Architectural Evangelism – Part 1

Crossroads Christian Church - Corona, CA
Crossroads Christian Church - Corona, CA. Designed by Visioneering Studios.
I was at the Velocity 2011 conference last week and Chris Hodges made a statement during one of the main sessions. Forgive me if I butcher it, but it was something like this, “We need to create church environments that are enjoyable and people want to come to.” I tweeted that quote thinking it was pretty straightforward, but evidently that simple statement is quite controversial…in multiple ways. I’m going to break this down into multiple posts and include my definition of “architectural evangelism” in a future post, but for now, here is the issue.

One viewpoint says we shouldn’t have to make the gospel “fun.” Churches shouldn’t have to market themselves, or do anything culturally relevant to attract people. Another viewpoint asks why we would want to make the church a place people want to come to, when instead we should put the church in a place where people already enjoy going. Both viewpoints have some validity at face value, but I think they are too narrow. I don’t think this is a question of either/or, but of both/and.

First let’s address the “fun” issue. Why shouldn’t church be fun? Isn’t the message of the gospel the best news ever? If anyone reads the words of Jesus and understands the original context and culture of the time you will find Jesus was quite a funny guy. Why should church be boring, or somber, or so steeped in non-Biblical traditions and “thee’s” and “thou’s” that nobody can understand or enjoy it? Why can’t the church facility be interesting and playful, engaging and inviting? Why can’t kids play and laugh instead of being forced to sit in stiff chairs (like they do all week long at school) while a teacher uses flannel graph figures to teach a lesson?

Why can’t churches uses modern music, modern instruments and other AV technology to engage adults in active and exciting worship instead of pipe organs and hymn books from the last century. Why can’t church buildings look like a night club or like an art museum or like a funky sculptural element? Do they all need to have stained glass and steeples?

Is it shallow to use culturally relevant “crutches” to draw people to church? Look at it this way, if you are an unbeliever who thinks church is irrelevant, what might it take to even get you to notice a church as you drive by? What might it take to get you to step foot on the campus, let alone enter the doors on a Sunday? If you had no personal connection with anyone at a church which type of church would you choose? If both churches are doctrinally identical which one do you think modern Americans would relate to and be more comfortable visiting? One with stained glass, pews, organs, hymns, and 3-piece suits, or one with an intriguing design, a coffee bar, stadium seating, rocking music, and t-shirts and flip-flops? What type of music do you listen to on your iPod or in your car? Pipe organs? Or something else?

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with flannel graphs, pipe organs, stained glass or steeples, but what was culturally relevant 50 years ago, isn’t culturally relevant today. The message and truth of the Gospel should always be the same, but the methods can and should change to reach people where they are. Shouldn’t churches have outdoor cafes, water features, playgrounds, and other community amenities that are open to the public and allow church sites to be seven-day-a-week, multi-use community centers instead of a half-day-a-week single use facility that is a black hole in the community six-and-a-half days a week? Which is better stewardship of the site God has provided your church?

Do you think church should be fun? Is your church fun?

Categories Architect, Architecture, Church, Culture, Design, Visioneering StudiosTags , , , , , , , , ,

5 thoughts on “Architectural Evangelism – Part 1

  1. Patrick C. Kitzmiller March 1, 2011 — 9:24 am

    I am not a religious person, nor do I see myself attending services anytime in the future, but you write a compelling story. I would sit in a courtyard sipping coffee and freely engage in spiritual conversation. It might even get me curious enough to listen to a sermon.
    Perhaps even the word “Sermon” would need to be replaced some how. It’s like a paradigm shift for organized spiritually.
    All this makes my inner architect very excited. Thanks.

    1. Patrick,

      Thanks for your comment and for doing such a great job of reinforcing the point I was hoping to make. Churches can easily get caught up in creating a “Christian Country Club” that is all about what the people who are already on the “inside” want. The story of Jesus is really about “outsiders” and how we should be caring for the poor and needy and reaching out to those who aren’t the insiders, and how the Church should be providing a safe harbor for the hurting and the seekers. The idea of architectural evangelism is just making sure that the building itself isn’t a barricade that intimidates. By designing an intriguing and inviting environment the building should lower the drawbridge to the community by creating a place anyone could feel comfortable visiting.

      I don’t really know about any churches in your area of Vermont, but I’d encourage you to seek out one like I described…they are around and growing…and stop in for a listen some day, or just to sip some coffee and engage in some spiritual conversations. In the meantime, here’s a link where you can hear a “sermon” (can’t think of a non-churchy word for that yet ☺) that might be a good first conversation starter:

      Come back any time to chat! Thanks.


  2. Paul encouraged us to become all things to all people. In Acts 17:16-34 Paul even witnesses to the Greeks by introducing God and His Son by pointing to their statue for the “unknown god”! That’s funny stuff and the only thing that saved him from being put to death.

    Without getting into the controversial aspects of how they are being reached, by those who like Paul, reach people where they are, I will say that most heavily pierced, gauged, and tattooed individuals would empty most of our mainstream churches if they came, even though our Christ would have embraced them to unite them with God.

    To your specific question, the mainstream Presbyterian church we have attended since ’07 is heavily active, open seven days dawn to past dusk.

    1. Bern,

      Thanks for your comments. I fear that you are probably right about the reception some people get from some churches because of their appearance, but I hope that is becoming less the norm as more churches strive to reach people where they are and accept them as they are. I think more churches are getting back to this (treating people the way Jesus treated them) and the younger generation is definitely more accepting of “differences” than many previous generations.

      I actually re-tweeted this from Max Lucado (@MaxLucado) earlier today on Twitter, and it is very timely for this subject: “God doesn’t say: ‘Change ur life and I will accept u.’ He says ‘I accept u- now let’s change ur life.'” That’s good advice for all of us.

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