HISTORICALLY, GREAT ART, music and awe-inspiring architecture was all wrapped into the building where believers came to meet. The church was also the social center of a community. It was where almost the entire community would come together to meet and socialize on a regular basis.
With the church being the center of the community, some functional things needed to be in place. Historically as transportation was limited, it needed to be in the center of town where everyone could easily get to the building. The building also needed to accommodate the number of people that lived in that area or often the entire town.
As early worship often involved congregational singing and preaching of the word the layout and design was often simple. An altar area was needed for preaching and the congregation faced the pulpit that the pastor would preach from. In some ways the early church was often a beautiful lecture hall.
Typically, what made the church stand out in a community was the building itself. It was usually the largest and most beautiful building in a community.
Great effort went into the appearance of the church building. Whether a community was rich or was less well off, the beauty of the church building usually surpassed that of all other buildings in town.
In most ways the church and its building was the focal point of a community and its culture.
Today we have options.
We can easily attend a church thirty miles from where we live, and often there is the luxury of having multiple worship facilities within blocks of where we reside. Certainly, with just a short drive we could choose from a plethora of options.
So, the question I would like to pose is this, How does the church—and in particular the church building—reflect and support the community where it’s located?
In answer to my own question, the matter boils down to the functionality and purpose-driven design of the church building.
I was on staff at a church where the senior pastor made this statement to me when I asked about hosting an event. He said, “We built this place to wear it out, not make it a museum”.
What a beautiful response!
Yes, the walls may get dinged up, and yes, the carpet may need to be replaced sooner than later. Let’s use our buildings, and as a church let’s involve the community, let us be the center of activity.
Another thing I believe that our church buildings need is the ability to invoke the reverence of God.
I was at a ministry that whenever you entered the sanctuary for services, it was expected that you would be quiet—no cellphones, no talking to your neighbor, no making unnecessary noise.
Time in the sanctuary before the service was meant to be a time where you could quiet your soul. It was a chance to turn down the internal chaos, a chance to focus on the cross, an opportunity to turn down the noise enough so that you could hear from the Lord.
Okay, this may not be seen as the most “inviting” environment for visitors, but it really did help in preparing for worship. I kind of liken it to this. I have been by the Vietnam Veterans wall in D.C. numerous times. Every time two things strike me. First, the vast number of names representing loss lives is staggering and overwhelming. What strikes me next is the silence exhibited by everyone as they quietly walk by all the names on the wall. There is very little, if any talking.
Should our sanctuaries be the same? Is this our place as believers to sit in reverence and awe of God? There is time in the lobby to be social and to connect with others.
How does the architecture and environment draw you into reverence and the presence of the Lord? As with most churches it would be difficult to instill this “quiet time” before services, so it there a place in your facility where people can go to get quiet with God? Is this place promoted and are people encouraged to use it?
A church that I am currently working with has a prayer garden. This indoor garden, complete with water features, has a path with benches and serves as a beautiful place where one can go to quiet their inner world.
Was is costly to build this space?
I am sure it was not as inexpensive as putting up a room and a couple of chairs. But, do I enjoy the beauty and solitude? Absolutely. Does this space give me a place to look forward to visiting when I am serving that congregation? Yes!
We need “quiet zones” in our life where we can turn off the external noise and quiet down our inner world enough so that we can hear that still small voice.
A church building should also inspire and facilitate believers to help and serve others.
How can a building do that? As I stated earlier the building should be there to serve the needs of the community. If a need in the community is a “soup kitchen” how is the building set up to facilitate providing that?
Is there a kitchen that can support meals? If so, is it properly cared for and stocked? Is there someone who makes sure that this happens? A lot of times people want to get involved and help but either don’t know how they can get involved, or once they volunteer they receive little or no direction or support. Make sure that your building and leadership facilitates, supports and thus inspires people to serve others.
A church that I was on staff at purchased two commercial refrigeration units and a commercial freezer to support the food pantry and free meal program. Food was donated throughout the week and stored in these units to be distributed and served later in the week. The purchase of these units exploded the growth of the food pantry and really met—at a very practical level—the needs of the surrounding community.
Additionally, the purchase of these units inspired congregants to get involved by dropping off food and by also helping to serve and distribute it. A costly expense? Yes! An incredible opportunity to be Jesus to the people around the church in in need. Absolutely!
A church that I have worked with for a number of years was so committed to serving as the center of activity for the community, that they devised their entire master plan and carried it out based on that idea. They saw a need initially for what was called “latch key” kids. They first built a gym/multipurpose room with the focus being on afterschool programming. Next, they realized the need for quality day care and created space to provide that service for the surrounding community.
When it came time for this church to build a new sanctuary, they set out to make it both a place of worship and aspired to see the space in context of serving the communities’ needs well. They were intentional with design and planned the size and layout of the stage to accommodate their local symphony, high school graduations and other local programming.
This congregation based their technical systems on being complex enough and robust enough to host concerts and yet simple enough to operate so that the local condo association could come in and easily hold quarterly meetings. What is primary here is the commitment shown to fulfill the goal of becoming the cultural center for their community.
So the church was once the pioneer in meeting the community’s needs. Whether it was spiritual, physical or just the cultural needs of the community, the church and it’s building was at the center of it.
How can the church again be a pioneer? I believe it is by returning to its past. Care more about those outside its walls than just serving the ones inside the walls. By purposely inserting itself into the local community and planning buildings and building usage around community needs. By being a refuge, a place to escape, a place to remove the noise of the world—and the noise of one’s inner world—so that one can hear and experience the voice of the Lord.
Be intentional and inspire people both inside and those outside and around the church.
Really it is simply inviting the community in and loving on them. Sometimes being a pioneer is as simple as invoking the past!
What often made the church stand out in a community was the building itself. It was usually the largest and most beautiful building in a community.