As the Church seeks to become more missional, I’m very curious how we as leaders will look at the money and energy that is spent on church buildings. I once worked at a mega-church where we spent more than $60 million on a new facility. I now work at a church with several thousand people, and our space is a converted lumberyard where we actually only have seven acres of land and 120 parking spaces that we own. There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches. But I do wonder, with the growing size of church communities in our day and age, how are we to use architecture to advance the mission of God in our culture?
I’m fascinated by church history.
Throughout the ages, there have been moments of great success for the Church where we have reflected the bold love and radical generosity that represent the words and ways of Jesus. But as many of us are fully aware there have been many other moments over the centuries where the movement of the Church is dark and disappointing. And so today we are continuing this arduous journey toward our redemptive potential with many questions on our mind about what we are doing and what influence our voice and our decisions are making in the era of church history we find ourselves steering.
As the result of taking my role as a pastor in this era of church history seriously, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering a question that may seem less significant on the surface than others that you’ve heard recently but one I feel has been undervalued. I’ve been wondering …
How is the architecture of our church buildings shaping our faith?
For centuries, church structures have served as a symbol of what man thinks about God, what man thinks about himself and what man thinks about others. The Roman Catholic church has been in the process of building a church cathedral in Barcelona [La Sagrada de Familia] since 1882 that is rumored to be finished by 2026. The entire church has been built from donations. Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926 and is widely known as the principal architect on the project, once said: “The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.”
The ancient structures knows as the basilica style became popular when Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire. During this time, unused Roman government buildings were adapted for church use. The style of these buildings was preserved for centuries as one of the main styles of church architecture. Many believe this palace-like style symbolized the kingly nature of God.
Francis Chan, who pastors at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., famously came back from a sabbatical with the idea of changing the church’s expansion plan. Instead of building a larger building like they were planning on doing, he felt like they should build an outdoor amphitheater that would be the space they would use for all of their weekend worship gatherings. As bold a move as this is, I’d love to see someone try to copy and paste that idea anywhere outside southern California. [insert smiley face icon]
As the Church seeks to become more missional, I’m very curious how we as leaders will look at the money and energy that is spent on church buildings. I once worked at a mega-church where we spent more than $60 million on a new facility. I now work at a church with several thousand people, and our space is a converted lumberyard where we actually only have seven acres of land and 120 parking spaces that we own. There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches. But I do wonder, with the growing size of church communities in our day and age, how are we to use architecture to advance the mission of God in our culture? Here are a few of the common choices that churches seem to be making:
— Some choose to build large church facilities with state of the art technology. You might see this kind of building as a statement of faith that God can relate to the 21st century, while others might say it speaks of our excessiveness.
—Some churches choose to gather for worship in public schools. You might see this kind of space as a statement of faith that God wants us to be a good steward, while others might say it is not very inspiring.
—Some churches continue to meet in traditional church environments with stain glass and steeples. You might see this kind of facility as a statement of faith that we are a part of a long lineage of Christians, while others might say that it feels cold and unwelcoming.
—Some have chosen to congregate in homes as their primary place of worship. You might see this choice as a statement of faith reflecting the early Church, while others might say it represents a lack of evangelism if you can fit your whole church in a house.
There are many statements about our faith that church buildings are making to the world. As a result, I would love to know your thoughts about how architecture has influenced your church or other churches in your city.
Feel free to continue to the conversation below, but I also want to make you aware that we are doing a photography contest in partnership with RELEVANT about church architecture. We are asking people to take a picture of a church building in their area and send it in with a 100-word explanation of how you feel that kind of church building is influencing faith or the worship experience. The top 18-20 photos and explanations will be featured in our Neue Quarterly that comes out August 1—complete with a credit line for all photos and captions.
Here are the guidelines:
Email your photo and caption to:
Include a JPEG or TIFF photo
Include your 100-word caption in the email (not as a separate file)
All entries must be received by midnight ET, April 10, 2009.
If your photo and caption are selected. We’ll contact you and give you instructions for uploading a high-res version of the photo to our ftp site. We will need a high-res JPEG or TIFF that’s a minimum of 1,800 pixels wide. Please do not submit photos if you do not have a high-res version of the photo available.
We look forward to hearing from you!