Fake Flowers and Churches

I love the community at Church Answers! We received this question from one of our Australian community members. With some minor changes to protect confidentiality, here is the question in full:

This may categorize as vastly different cultural norms, but as an Australian who has recently spent a few months in the US I couldn’t help but notice the amount of effort, and no doubt coin, churches seem to invest in floral arrangements. Many of these are fake flowers (and the church provides a storeroom or two for these to be housed) and many have fresh flowers, every single week.

I have nothing against flowers, in fact I love fresh flowers but it’s just not something we generally have in Australian churches, and certainly not on a regular basis. Coming from a church that has a very limited budget, where quite literally every dollar counts, the main objection I found myself having was in keeping first things first, wondering how the money invested into these ‘beautification projects’ were enhancing the presentation of the gospel to help save souls and further the kingdom?

Some arrangements were tasteful and lovely, and some not so (I realise beauty is subjective, but these fake flowers looked like they hadn’t aged very well at all in the last 20 years). I was given the impression that there were whole committees dedicated to this task and that it would cause great offence to perhaps a number of people to even suggest to have ‘less flowers’ so that funds might be used elsewhere (namely, I was thinking for outreach and evangelism purposes).

So, please forgive my ignorance, but can you help me understand more about church beautification and the emphasis on floral arrangements? Is it just a cultural norm and generally expected? Is it helpful in pointing church goers to Christ? And what’s been your experience if you have ever suggested to spend less money on flowers?

How Would Your Respond to Our Australian friend?

  • Does your church spend time and money on flowers?
  • Is it worth the time, money, and effort?
  • Do you have some ugly fake flowers in your church?
  • Do you have flower committees that spends more time on flowers than the church does on evangelism in the community?
  • What other input do you have?

Outside Eyes and Stewardship

It is fascinating to hear from someone who has a totally outside perspective and wonders why many of our churches do what they do. In this case, the outsider seemed perplexed with our churches’ abundant emphasis on flowers.

How would you respond? Let me hear from you.

Posted on May 28, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • If those churches he visited had flowers that were sacred cows … then I agree, those churches have a problem. However I have heard his argument many times (i.e. use the monies for missionary purposes). For example when we put in air conditioning, that was the counter-argument. This was also said by some when we redesigned our sanctuary to modernize it. Like many other changes we incorporated, they resulted in increased membership and attendance. Their greater giving to our budget allowed us to use new monies for more outreach. Therefore my response is that we use our monies and workers to expand the word of God to some lost and some not-so-lost members in our community. People worship where the ambiance is conducive to their undivided attention. Newbies can sense God’s presence in an attractive setting, although we know God is always with us. Yes – we use artificial and live flowers. We have attractive landscaping with Easter spring flowers for curb appeal. If leaks during rain bother your folks, fix the roof. If new paint helps, paint. If flowers help – go for them. It is all about motivation, methods, and tools to bring God’s word to the “lost”.

  • Camille Plagens says on

    I first will clarify that I am no great theologian, but I speak from my heart of my own life experiences.

    I grew up in a home where my mother rose early on Sunday mornings and went out and gathered flowers from her yard and friends’ yards. She brought large buckets to the table and arranged them for church. She also cooked a large breakfast, cooked our lunch so it would be waiting in the oven, and we were never late to Sunday School and church. “We never ate out because we couldn’t afford it.” As a small child I had a chair beside her to stand on with my own vase with a “frog” (used to hold flowers in place.) I carried my smaller floral arrangement to my Sunday School class. I only figured out much later in life this didn’t happen in all homes. I learned about floral lines and appropriate flower texture to mix.

    Later in mother’s life as she approached her 70’s she resorted to artificial flowers. In her eighties Alzheimer’s made its presence known and she became even more accessible-compulsive with her decorating at church. I had many conflicts with my mother, but I can honestly say it was her gift and she gave back. She couldn’t sing or play the special music or speak eloquently, but she could arrange flowers. (Perhaps it was hearing the hymn, “Give of Your Best to the Master.”) There was a church budget for flowers, but she loved fine things and my dad often spent more of his money on flowers for her to arrange. (I heard Mr. & Mrs. Deacon complain of the waste in the flowers. Society is full of people looking to nit-pick with half-truths and follow their own agendas.)

    Both my parents were big on giving to the church and always went far beyond a tithe to a gift. We lived modestly in order to be able to give.

    Our church has always exceeded its donations to ministries. My mother cared for so many sick people I could not begin to count. She brought the poor and lonely to our home to dine with our family on holidays. We never knew who would be there. She also delivered hot meals she had made.

    When she passed there were shelves of artificial arrangements she had made, shelves of ribbons and candles, and shelves of Christmas decorations at church.

    In her eighties she carried tubs of the greenery downstairs at church at Christmas. In fact she fell hanging greenery from the balcony. We found her laying in a pew.

    When her Alzheimer’s took hold of her life she dressed daily for church and would be sitting in her car crying thinking nobody was attending church, but it would be during the week. I started getting calls at work to come to church to rescue mother. Confused as she was, her heart was in the right place.

    When my parents died I did not inherit money, but I had been given my inheritance early in life by being taken to church to hear God’s word, taught that my relationship to Christ should be top priority, given a passion for service at church and for reaching the lost.

    Plus, I inherited two greenhouses full of vases, flower pots, shears, floral wire, putty, oasis, “frogs” and a yard full of flowers. I consider myself blessed!

  • Bob Osborne says on

    Some people appreciate beauty and consider flowers and the like to be expressions of worship. Some are more Spartan and consider most any effort toward beauty or art an extravagant waste of time and money. Praise God for the rich diversity within His Church. Let’s notice, but not judge.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    The origin of flowers in churches, Anglican, Baptist, Episcopal Methodist, Presbyterian, etc., can be traced to the influence of the Ritualist movement in the Anglican/Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century. Books and tracts were written and battles were fought over whether flowers should be used in church, where, and on what occasions. The Ritualists to a large extent won the day. Fresh-cut flowers would be favored over artificial ones. Florists and flower growers rejoiced. Manufacturers of silk flowers licked their wounds and swore revenge.

    In the Anglican/Episcopal Church one important rule appeared to have emerged from the fray. The altar/communion table was off-limits. While flowers arrangements might be put on the reredos behind the Holy Table or on stands beside it, they were not to be put on the table itself. In Anglican/Episcopal churches flower arrangements are typically confined to the chancel albeit in the second half of the twentieth century there were stirring of a movement to decorate whole sanctuary with flowers.

    In the Anglican/Episcopal Church the color of the flowers is often chosen to match the color of the liturgical season or church festival. Frugal churches like my own may use the same flower arrangement for several Sunday until the flowers begin to wilt and drop their petals, and give less attention to matching the color of the flowers with the Sunday or occasion. Advent and Lent brings relief since they are penitential seasons and it is traditionally not to use flowers during these seasons.

    For a number of years I sung in the choir at a church where the flower guild had a penchant of massing Easter lilies around the choir on Easter Sunday. Many choir members, myself included, were allergic to the pollen of the Easter lilies. With eyes streaming and barely able to breath from closing throats, the choir laid down an ultimatum. Either the flower guild removed the Easter lilies or the choir would not sing that day. The flower guild removed the Easter lilies.

    Decorating the chancel area and the sanctuary with flowers is an innocent practice but it can be carried to excess. While some folks may assert that the money used to purchase flowers might be put to better purposes, one may discover that these same folks have a Puritanical streak. A factor that might be considered in deciding whether to use flower arrangements in a worship center is the culture of the community in which the church is located.

  • I wonder whether perhaps at one time the objective of having church flowers was something like offering the firstfruits to God, of people taking along to church the best that their gardens had to offer. Instead of cultivating gardens merely for our own personal pleasure and enjoyment, it is good to recognise the part God plays in creating and sustaining it and making it fruitful, all and it only seems reasonable to tithe part of the produce of our gardens back to him, whether edible or purely ornamental. Maybe it could be a viable outreach tool, or just be a kindly act performed with no ulterior motive, if everyone in a church did tithe a portion of their garden produce to the church and those flowers or vegetables were distributed to people living in the neighbourhood of the church.

    • Clare Nesmith says on

      Yes! We only use fresh flowers that have been donated and given in memory or in honor or in thanksgiving. Our budget is modest and we are now beginning work on a cutting flower garden for altar flowers. We see the Hand of God and experience God in beauty, and those who create the arrangements feel that they are offering their God-given talent as part of Sunday worship. The flowers come off the altar after Sunday services and are sent to homebound and hospitalized parishioners, as well as being used in small table arrangements for our Monday evening community meal. We do not ever use fake flowers. They are a sign of artificiality, and our Gospel is alive and true!

  • This was funny to me because a few years back we had a similar revelation about our church. First we spoke of genuineness but then put fake flowers everywhere. Then when we looked through the lease of men coming to church, we got rid of flowers all together. Even to the point of politely declining the gifts offered after hosting funerals or memorial services. Not everyone was happy with the decision but we make decisions based on who we will reach rather than those we may lose. Those people are probably putting up flower arrangements in other churches to the glory of God!

  • You’ve got me!!! I’ve never understood it! As a United Methodist, we usually center a cross on the altar/communion table with candles on either side, along with offering plates. This is a beautiful picture of Christ and His light and our opportunity to give and tithe. HOWEVER…so much of my life it has seemed that the flowers are meant to upstage everything else in the pulpit area. As mentioned…closets are built with shelves and sometimes Sunday School classes are taken over so that ALL THE MANY arrangements for every season or holiday may be stored. As a preacher’s kid all of my life, I’ve seen this same flower cult practice in church after church.
    Whether purchased by the church or donated by classes, groups or individuals, be they fresh or fake…nothing, NOTHING should upstage or even come close to competing with the cross of Christ.
    I read you faithfully, but have never commented, I don’t think. This one made me want to share my views.

  • Stephen Thomas says on

    Does your church spend time and money on flowers? Time yes. Money, no. They were all donated by (and I cringe) a funeral home that closed.
    Is it worth the time, money, and effort? I don’t see any value, but it makes the two ladies who do it feel useful.
    Do you have some ugly fake flowers in your church? They actually are pretty well kept and look alive.
    Do you have flower committees that spends more time on flowers than the church does on evangelism in the community? Unfortunately yes. It is an issue I am trying to change, but for a 154 year old church of people who have not done evangelism for at least the three years prior to me coming, it is a challenge.
    What other input do you have?

  • Luke Ulrich says on

    Every church is going to have to draw their own line in the sand. The struggle is that this question is a “heart” question—we don’t want to judge those who decide that beautifying their worship space would glorify God. My understanding is that throughout church history John 7:1-7 (Mary anoints Jesus & Judas complains that the cost for the perfume wasn’t put to better use) has been pointed to as an example that using your money to bring glory to God is a good and commendable thing! Good question! Personal introspection for each church and her members.

  • Jerry Back says on

    Many times the fake flowers (or greenery) is used to hide cords, wires, monitors and the like…

  • True story: my husband is a worship pastor and at our last church the head of the Flower Committee was angry that her requested budget increase was denied and (at a the business meeting to discuss the budget) peevishly suggested it be taken out of my husband’s salary. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we are now serving elsewhere.

    I grew up in the church, am now officially middle aged, and am so angry and exhausted by the misaligned focus of many churches. Please, when your passion becomes about perceived aesthetics, when you will scream and cry and be hurtful over fake flowers, or the color of the bathroom walls or the sanctuary carpet, over pews vs. chairs, over ANYTHING so superficial and meaningless in the long term, but you really aren’t bothered by the fact that people all around you are going to be separated from God for eternity— please, do us all a favor and be honest. Stop calling yourself a church.

  • Jim Korth says on

    “I was given the impression that there were whole committees dedicated to this task and that it would cause great offence to perhaps a number of people to even suggest to have ‘less flowers’ so that funds might be used elsewhere .”

    If he only knew how much truth is in this statement!

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