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Is Your Church a “Tug”?

November 17, 2015

Is your church facility designed to be functional? That sounds like a good thing and most people would probably answer affirmatively. But I want to rephrase that and ask two other similar, but vastly different, questions and see if your answer changes. Is your church “only” functional? Is your church “truly” functional?


So what’s the difference? The picture above is a “Tug”. If you’ve been to an airport you’ve seen these. They are used to pull the baggage carts from the plane to the terminal. Pretty simple. If you look at the Tug you might also say pretty ugly. The Tug was obviously designed by an Engineer instead of an artistic and creative Designer. Everything about it screams “utilitarian”, but it’s “functional” and isn’t that most important? For pulling a luggage cart you may be right, but it really wouldn’t have cost much more to manufacturer a Tug that was designed by someone creative who could provide something visually appealing and not just functional.

Taking it up a notch, you could translate the same utilitarian, boxy design used on the Tug to create a “Tug-like” minivan. It could be completely functional at getting you and your kid’s soccer team to Chuck-E-Cheese after the big game and it could have a DVD video system and cup holders and all the other “functions” you need. It would probably still be a little cheaper to buy than the latest Honda Odyssey (but maybe not after you include all the functional bells and whistles). So why doesn’t Honda sell a Tug-like minivan that is only functional? Simply because nobody would buy something that is so ugly. Yeah, it could get you from point A to point B, but design and creativity matter to people. We are made in the image of the ultimate Creative Designer and we are wired to appreciate the beauty of good design even if sometimes it only registers subconsciously. What makes good design, or what makes something beautiful? Most people who haven’t been trained in design can’t tell you the “school book” answers you learn in those settings, but they usually “know it when they see it.” Nobody needs a degree in automotive design to look at a Tug next to a Ferrari (or a simple Honda Odyssey) and know which is more visually appealing.

So now let’s take it up another notch. If your church building is used as a tool to reach those far from God and share the ultimate Good News of Jesus, and if we serve the creative God of the universe are we happy with a Tug for our church building? But, it’s functional, right? Here’s where we unlock the answer to the other two questions. Is is “only” functional? If your building looks like a Tug and no unchurched person driving by would ever give your building a second glance, let alone ever consider entering it because it is a cheap ugly box that is completely out of context with the rest of their community, then congratulations your building may qualify as “only” functional.

Now for the hard part to hear. That church building that you were just coming to grips with as “only” functional may not even be that. Why? What is the core function of your church facility? I’ll give you a hint:  the primary function is not to serve as a place for the “holy huddle” of people who already know Jesus to meet on Sunday morning. It’s core function should be as a tool to reach those in your community who are far from God. And guess what, people who are far from God are often superficial. They live in nice houses, drive nice cars, shop at nice stores, go to nice restaurants, and hang out with their nice friends in other nicely designed community spaces. They don’t usually choose to spend their time going to functional Tug environments. So take a look around next Sunday. Your building doesn’t have to look like the Crystal Cathedral, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it does need to be a place that is visually appealing to your community if it is to be “truly” functional.

A good designer can do that for you, even if all you have right now is a Tug. Good designers can transform a Tug into a thing of beauty. In fact Visioneering Studios just won another Solomon Award for the Best Church Design for their renovation of Red Rocks Church’s campus in Lakewood, Colorado (see photo below). Visioneering repurposed a Tug (an empty grocery store in an underused strip shopping center) into an active center for the community utilizing simple and cost-effective materials.  Utilizing good design, what was once a Tug has essentially been “overhauled” (a la Chip Foose) into a classic hotrod that is now truly “functional” in its main purpose of drawing people who are far from God through the front doors.  So, is your church facility “truly” functional or is it just a Tug?


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