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Churches and Buildings – Part 2

I’m finally actually getting into this series. Busy weekend, but here we go:

For Part 1 – Click Here.

Last time I stated that my architectural thesis in college was, (for churches,) “Architecture doesn’t matter inasmuch as it helps or hinders the ministry from taking place.”

There’s a whole lot behind that statement. This post will hit a few high-points, but if you want more, ask me about my Architectural Thesis and the follow-up paper from seminary.

Reality is, Christ-followers can worship God anywhere. In fact, a majority of the world’s Christians gather together to worship either in homes, public spaces, or in the simplest of facilities. However, this reality doesn’t completely negate the value of architecture for churches and ministries, particularly in Western culture.

On one hand, some architects get this arrogant idea that they can somehow design an awe-inspiring space that by its very nature will draw people closer to God. Often, these spaces are carefully planned with immense symbolism or iconogaphy. Sometimes I think these kinds of spaces become more about the space or designer than the ministry taking place or the God they are trying to point people toward. I’m all for certain levels of symbolism. The firm I work for recently designed abstracted crosses creating a trail of Christ’s blood to the baptistry, symbolizing the washing in Christ’s blood and rebirth.  But to think that the thought we put into the symbolism will accomplish something in an attendee that the Holy Spirit hasn’t already begun and the ministries of the church itself won’t already accomplish would be presumptuous.

More importantly, the space was designed with the ministries and goals of the church in mind. We could have designed stuff into the building that interfered with what the church was trying to accomplish. Instead, we designed a building that will do everything the church needs it to do, enhance what they are already doing, and then we “iced the cake” with symbolism and other elements of beauty that are meant to help direct people to rather than distract them from the ministry taking place (and God, the focus of the ministry).

On the opposite extreme, some churches will throw up the cheapest possible structure to fit their activities.

SOAPBOX ALERT: Sometimes they manage to get into facilities without the help of an architect. FOLKS, generally, THIS IS ILLEGAL! You are putting your church people at risk if you don’t hire professionals to at least oversee the process. Building codes and laws exist to keep us safe. Don’t try to skirt around them to save a few bucks now. It’s a bad witness and it’s just stupid and could result in a HUGE hindrance to your ministry and could cost you a lot of money down the road for several different reasons! If you want more on this little soap box, I’d be glad to talk to you about it.

Even those that are smart enough to hire an architect (or are forced to by local officials) may pay a price for a facility that hinders their ministry . . . or at the least doesn’t help it. Maybe it was too small . . . or too big . . . or was right in worship space but failed in support spaces . . . or people couldn’t find their way around . . . or the lighting just doesn’t work . . . or acoustics make it so people can’t hear intelligibly . . . or any one of a billion other hindrances that a bad space can put on a church. Architecture CAN hinder ministry. We’ll visit this more in future posts.

Finally, what about rented facilities? “Portability is NOT an excuse.” If you find a rented space that creates the basic bones for your ministry, there is NOTHING you can’t do to create “architecture” that will not hinder your ministry, and will in fact help it. I heard of one portable church where the crew has been known to set up a catwalk in a movie theater and break it down before the movies begin! Creating these environments is a HUGE help to their ministry. They are a church that targets disconnected men. Men love to show up early and build stuff. Men also like to destroy stuff (tear it down.) The portability also gives the church the added layer of being able to “tailor” the architecture from series-to-series to maximize impact on an ongoing basis, rather than deal with a generic permanent canvas to suit their needs.

So, it’s a long post, but there you have it: Architecture doesn’t matter inasmuch as it helps or hinders the ministry from taking place.

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