Churches Need to Offer What Their Community Needs

I hope you are ready to jump into some controversy with me today because I’m going to talk about things that many Christians (and many “church architects”) take personally and seriously…what a church “should” look like. But, I may surprise you with the analysis if you think you know where I’m heading because at Visioneering Studios, we are challenging the way people think about the purpose and design of church facilities from the ground up.

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. Let’s start with the definition of “church”. Webster’s defines “church” as, “1) a group of Christians; any group professing Christian doctrine or belief; 2) a place for public (especially Christian) worship.” Is this definition in alignment with the Biblical definition of “church”? The Greek word for church is “ekklesia”, which means “that which is called out,” and that is the only word for Church in the whole Bible (and it is only used in the New Testament). Obviously this is talking about the people who have been “called out” and become followers of Jesus. Jesus even said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Wherever followers of Christ gather together there is the church. So, how did we get so confused and hung up on the form and structure of a building that we refer to as the “church” and that to most people, especially non-Christians, is seen as THE church? Jesus’ first “church” services took place on hillsides or beside lakes while he spoke from a boat. The disciples first “church” service (the day of Pentecost) took place in the temple court. First century churches met in houses and wherever there was room for people to gather.

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Clockwise from top left – St. Peters, God’s Creation, Traditional Church, Metal Box

Somewhere along the way “churches” started to become buildings, and they became “sacred” spaces that required design of a certain type. I can stand amazed in front of St. Peter’s in Rome or any number of other cathedrals throughout the world and feel staggeringly overwhelmed at the intricacy and details involved in those structures, but I can also stand awestruck in a forest or on a beach and wonder about the miracle of God’s creation. I can sit in a “traditional” church complete with stained glass, steeple, and pews and be lifted up before God’s throne in worship, but I can also sit in a pre-engineered metal warehouse with a small group of believers who have scraped together all they had to build their first building and be touched to my soul by a stirring message delivered from a down-to-earth preacher.

What we all have to realize is that “traditional” or “contemporary” are just man-made concepts that are totally unrelated to salvation. It may seem patently obvious to state it this way, but Jesus didn’t sit in a pew or a theater seat. He didn’t sing from a hymnal while a pipe organ played or sing with words on a screen while a band rocked out. He didn’t wear a suit and tie or a t-shirt and shorts. He didn’t preach in a church with stained glass windows and a steeple, or in a church with a coffee shop and a video venue.

The message of the Bible is timeless, but the presentation of the message is cultural. Jesus reached people where they were in that day and time in a method and in a location that they could be comfortable and relate to (see John 4:4-26 about the Samaritan woman at the well). I strongly believe that if Jesus was walking around in America today He would be using technology, music, buildings, and everything else at His disposal as tools to reach people where they are.

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Northside Christian Church – Spring, TX. Design by Visioneering Studios. Photo by G. Lyon Photography.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with traditional buildings, or pipe organs, or hymnals, but I would ask you to look in your heart and ask yourself if your church is being as effective as they could be in reaching your community and the unchurched in today’s culture using methods and facility prototypes created hundreds of years ago. Would you like your doctor to use leeches and other medical “technology” of a few hundred years ago to treat you today? I wouldn’t, which is why I think it is important to examine the methods we use to “treat” those in need of the ultimate healing. What type of places and buildings do people choose to go to spend their free time? What type of music do people choose to listen to on their iPods? Churches need to be offering their community what their community needs. The church facility can be a 7-day-a-week Christ-centered community instead of a 2-hour-a-week Christian insider’s club.

Don’t ever compromise the message. Don’t ever change the story of salvation. But, maybe it’s time to look at the method and environment where that message is shared. Is it more important to keep things they way they’ve always been because the people who are already “saved” and are already inside the walls of the church like it that way? Or is it better to find out what will reach those outside of the walls and make them comfortable stepping foot inside the doors of your church even if it makes the “insiders” uncomfortable? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to reach out to others? Isn’t that why the church exists? All I’m asking is for you to think about it.

Be intentional.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Mac — 09/24/14 9:11 pm

Doesn't the church exist to comfort the souls and consciences of believers? New or old design the focus should be Christ. A good test for this is to invite a group of non-believers [unchurched] as a focus group....show them the designs of churches and have them give their thoughts opinions to questions like this: + What type of business/organization do you think belongs in this place? + What is the first thing you think of when seeing this place? + This facility is designed to be a Christian church....What other uses would you imagine taking place here? Their answers should be enough to tell you how best to design a building that will be purposeful in delivering the central message of Christ-Crucified.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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