Let’s start with a simple statement of fact…a church building can’t “save” anyone. I’m glad that is out of the way, so we don’t waste time arguing about something we all agree on. So what does Architectural Evangelism mean then? If building’s don’t “save” anyone, then isn’t the best option for a church to construct the cheapest building possible? Wouldn’t that be good stewardship?
I would never argue that a church should spend money frivolously on any building project, but I would also argue that building the cheapest building possible is not the best option for any church. Ask yourself a simple question. Why does any company spend “extra” money on their building? I mean why does even a restaurant like McDonalds spend an extra nickel on making their new restaurants look like a Starbucks instead of building a simple metal box? If building as cheaply as possible is good stewardship of financial resources then why isn’t every building everywhere in the world built exactly the same way…building the cheapest possible box money can buy?
Even closer to home, why did you buy (or rent) the place you are living? It’s nice isn’t it, or at least nicer than the “cheapest” place you could find. You chose to pay extra for a “nice” house. McDonalds chose to pay extra to design a “fancier” restaurant, and every other company or organization that deals with the general public chooses to spend extra on their buildings for one reason…to attract people into their buildings by providing a place people want to go to in order for people to feel comfortable…a place where people will want to: a) buy that meal; b) buy that product; c) buy that movie ticket; d) you get the picture.
For some reason though, many churches don’t see the value of good design. It’s not good stewardship to be cheap. The “extra” money you spend is an investment. For commercial companies it is an investment in making you want to come into their store and spend your money. For residential builders it is an investment in making you “love” the house so you buy it. For churches it is an investment in making you feel welcome, comfortable, and engaged so that you are willing to come in the doors and hear the Gospel.
Well if I don’t build the cheapest building possible then what should I build? Good design means it is site specific, contextual to the region, and serves the specific DNA of your church and your community’s needs. So I can’t tell you what you should build until you engage me to dig into those specific issues. I can guarantee you it will cost more than the “cheapest” building you could build, but it doesn’t have to be “expensive.” In fact, I would argue that either extreme defeats the church’s purpose. Being too “cheap” will most likely not attract the people you want to reach, and spending extravagantly will probably turn off just as many of the same people.
In my opinion the definition of Architectural Evangelism is designing a site in such a way that it lowers the drawbridge to the community, turning the building inside out. It is not designing a Christian Country Club for the “insiders”. It is designing a center for the community that will appeal to the needs of the “outsiders”. It is not a place people should be forced to go out of obligation (how many kids say, “my parents MAKE me go to church”). It should be a place kids are begging their parents to take them. It is not boring, old-fashioned, or culturally irrelevant. It is centered on the message of Christ in an engaging, exciting, and culturally relevant way.
Is it shallow to have to “put some bait on the hook” to get people to come into the church when the message being preached is so eternally important? Yes and no. “Yes”, because the message is so eternally important that it doesn’t require any help, and “No” because the message is so eternally important that we must help people who don’t feel the need for Christ have an opportunity to hear the message. Churches who have found a way to connect and provide what their community needs and have designed their sites and facilities as seven-day-a-week centers for community have created opportunities to reach people who would never step foot in the “cheapest possible box money can buy.” So, which church is being a better steward of their resources? The “cheapest” box or the one practicing Architectural Evangelism?
In the next few posts I’ll explore some of the “tools” in the architect’s arsenal for practicing Architectural Evangelism without breaking the bank. If you missed the earlier posts on Architectural Evangelism, here is Part 1 and Part 2. What do you think of Architectural Evangelism, and is culturally relevant design important for churches like it is for other projects?