I’m currently studying the methods of Billy Graham as an evangelist. There has been an amazing amount of research on who made commitments and ‘assurance’ of faith at Graham’s crusades; their church background, reason for making the decision and the follow up program. I don’t want to deny the effectiveness of Graham’s ministry and the impact he has on 20th century evangelism and mission and belittle anyone who has made true and faithful commitments to Christ through one of these crusades. I know of several people who are now thirty years into their walk with Christ who, without Graham’s proclamation of the gospel, would not be the people they are today.
Social scientists are always keen to point the depth of research surrounding crowd dynamics and unconscious pressure put upon an individual to follow the crowd at such events. There is, with our experiences of Derren Brown and others, suspicion on external influences on internal affairs such as thoughts and emotions. Psychology and sociology is now in the public arena and naturally people become suspicious of these grand claims of commitment to a new world view.
As a theatre director/designer it has been my occupation to create atmosphere so an idea or world view will have a desired impact on an audience. This is done through many techniques such as lighting, music, language, tension. So how should I respond to worship services that use these techniques, whether consciously or not? Or even, how should I as a leader of worship services, desiring and praying for a response, utilise my knowledge of creating and ‘manipulating’ atmosphere for an engagement from an audience?
You could argue the use of God’s gifting and say that any atmosphere you create is man-made unless you dedicate it to the Lord or quote Psalm 127 ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.’You could argue that any response, if done in faith, is led by the Holy Spirit. Where does manipulation stop and God’s Spirit start and can we discern?
As a future minister of God’s people, called to preach and proclaim the gospel and call people to repentance and new life, can I use these theatrical techniques for God’s glory?