“We shape our buildings afterwards our buildings shape us”……. Winston Churchill
Buildings have a tremendous impact on how we order our daily lives at home, work, school or in public worship. Let’s search the Scriptures to see what principles we can discover that might guide us during a building project. Throughout history churches have met in a variety of venues including New Testament homes, catacombs and Roman basilicas, ornate cathedrals, congregational meeting houses and modern mega-churches.
It should be self evident the early church did not meet in the kind of buildings we have now. They would gather at the synagogue, a house, by a river, in prison, etc.
“And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” Acts 16:13
“Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.” Acts 16:5
“The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” 1 Cor 16:19
What does the Bible say?
Should a Christian look to the Bible for direction regarding church design and construction? Since the Bible itself claims to have everything that “pertains to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), we should be prompted to go there first for instruction in any endeavor. Even though one can search the Bible and discover it has no “specific” instructions on the type of facility we should design and build, we may be able to glean principles to guide our thinking. This lack of specificity is in contrast to the O.T when the Jews were to center their worship around very specific instructions associated with the Temple sacrificial system. Today Christ has set us free from the law and said that we are to worship in spirit and in truth.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” John 4:21
In the church age, the “physical” aspects of worship are not the focus. Jesus said we are to worship in spirit and truth. The building is no longer “sacred” in the same sense as the O.T. Temple. Even though there are no specific instructions on church design for the New Testament believer, God’s word provides many principles to guide the building process.
This lack of specific Biblical instruction may, at first, seem to give much freedom in the type of structure to be designed. Some architects and builders today are employing “architectural evangelism” to attract people, designing facilities to mimic movie theaters, theme parks and shopping malls. As we will see, our architecture should reflect the order, purity and beauty of our God in order to honor Him. God has designated the foolishness of preaching (not the architecture) in conjunction with the drawing power of the Holy Spirit to bring precious souls to Himself.
Unfortunately, this author has seen a number of good Bible believing churches guilty of going too far in the other direction. They err by not paying enough attention to the physical condition and design of church facilities which can communicate our view of God and love (or lack of love) towards people. Joe Miller, of “Discovering Life Ministries” encourages churches to be on the lookout for “signs of death” that dishonor God and could be a “turn off” to visitors. These would include poor design and organization; facilities that are run down or in disrepair; poor acoustics or sight lines in an auditorium; drab, poorly lit or unsafe nurseries; crowded or dirty restroom facilities; and confusing floor plans. Church facilities should be displaying “signs of life”. These would include well designed and maintained facilities; well located and secure nurseries; auditoriums that were well tuned acoustically and well lit. We would do well not only to make sure our new facilities are well designed and maintained, but what about our existing facilities? Are they allowed to get run down and be in disrepair? What do we communicate about our God by our buildings?
One of the best uses of Scripture to guide church design that I have seen was used during the auditorium renovation of Calvary Baptist Church, Findlay, OH. Pastor Gordon Dickson developed a list of design goals that the architect used a guideline during the design process. Then employs Scriptural principles for the design or renovation of a facility. These goals are listed below.
- Because God is the God of Truth Who communicates with us through His Word, our auditorium must provide for the clear transmission of the truth. Special care must be given to making the preaching prominent, audible and free from distractions.
- Because God is the God of Peace Who reconciles us to Himself, our buildings must help us to break down the barriers to the people around us.
- Because God is Light, our buildings must have adequate lighting and reflect this light well. They must take advantage of natural light whenever possible.
- Because God is Faithful, our buildings must be built, renovated and maintained with a careful stewardship of funds, time and energy.
- Because God is Eternal, our buildings must have a timeless, stable quality. They should not be faddish or nostalgic.
- Because God is Holy and Transcendent, our auditorium should help us lift our hearts in praise to God.
- Because God is glorious, His Praise must be heard from every willing voice in the auditorium.
- Because God is the Judge, the auditorium must help us command respect for God.
- Because God is the God Who serves, our buildings must give God’s servants adequate spaces to serve Him well and without distraction.
There are many other Biblical principles one could employ in church design. Churches should try to come up with their own list. Understanding God and employing Scriptural principles help when confronting potentially divisive decisions like, “pews vs. chairs”; “dedicated sanctuary vs. multi-purpose space”; “Christian iconography”(crosses, banners, etc.); “should we, or should we not have projection screens?”
As we consider the above Biblical principles, how should we decide what type of church to build? The next installment will examine some overarching practical concepts that need to be considered in deciding what to design and build.