For the last 30 years, it has become popular for new churches to build their worship and ministry space to look like a warehouse or storehouse (or use an actual warehouse). The “Emergent” or “Emerging Church” and ultra contemporary church movement has found that many people are attracted to buildings that are religiously neutral.
Building a church in a warehouse is an economical way to do church. Aside from the “store front” church, churches who desire to tone down a worship space do so for marketing reasons. Mega and ultra contemporary churches try to draw in burned out Christians or seekers who want church to be different than the traditional church service (3 hymns, sermon, and altar call).
There is now a reverse trend in trying to attract seekers to churches. The trend seems to be that now seekers and churches are reconsidering what they thought they wanted in a church building. A LifeWay survey found that seekers prefer a church to look like, well… a church:
….unchurched adults prefer Gothic church buildings to utilitarian ones, challenging the conventional wisdom that medieval-looking churches feel out-of-touch and stuffy to seekers… over 1,600 unchurched adults four pictures of church buildings, ranging from mall-like to Gothic. The majority preferred the most ornate church.
People want to seek the Divine in church community and in worship. I have found that there is a segment of the church going population, who after several years at a ultra contemporary/mega church, desire to recapture the essence of what it means to worship, learn, live in faith, and fellowship in a congregation that seeks to be more dynamic and deeper in their approach.
Robert Webber, noticed this trend years ago. In his book, Ancient-Future Faith he states:
Worship Renewal, then, is not a matter of gimmicks, but the recovery of the Christian vision of reality enacted by the community of God. pg. In the 1980’s evangelicals sought to neutralize space to make the seeker more comfortable. This worked in the 1980’s but is not the way to go in the postmodern world. The inquirer needs to be immersed within a space that bespeaks the Christian faith. The very narrative of faith which we seek to know and live is symbolically expressed in our space… Space becomes the visual image of the connection between the known and unknown. pg. 108
Worship and our church buildings should communicate who God is. Symbols are important. Symbols point to a great reality. The cross is a symbol. The communion table is a symbol. The church is a symbol. If we neutralize a church space, then are we neutralizing the symbol of the church? Postmodernity has indeed reshaped our understanding of a church building.
Churches and pastors should resist the empty showy gimmicks and trendy ideas about church and worship. Instead, we must seek to put a theology behind our church and church buildings instead of only relying on marketing tactics. There is a richness contained in the 2,000 years of worship, teaching, and theology that the church mothers and fathers have given to us.
There is nothing “wrong” with a contemporary church that meets in a warehouse, but the trend of the lack of Christian symbols and lack of focus upon theologically centered worship space is troubling. Church leaders need to think about building or obtaining a worship space that reflects Christian theology.
At some point, people are going to want more than flashy lights, loud bands, and Starbucks.