. Somehow taking coffee and food into the sanctuary doesn’t feel appropriate to us or the lightening and the bass that vibrates our rib cage and pounds our ear drums seems to distract us in worship. And yes, I grew up in 70’s and do like rock and roll, country and just about all forms of music. However , I love the traditions and music I grew up with in the church as well as some contemporary music. I find when it becomes more about the staging and beat… It is distracting for me. I understand churches want to attract the younger generation. Might we consider that some of the generation need real relationships rather than entertainment? Is that missing in all the social media and entertainment ? I don’t know what the answer is, I am glad there is conversation taking place!! Thank you

    • Paul says:

      Yeh, the problem is attracting the youngsters with this type of entertainment, u gotta keep doing it to keep them;
      “And all the men and women (and teens) merely players;”…

  9. Stan Johnston says:

    Don’t confuse the media with the message. Many years ago I joined a “worship team” that was a grand piano, organ, and me on an electric guitar. The pastor was blasted for allowing such an abomination. Now that seems ludicrous. The real issue is how people consume information (in words, music, and visuals). That has changed, and so must we. I agree it can go so over the top the focus becomes the production and not the message. But don’t automatically dismiss production value simply because it doesn’t meet your definition of church. This is a digital, global, always-on and connected world. How people engage is different from previous generations. The message is more relevant than ever. The platforms for communicating it need to be, too. The Apostle Paul knew his audiences and spoke in ways they could relate — without watering down the message. We must do the same. The good news: The good news.

  10. MrPete says:

    May I suggest that even “lighting” and “stage” may have varying “why”‘s behind them?

    Yes, certainly could be to “just” entertain.

    On the other hand, when you stand in a majestic cathedral, and sunlight pours through the stained glass, creating visible rays through the interior fog of a large building… is that “just entertainment?”

    I have a hunch the designers of that building were purposefully creating a particular atmosphere.

    Then again, God’s pretty good at the same “entertainment” tricks. You would not believe the amazing lighting effects I saw after the last thunderstorm here.


    • jude1to25 says:

      Yes, that’s true, they did want to create an atmosphere, but it was more an atmosphere of awe-filled fear of the power of the ‘mother church’, that could raise such structures.
      I have seen magnificent cathedrals, lined with gold leaf, etc, the cost of which was borne by the poor and starving peasants around about, who had been fooled into believing that if they gave everything they had to the building of such an edifice, they would be assured of a place in Heaven. I really don’t think God is at all impressed with either the cathedrals, or those who had them built. The OT temple has gold leaf, to be sure, but ALL the decorations were to symbolise deep spiritual truths and it was nowhere near the opulence of the cathedrals of world.

      However, that is beside the point, as creating an atmosphere is not something found in the Bible either. At least, not as an act of worship to the God of Israel.

      Worship in the Bible is NEVER about creating an atmosphere. NEVER.
      Worship is something that people do to those they recognise as being worthy of worship. The word most often translated ‘worship’ in the OT means to bow down, or prostrate oneself in abasement before royalty. The first use of the word is in Genesis 22:5, where Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and Isaac go up the Mountain to worship.

      It’s a fair bet that the atmosphere on the way up the hill was not something the average church goer would appreciate on a Sunday morning, but God was pleased with Abraham’s worship (which was not the sacrificing of his son, but the fact that Abraham was prepared to do so, showing that he preferred God over even his precious son).
      Abraham was almost certainly not singing on that day and God didn’t expect him to, because God is aware of the cost involved in something like that. Songs were not only unnecessary, they would have been grotesquely out of place.

      Worship is not about people enjoying singing songs to or about God, it’s about having hearts humble enough that they would do whatever God asked. Worship is about humbling ourselves before God and not about us creating a nice atmosphere, or even a reverent atmosphere. God doesn’t say anywhere that He wants a certain kind of atmosphere, He just tells us that worship is His due and that He is looking for people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Abraham fulfilled that requirement and we would do well to emulate him, rather than create atmospheres that make no difference to God and a lot of difference to us. If we are doing that for us, then God cannot be the focus of our hearts, can He?

      • Thanks for your response. I have been around Christian Contemporary worship for many years and really enjoyed much of it. At the same time however I was being taught many things that are not Biblically sound. I’m not blaming the people who taught these deceptive messages or the music I listened to. There are so many teachings today in the Church that are leading people astray and by the Grace of God I’m seeing the deception. Because of being cautious of who I listen to and what I join in with Fog in a Worship Service truly bothers me.

  11. MrPete says:

    So what was “for glory and beauty” about in Exodus, as God directed creation of the Tabernacle at crazy expense to His people? That too was “built on the backs of poor people” etc.

    I find that our God has a streak of extravance that just won’t quit.

    The one that always gives me pause: save up an entire tithe for a week long party each year. Now THAT is an extravagant expense!

  12. Justin says:

    I think your missing the bigger point here. Lighting, staging, audio, all of it helps people forget about there distractions easier and allows them to slip into a moment with Jesus. I am a technical director at a church and all I have to say about this is that it’s how you use it. It’s meant to enhance worship and engage people it should never take away from it. Lighting conveys emotion through color haze or fog is necessary to see the lights. It’s just another tool. Without the sound system you wouldn’t be able to hear the band or the pastor. Without the video team you wouldn’t be able to share the service to people around the globe. Without the stage you wouldn’t be able to see the worship band or the pastor. Everything has a purpose and it’s to help enhance worship first and foremost.

    • Paul says:

      Yeh, I agree to a certain extent, but in moderation. Too much of is excessive, detracts from the real purpose of being there, as u become overwhelmed and consumed by the whole experience.
      Lost in wonder and praise or technology?

    • Walter Mielke says:

      Justin, let’s examine your argument, point by point. You content that the main purpose of lighting, staging and audio all helps people forget about their distractions and allows them to slip into a moment with Jesus. Psalm 46:10 Instructs us: He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” To me, that is God’s way for us to find Him. Or, long before lighting, staging and audio, people would just down some booze, shoot up some LSD or smoke a joint.

      I certainly agree with you, “Lighting conveys emotion through color.” I thank God that I have eyes to see God’s majestic lighting. Some of my most memorably worship times with my Savior were at Sunrise (Sonrise) service or, during evening vespers, watching the every changing colors of the setting sun, as God’s backdrop for the speaker.

      Whoa! Wait a minute! “haze or fog is necessary to see the lights.” It seems to me that haze or fog reduce my visibility every time I have to drive in that stuff! Haze and Fog (inside a building or outdoors in nature) disperse light causing the viewer to no longer see clearly. Our worship should clearly focus on Jesus. John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

      “Without the sound system you wouldn’t be able to hear the band or the pastor.” Perhaps you never heard of the amphitheater, where the Apostle Paul spoke to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people at once. Jesus knew how His voice would carry as he spoke to thousands to deliver the sermon on the mount. No miracle here, just the proper use of natural acoustics. I’ll give you a clue to my age. I learned public speaking in college before most churches had sound systems. As for the musical instruments, Joshua blew the walls down without an electric amplifier. And churches put the drummer behind plastic panels to lower the decibels.

      “Without the video team you wouldn’t be able to share the service to people around the globe.” Praise God! You are so right! And not one single piece of video equipment needs to intrude and interfere with God’s opening statement. Psalm 46:10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

      Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

  13. When God commanded Israel to make Him a home, the purpose was “so I can live among them” (Exodus 25:8). God wants to be with us [and] The Tabernacle, and later the Temple, would help us do that. It was a place where the people went to atone for their sins and become better people. In doing so, they grew closer to God.

    Today, of course, we no longer have the Tabernacle or the Temple.
    Whenever a Jewish town is established, the first thing that must be built is a synagogue. There cannot be a God-centered community without a place to go for worship. Be it a synagogue or a church, we must make a physical structure dedicated to our God.

    We also have our homes. In fact, the home is called “the miniature Temple” because it is within our homes that we can replicate the service that was done in the Temple.
    What does this mean? Just as the table in the Temple and Tabernacle could never be empty of bread, so, too, our tables [should] never be empty of food for those in need. Just as the Temple was a place of inspiration, strength, and worship, it is through the generosity provided at our tables that we are to create homes that comfort and inspire others.
    Can you make your home a House of God? Can you open up your home and your heart to the lonely and needy? Can you provide sustenance to the hungry and poor? It is up to us to serve God in any way that we can so that our homes will become holy and His presence will dwell among us.

    God asks from us that wherever we are, we make a space for Him to come and stay with us – not just necessarily in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well. No matter how busy and complicated our lives are, we must create a sacred space for God in them. For some of us, that may mean waking up an hour earlier to have a full hour to spend with Him in study or in prayer. For others, it may mean dedicating certain times of the week to in-depth Bible study. And still, I think the ideal is that in every moment of our lives, no matter what we may be doing, God is on our minds and in our lives directing our actions, our reactions, and our interactions with the people around us.

    How might God dwell among you today? Find time and space for the God of the universe to spend time with you.

    “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”—Genesis 28:16

    1 Cor. 6:19-20
    2 Peter 3:11

    Excerpted from Devotionals by “Holy Land Moments”:
    “Our Miniature Temple”, “Making Space for God”, & “The Lord is in This Place” http://www.holylandmoments.org/

  14. christine rinard says:

    It hurt my eyes..and thesmke made me cough. I couldn’t sing. I will just have to find another place to worship..

  15. Matt Lamb says:

    There is no more reason to have a fog machine than there is a stripper pole or serving alcohol. I’m sure that will be next.

    • Mr Pete says:

      Would you make the same analogy with stained glass? Incense? Gold rings? Other artwork?
      The God of our Bible is more extravagant with beauty than most of us can imagine… See Ex 28:40 (and the verses leading to that culmination…)

  16. Dan Herrington says:

    Being a worship leader I was certainly thrown back when I showed up to church on a week I wasn’t on the team and saw smoke filling the stage . Not only that, but a small strobe light inside of the drum cage. I felt my heart sink and the sound of the smoke machine cranking out fog was clearly audible over the music. The strobe light seemed to be sound activated, so the father the tempo the more pulses of light it would emit. I found myself questioning, with great concern, “WHY ?” I kept remembering that I know In the Bible it speaks about glorifying God with all we do and this question of “why ?” kept repeating in my head. It seemed like so many distractions and I had a feeling that it was like “trying” to force the presence of God during worship rather than just coming before Him with a prepared and reverent heart. Worship to me is connecting with God and pouring out all that He has given me back to Him in the form of praise. This article has helped me ,so thank you! I will continue searching and seeking ,this was a good start.

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