Maker Infused Worship for the 21st Century Church

Maker-Infused Worship for the 21 st Century Church

Jenny Shultz-Thomas
April 14, 2023

Research Project Context

This project investigates how maker culture can inspire church vitality post-COVID. The context
for the project is First Plymouth Congregational Church in Denver, CO; a United Church of
Christ, 155-year-old, progressive, white, affluent community of faith of 600 members from
across the age, and gender spectrum in metro Denver. I have studied the wider progressive
Christian Church and the maker movement relying on various educational, cultural and religious
influences to ground the research project.

State of the Church

The Survey Center on American Life of the American Enterprise Institute reports, “American
religious identity has experienced nearly three decades of consistent decline. But this roughly
linear trend masks significant generational variation in religious identity. Research has

consistently shown that every generation of adults is somewhat less religious than the generation
that preceded it.”1

In recent years, the coronavirus pandemic sped up this naturally occurring attrition in worship
attendance revealing an even dire picture of congregational vitality. Pew Research claims that
white protestants report a 72% return to worship attendance, post-Covid, and that Black
congregations are even more hesitant to return, reporting a 48% return to the pews.2 The U.S.
Christian Church is in a period of transition and must re-engage the imaginations of younger
generations if it is to survive and thrive.

In response to churchgoers’ growing dissatisfaction and lack of motivation to attend worship
services the Church must reform worship and create a more participatory, inclusive, and
transformative experience for members. We must ask what the Church can learn from the wider
culture and the systemic issues facing society that are also barriers to vital and sustainable
corporate worship experiences. How can the Church use this valuable insight to create new
practices and experiences that will empower participants to develop spiritual agency and
resilience in the context of worship?

A great place to begin is asking younger generations what they value and how those values have
led them to create thriving communities. The Sacred Design Lab is a soul-centered research and
development lab devoted to understanding and designing for 21 st century spiritual well-being. Its
practitioners and researchers translate ancient wisdom and practices to help their partners
develop products, programs and experiences that ground people’s social and spiritual lives. The
Sacred Design Lab reports millennial attitudes: Whereas our older siblings distrust big
institutions, millennials assume that the model must change or die. Whereas their parents bucked
authority, millennials assume that impractical idealism is just as disappointing. And, whereas
their grandparents pursued the American Dream, millennials assume that success is more like
Choose Your Own Adventure.”3

Millennials, Spirituality and Maker Values

In their 2015 report, How We Gather, The Sacred Design Lab reported on two years of
collected data from millennials (those currently between the age of 26-42), depicting their
responses to the changes in the American [religious] landscape, and how they are responding by
building community for themselves. They studied ten organizations that each highlighted these
six themes: community, personal transformation, social transformation, purpose finding,
creativity, and accountability. The Sacred Design Lab’s data from millennial perspectives

assume that for institutions to work, they must become values-led, sustainable networks; that for
idealism to work, it must yield measurable and scalable results; that for success to work, it must
affect some kind of transformation, beginning with the inner life of the individual and radiating
out to touch the world.”3

For First Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC in Denver, CO maker culture, as portrayed in
The Sacred Design Lab’s report, has been a particularly generative way for us to revitalize
worship and increase member engagement, meeting the needs of current churchgoers and future
generations. Maker culture exemplifies the values progressive Christian churches seek to
embody and manifest in worship experiences. Through implementing these maker-infused best

practices, such as democratized leadership; experiential worship; creative and concrete
expressions of diversity, equity and inclusion in systems, structures and messaging, churches can
begin to revitalize congregational worship especially in the post-pandemic era as worship decline
has intensified.

What is Maker Culture?

Maker culture can be challenging to define as the term describes too broad a group of multi-age,
diverse hackers, techies, crafters, artists, engineers, and innovators to define all who identify as
“makers.” At the core, the maker movement is a resistance to the ideologies of consumer culture
influenced by corporations, mass production, and addiction to hyper-capitalism. It is a “reaction
to the devaluing of physical exploration and the growing sense of disconnection with the
physical world in modern cities. Many products produced by the maker communities have a
focus on health (food), sustainable development, environmentalism, and local culture.”4 In maker
culture, if you make something in that spirit, you are part of the maker movement, and you are a

Mainstream research points to maker concepts and best practices as vital components to
reforming status quo business and labor practices. From the impersonal, corporate, large-scale
production model that devalues and diminishes local artisans and their small community-based
businesses to the hyper capitalist addition to business at all costs– thereby emaciating old growth
forests, trashing the oceans or driving natural wildlife from their habitats throwing the world’s
ecosystems out of order, however big or small the conditions brought on by corporate greed,

maker culture’s resistance has transformed a generation’s starter culture to demand something

Maker-influenced Worship

Moving from resistance as a form of thriving, to organizations and communities that are showing
growth in revenue and human thriving, the maker movement can now offer the church the cliff
notes version of how to mobilize communities already determined to work for the good of the
whole. The progressive Christian Church already espouses in their mission the desire to create
equitable, supportive and vibrant communities through their worship, education and service to
their communities. This is a crossroads moment where the church can implement maker practices
in worship and benefit from similar results seek across the maker movement landscape.

Thriving Maker-based Organizations

One great maker-infused organization for the church to model itself after is Kickstarter. The
founder of Kickstarter, Charles Adler, says, “ideas are really cheap. We have them all the time.”5
The real kicker is making them come to life! Kickstarter is an excellent example of a maker-
modeled organization that has disrupted the market economy and community. Changing the
paradigm completely, Kickstarter instilled goodwill, resource sharing, and growth among their
constituents and communities. The company empowers individuals to collaborate through
sharing resources via a crowdsource funding model. Kickstarter invites anyone with a great idea
to propose a project and then invites those who believe in the idea to invest with their money and
support. Kickstarter is a community-based organization co-creating, with patrons and partner
organizations, the structures that will predetermine how the future labor market and economy are
shaped and how people see themselves as agents in the creative process.

Even the leading entrepreneurs in the U.S. business community contend that The maker
movement will emerge as the dominant source of livelihood as individuals find ways to build
small businesses around their creative activity and large companies increasingly automate their
operations. Organizations will change how they share information from top-down, privatized,
and specialized packaging to open-sourced, community-based collaboration. 6 These new
collaborative approaches to work are essential for faith communities to grasp as it relates not
only to the production of goods or large-scale economic development but have substantial
implications for how the next generations will form and structure institutions that will reshape
American society, their lives, and the community services and systems on which they depend,
including worship.

Maker Faith Worship can Revitalize the Church

Churches, like First Plymouth Congregational, in Denver, CO are already implementing these
maker-infused practices. Maker Faith is First Plymouth’s maker-oriented worship gathering that
centralizes the worshippers’ experiences, voices, and responses to the gospel, rather than the
traditional Christian worship model that centralizes worshippers church experience using biblical
proclamation. In addition, traditional Christian worship reinforces hierarchy and patriarchal
power structures in its form and leadership models. Professional clergy preach the sermon from
an elevated platform while attendees sit lower, in pews or chairs, listening for God’s message
being delivered from on high through the words and prayers of the clergy. Though this
traditional form is endemic to reformed worship it does not accurately depict the values many
progressive Christian congregations.

Utilizing the research and informed maker practices will enable the church to create worship
experience that both reflects their values in their messages and in their physical structures and
systems. The Church can learn a lot from the makers in our midst.


1The Survey Center on American Life. “Generation Z and the Future of Faith in America.” Accessed January 14, 2023.

2 “Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project(blog), August 1, 2018.

3 “Sacred Design Lab — Soul-Centered Design.”

4 “Us-Impact-Maker-Movement-101114.Pdf.”

5 “Kickstarter.” Accessed February 4, 2023.

6  The Economist. “A Crafty Idea.” Accessed January 15, 2023.

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