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I’ve worshipped in many church buildings from different Christian denominations over the last five or six years. From this experience I’ve noticed that the structure of the worship space makes a difference in my worship experience.
I want to discuss how the church building impacts the local church. First, I want to give the theological basis for why church building architecture is important. Second, we will look at how the worship space impacts our experience.
I have certainly noticed some trends among denominational styles of worship. One of these trends is the modern preference for a large gymnasium like (or warehouse) structure that can be used for an assortment of events (i.e. sanctuary, fellowship hall, concerts, or even an athletic event). You just move the tables and chairs around and the room evolves into whatever you need.
This is a big contrast to the buildings of older generations that have bolted down pews, permanent structures and a separate building for classrooms and fellowship hall. Typically the popular modern structures are bigger than the older church building.
Nevertheless, are there theological implications that should be considered in our church architecture? Of course. More so then this short essay can begin to elaborate.
But there is one theological implication that I would like to discuss. It begins with the question, “What do our church buildings teach?” We usually think of teaching in the form of the Sunday morning sermon or the Wednesday night Bible study. However, we learn lessons from people, experiences, and things all the time. The buildings we worship in teach us theological truths about God.
For example, we can learn what is the primary importance of the church by what building is built first and which room receives the most money for up-keep and remodeling. Different denominations/churches prioritize based on their understanding of what it means to be a church.
This idea of teaching theological truths was perhaps more understood in times past. Through stain glass windows, icons, gardens, and paintings the church taught particular theological ideas. Of course, 200 years ago (or further back) technology was not there to promote theological truths as we have today. They used what they could to teach and shape theological ideas.
Nevertheless, the place of worship teaches us about the character and person of God.
Now let us consider how the worship space impacts our worship experience.
Our church buildings impact our worship experience and that experience teaches us about the character and person of God.
For instance, in many modern church structures (i.e. warehouse/gymnasium style) they have very few (if any) windows. The windows that they do have usually have the blinds closed. If desired this can create a very dark worship space which enhances video technology as well as dimming the stadium lights so that the stage may be lit up (similar to a music concert).
This type of setting may suggest to the assembly that what happens on stage is most important or that the music or sermon is what church is all about. Many churches create this type of worship space to attract younger people to the assembly because they are familiar with the hype and technology from music concerts, movies, and other entertainment mediums.
However, one of the things that has impressed me over the years is the ability to see God’s creation during worship on a Sunday morning. There is a church in Vancouver, British Columbia that we attended for just over a year with a large window. During the summer months it was wonderful to see the light shining as it danced through the large tree that was in front. You could see this same tree with red and orange leaves in autumn and with snow on the branches in winter. During spring we celebrated the resurrection while the tree sprouted new leaf buds.
Worship is more than what happens on stage, and to worship God in the assembly of believers while one can observe creation is a grand experience.
I recently had another experience at our current church. Our pastor was talking about evangelism and sharing the gospel. While he shared I observed the bus stop where a man got out of the bus and walked down the sidewalk. I wondered if he knew Christ. Maybe he was on his way home from another church gathering. Regardless, this was a prime example of what was happening in the worship service.
Although the modern trend has some advantages to the traditional style church. I would suggest that we should be careful to consider what the worship space teaches about the character and person of God.
As for me, I will worship at the church with windows (obviously all the other things being equal).