A few weeks ago, signs appeared on a large vacant lot on the main thoroughfare a couple of blocks from my house, announcing that a new church facility would be built there. Monday of this week, bulldozers began preparing the ground so that construction could begin. They had a hard time because we have had so much rain that there was still quite a bit of water right under the surface and the black, spongy soil that we have here on the Gulf Coast was still very wet. By this morning, though, sand and gravel had been brought in to create a parking area for workers, and the shape of the building was staked out by strings, ready for excavation to begin on the foundation.
Being a church staff member, I was naturally curious about the church facility. I’m familiar with the non-denominational congregation that is building it, so I stopped on my way home yesterday and looked at the picture and plan of the building posted on one of the signs. While I was there, a well-dressed man came up to me and introduced himself as one of the pastors of the church. When he found out I was in the same business, and lived a couple of blocks away, he spoke to me at length about their plans.
They’re building a church facility that reflects the needs of a baby boomer-Gen X congregation in an affluent suburban area. The exterior doesn’t look like a church facility at all, but is designed to blend in to the architectural style of the houses and businesses already in the area. The pastor kept using terms like “practical” and “functional” in describing the design of the building. They have five acres, and wanted maximum effeciency in their parking space, so they designed a building that has multiple access points from the parking lot, and maximizes the use of the space on the lot to provide as much square footage as possible.
The area that will be used for worship services, a “gathering” space, will also be equipped for musical and theatrical productions, will have portable, temporary seating, and can also serve as a larger dining room that will accomodate up to 500 people seated at tables. There are three classroom wings, two stories each, that lead to an atrium area which connects the wings with the auditorium. The downstairs areas of two of the wings are designed like hotel banquet rooms, with partitions to separate off a hall and up to twelve classrooms apiece on the bottom floor, which can also open up into a larger reception or banquet room. The third wing is designed for preschool and nursery on the bottom floor, children through sixth grade on the top floor. Offices are located along the atrium on the auditorium side. Upstairs are classrooms for youth and adults. A kitchen, on the other side of the atrium, has access windows and serving lines that open up into each of the two wings with partitions, or into the auditorium.
Everything in the building speaks of maximum utilization of space and efficient design. There is no part of the building that isn’t designed to be used for multiple purposes. They will even have a portable wooden floor that can be rolled and snapped into place with a couple of basketball goals and turn the auditorium into a gymnasium. The upstairs rooms are equipped with four storage closets apiece, one for each of four different groups who might be using the room at any given time.
It looks considerably different from buildings that were built for the same purpose a generation ago. Ask a kid from my generation to draw a picture of a church, and you got a steeple, high pitched, high pointed roof, stained glass windows and inside, pews, organ, piano, pulpit and a platform with a choir loft. This new facility will have none of those things. So why such a vast difference?
The meaning of most of those parts of a church building has been lost over the years. As costs of construction and maintenance have increased, practicality of design and energy efficiency are the rule of the day. Steeples cost too much to build, especially since they have no practical use. High ceilings and peaked roofs make rooms hard to cool in the summer and heat in the winter. Fixtures make multi-purpose use of a room difficult for a ministry that has a variety of activities taking place every day of the week. The more space can be utilized, the more efficient the use of the resource. Church music is changing, so a stage with electrical, audio and video connections is necessary, while an organ is out of date and pianos are electronic keyboards.
Likewise, the methods of doing ministry have to change in order to be relevant to the people who come from a generation that doesn’t identify with the way churches have done things in the past. More and more people live lives that have no reference point with relation to the church as a body of believers, or as part of who they are. Connecting points must be developed to gain their interest and their trust. These points must be things they can relate to, not preferences of the person trying to reach out to them.
The day will come when the design of this new church facility will be obsolete, and church buildings will take on a new shape and form. The methods of a church reaching generations yet unborn will l0ok very strange and different to us. One thing, however, will never change, and that is salvation by grace through faith in Christ. The gospel message never changes. God will continue to raise up and call creative, gifted people who are committed to following his will and who understand how to make the message and ministry relevant and meaningful to generations yet unborn.