1. Setting the scene - online image-based resources
There are more and more resources/images/short video clips available now on the web. Many of these resources are free or there may be a small cost for each resource - or an annual subscription giving you access to all of a specific website's resources.
Some possibilities for setting the scene in gentle ways could be:
a. Using images - photos, paintings and iconography
Display a good quality photograph or piece of art on a screen, or on paper given to everyone as they arrive - perhaps a reproduction of one of the old masters or a more contemporary piece of art with text underneath the image suggesting ways to explore the painting. Don't go too heavy on meanings at this stage.
flickr - Don't be scared about putting keywords or even Scripture references into flickr's search box. There are an amazing number of very creative people who are sharing their work via flickr. However, not all flickr users allow you to use their material. A very useful guide is to check each page to see if there is an 'All sizes' icon above the image. If there is, then you can download the image. If there isn't, you can only look!
Free Images - formerly Stock.xchng, but now part of iStock. You will need to sign up for this. Make sure you stick to the free images (and check the license terms), rather than the premium images.
MediaMinistryStuff.com - There are some free images and clips available.
FreeFoto.com - A lot of the images here are available free under the Creative Commons License.
ChristianPPT - A range of free PowerPoint backgrounds and resources.
b. Using Scripture quotes or famous sayings
Draw upon the great wealth of treasure in the writings of the saints and Christian mystics throughout the ages. From Julian of Norwich to CS Lewis, from Augustine to Dietrich Bonhoeffer - writings, thoughts and prayers that have stood the test of time that seek to form the soul before God.
A great starter for ten would be a short excerpt from Devotional Classics by Richard J Foster and James Bryan Smith (co-editors), with 52 readings from classic Christian devotional writers to choose from. Keep the quotation short and succinct rather than screeds of lengthy paragraphs. Link it in with your theme for the gathering.
Richard J Foster and James Bryan Smith, Devotional Classics, Harper Collins, 2005.
c. Using music
Create a gentle welcoming atmosphere by playing some reflective instrumental music with maybe verses of the psalms displayed that connect to your theme for the evening. Be aware that different types of music create different 'feels' or atmospheres, so a loud uptempo heavy metal thrash of a song will create a different atmosphere to that of a string quartet. The great thing is that you can match your music to what sort of atmosphere you want to create. Generally as people are gathering, they are greeting and chatting with one another before it all starts, so having instrumental versions of songs is more complementary to people talking together.
For an upbeat start to Psalm 108, use music that has a sense of forward movement, excitement, expectation even, rather than something that is very slow, ponderous and still.
Psalm 108 (from The Message)
I'm ready, God, so ready,
Ready from head to toe.
Ready to sing, ready to realise a God-song:
'Wake, soul! Wake, lute!
Wake up, you sleepyhead sun!'
I'm thanking you, God, out in the streets,
Singing your praises in town and country.
The deeper you love, the higher it goes;
Every cloud's a flag to your faithfulness.
However, music to accompany people gathering with the Jesus Prayer on screen would suggest a more a reflective style of music:
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God
Have mercy on me,
For more prayer resources, see The Prayer Guide website.
This brilliant starter created by Roddy Hamilton, a Church of Scotland minister on his 'Mucky Paws' worship resources, really sets the tone of who's welcome here. This resource, entitled Sunday Taster, and many of his other resources can be found on the Abbotsford website.
You will need: a metronome. It will have even more of an effect if you mic the metronome with its own microphone.
(Set the metronome ticking)
Not for the well known
but for the unknown
not for the famous
but the forgotten
not for the well named
but the unnamed
Jesus has time
(Start metronome again)
Not for the included
but the excluded
not for the religious
but for the hopeful
not for the inner circle
but for the outer circle
Jesus has time
Those of us
Jesus has time for us
even as the world doesn't
(Start metronome again)
Not for those who do know
but those who need to know
the unbounded and unlimited
love and compassion
generosity and grace of God
Jesus has time
(Let metronome tick for a short while then stop)
3. Dreaming and investment talk
Read the parable of the talents from Matthew 25.14-30 (preferably from The Message: 'The Story of Investment').
Announce to everyone that your fictional great aunt Ethel has left you a large sum of money in her will (set your own amount!) for you to invest in a worthy cause or project of your choosing. In groups of four or five, perhaps over coffee and cake, discuss what you would use it for and how you would invest it. Share your ideas with one another.
Take it further
Discuss together attitudes to money and resourcing. Pray too about the ideas you've shared together – God may be leading you afresh!
4. Best loved
Sometimes in larger gatherings it's harder to get to know each other and we generally sit in our groupings. One suggestion is to ask everyone the week before the group meets to bring something imperfect that they love. Examples might include: a well-read, dog-eared book; a favourite childhood toy; a coffee mug with a chip in it; an old pair of shoes.
Share together in groups of three or four why your item is special to you.