Shane Rootes: The leader of Downtown Productions helping in Romania

Wednesday 1st April 1998

A pioneer of multimedia in performance evangelism, Worthing-based Shane Rootes, is preparing a Charity tour Ian Boughton investigates.

Shane Rootes
Shane Rootes

Theatrical performance in worship is perfectly legitimate - so long as it has the Spirit in it and it isn't flash theatrics for the sake of impressing your audience. "There's no place for an ego in communicating the gospel," observes Shane Rootes, a pioneer of multimedia worship. "I can sing a few songs and get out of a few chains, but Jesus got down and washed people's feet... That brings your ego down a peg or two, doesn't it?"

Shane Rootes, leader of Downtown Productions, an all age worship and leader-training organisation in Worthing, has just produced his new CD, 'The Naked Truth', with a powerful sexual-sin title track (see the review pages). But even as the new album comes out, he's already looking forward to the autumn tour when he gives over much of September to a show presenting life in Romania and the need for help there.

To research the subject for himself, Shane has just made a personal 10-day trip to the country. "Some good friends of mine work at Link Romania, a charity that provides relief and development as well as the well known Shoe-box appeal. My heart is to help these people do what they do and so the idea is to do a national tour, in September, to set out the issues about Romania. My trip was to see it for myself, and 'shocking' is the only word to describe it... that, and 'heartbreaking'. It was a roller coaster of emotions. You can see the positive things happening. You can see the difference that Shoe-box makes when you actually see one delivered to a child and what it means to them... oh, words can't express it.

"On the other hand, I saw money given to a street kid and I saw his pimp take it off him and tell him to get back to work. And there are things there I won't even be able to tell in "front of an audience... you just have to leave it at the cross and hand it over to God."

Isn't that a get-out? "No, some things are beyond our control and need spiritual help. We have to do what we can to help the process along and what I can give is my time and my gifting. I'm already writing it; hopefully, you'll hear five new songs in a 90-minute presentation, specifically about Romania. It should be a multimedia presentation and it should bridge both secular and church audiences."

There are some dates still free for bookers, mainly between September 7-11 and 21-25; those who take the show will almost certainly see some of the unusual visual tricks that have made Shane Rootes quite literally an attention-holding presenter. He believes in the concept of multimedia, and Downtown was formed specifically to encourage more imaginative worship and evangelism - but, he acknowledges, there is a tightrope to walk between 'presentation' in worship and showbiz for the sake of it. "Downtown was formed because I wanted to reach out, creatively, to young kids with the gospel," admits Shane. "I'd realised that the Church was wanting young people to come in, but was using old ideas. Too often, people mock the Church because it puts on old ideas.

"In the old days I used to hate Sunday school because of that. Remember the Beano? I must have been the only human alive who ever actually tried Roger the Dodger's dodges to get out of Sunday school! And I used to ridicule the RE teacher at school... but he used to use a velvet fuzzy felt stick-on visual aid and that's what I still remember. They say that you retain 10 per cent of what you hear and 40 per cent of what you see. but interactive work with visual aids will bring you up to 60 per cent or more."

So that's what Shane Rootes does in his own ministry and in his leader-training seminars. His visual-aid work ranges from music to costumes, drama, sketches, juggling, puppets and even escapology (a symbol of being 'set free'). Does the Establishment not see this as veering too much towards cabaret? "Sometimes the established things are right, sometimes new things are right - the point is the spiritual aspect, and if you haven't got that then it's just entertainment. What I or anyone else can do on a platform is superficial compared to whether or not the Spirit is in it."

What has the Church reaction been to this approach? Shane Rootes is based in an Elim Christian fellowship in Worthing but has worked across virtually every denomination. "What I find," says Shane, "and I'm on the road all the time, is that churches really are crying out for resources with which they can reach out more effectively. I need to clarify that a bit because I don't want to give the idea that if you book Shane to lead your worship, you're just going to get some wacky slapstick with clowns running up and down the aisles... What you get is creative presentation tailored to the audience, all ages if possible. But you'll find that the adults like the puppets as much as the kids do!"

It goes farther. Downtown now runs training courses for worship leaders to show them what Shane Rootes does in his own shows; he likes the idea of passing on many of his skills and points out that many worship leaders, through no fault of their own, are without modern-day presentation training. "We do a lot of seminars on leading worship, and one is about using multimedia. Now, most churches have OHPs, but some still haven't, so you can never assume that all leaders are working on the same basis... I go to churches who have state-of-the-art video walls and others with handwritten signs!

"So what I do is get leaders, whether Sunday school or family service leaders, into an environment where they can afford to try all these things and to make the silly mistakes where it won't matter. I myself will never go on the road with something that I've never tested, although I do still sometimes wonder in a presentation if I'm about to make a fool of myself, and if I'm about to step out of the boat and not be able to walk on the water! So this is why all my seminars are interactive, and are not lectures. It's a direct parallel to what those leaders are going to go out and do for themselves - and the only way to learn to lead is to do it. So they get to try it all out first and have a good laugh and that will spark off their own interest. What happens then is that they go away and think, 'Oh, all that stuff we've got sitting in the vestry cupboard... now I've got an idea how I can use that!'"

All very well to put on an interesting show -but how do churches get outsiders to see it? Promotion is not generally something that churches are any good at doing. "What I want to do is reach non-Christians in a cringe-free environment. So what I do is send out a preparation pack to anyone who books me; this is 13 pages of how to put on an event, which involves everything from fire safety regulations to PR. I know they appreciate it because I send out a survey afterwards and I learn some really interesting things about how good or bad the event was!"

Some comments, while intended to be helpful, don't exactly mean what they say, and Shane has to work them out for himself: in early performances of his escapology routine he would disappear behind a screen and emerge unshackled, but one church committee reckoned that his body should stay in sight of the audience to prove that there was no fiddle. "What they actually said in the survey form," recalls Shane with a grin, "is that I might have looked better with a sack over my head....!"

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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