Ugly as Sin (Mollie)

There’s a good book on church architecture with that title and it is woefully adequate for describing way too many houses of worship in this country.

And while I’m not sure if the current decade is a low for church architecture (the 1960s and 1970s weren’t so hot, it seems), the current trend of building churches that look like strip malls has got to go.

We’re told by all the “church consultants” that we should drop the beautiful architecture in favor of really “accessible” places, like malls, if we want to attract more visitors. But one research company found that may not be the case:

  • When showed a series of pictures of churches and asked which is most appealing to them, unchurched people chose the most traditional image of all — a Gothic belltower that could be on a medieval cathedral — over more modern designs.
  • This comes at a time when many new churches are being built with all the charm of a Home Depot, plus all the non-medieval creature comforts of malls, hotel lobbies and coffee shops.
  • And it comes at a time when churches are trying to copy Starbucks’ concept of being what sociologists call a “third place” — a gathering spot for people outside of their first two social settings, home and work.

Anyway, I think it’s always a good idea to construct timeless places. Fads — such as Starbucks — are just that. Fads. If you want to be a church for the ages, resist anything trendy. It’s unwise from a stewardship standpoint, it’s environmentally unfriendly to be constantly changing church buildings, and it basically confuses the visitor into thinking you’re something that you’re not. Or, worse, you become the thing that you shouldn’t want to be — a trendy follower of pop culture instead of Christ.


Ugly as Sin (Mollie) — 8 Comments

  1. This is what I’m afriad of. The link story also talks of the sheep just going to a different church and the unchurched still don’t go. It’s the sheep shuffle.

  2. Amen to this! Worship space is often considered to be unimportant, but it’s not. If you have a sanctuary that looks like an auditorium – which IMHO far too many do today – people will be sorely tempted to use it like one instead of a sacred space for reverent worship.

  3. I agree that too often, churches are aiming for the terminal instead of the transcendent in design… shortsighted and a disservice to the Divine Service.

    Recently rediscovered this site that does not deal with church architecture per se, yet it does include some divine “images” in art:

    An aside: have attended churches that hung pieces like those found here, usually produced by local talent “led” to donate their handiwork. In fact that happened to us a few times in California where a member of the community was producing beer bottle art…no Andy Warhol he. In an attempt at diplomacy, the pastor would hang the piece in an obscure corner, closet or hallway for a time, then pass the “artwork” on to another church – the Salvation Army.

    Reminds me of incidents in college when “charismatic” friends would share their music, describing it as “something the Lord gave me yesterday”. Hearing the song would prompt one to think, “God must have been having a bad day”.

  4. I’ve often wondered why churches continue to follow the Starbucks model in many ways–even evangelism–even after Starbucks is all over the news for failing.

  5. In our cookie-cutter society it is not surprising that church architecture is going the same way. Traditional architecture can be created in our modern times. The good news when the fad is over, the buildings can be used for local businesses.

    As we know – it what is inside the building that counts – God’s word and sacraments.

  6. Mollie, Believe the book is:
    Library of Congress Card Catalogue No. 63-14304

    The Religious Publishing Co
    122 Old ork Road
    Jenkintown, PA

  7. The purpose of traditional church architecture with the traditional steeple is to point one’s eyes and heart toward heaven.

    I am thankful that this town has a number of beautiful churches with steeples visible above the strip malls! I don’t know what’s going on under some of them but it’s likely that their builders, at least, had their minds set on things above more than on the anticipated size of the collection.

  8. Having had the awful experience of “worshipping” in gymnasiums in two different denominations, I have come to love our traditional style church building. I know that some folks like the relaxed feeling of “come as you are” dress and decorum, but I for one need that lofty presence surrounding me to transport me to higher realms and higher thinking. Our pipe organ, beautifully played, begs us to think of the beauty God has placed in His world and the hymns (many of them, not all) call us to think on our heritage as Christians. The baptism font is a constant reminder of our forgiveness and new life. To push all that aside so that we can use the room for volleyball on Friday nights somehow just doesn’t cut it with me.

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