A cathedral, or a contemporary building…

This topic is close to home for me…and will be for the next few development years.

“People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building”

Now what interests me about this article is that they are making the assumption that non churched people will go to a medieval style cathedral because that is what they prefer…
That is simply not borne out by the facts.
In fact the article seems to contradict itself when it says this..

“Stetzer noted that despite these survey results, most of the churches that look like a cathedral are in decline. Just because someone has a preference for the aesthetically pleasing, Gothic churches doesn’t mean they’ll visit the church”

I think plenty of non churched people have sentimental reasons for wanting to retain old church buildings…but they sure are not going to become part of the church communities struggling within the 4 walls. They might however become part of a relevant thriving community, inside useable facilities….

However…I do like this quote…””I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold,” said one survey respondent who chose the Gothic design. “I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent.”

I would like our new facilties to be modern, useable, contemporary. But I also want them to reveal something of the transcedant…to take us on a journey…to invite intimacy, but also a sense of awe.

There is a show on TV sometimes called “Live at the Chapel” where they get guest musicians to play to a smaller audience. This is the “feel” I would like.

16 thoughts on “A cathedral, or a contemporary building…”

  1. I struggle with the whole idea of how people, (Christians and non-believers alike) see the church as a building in general.
    I’m not sure what to do about it though as the church (body of people) need to meet somewhere, together, on a regular basis. I guess you have a real opportunity here as a church body (I think I’ve read it on your posts) who is looking for a new building, to let that be a reflection of what it means to be a church who meets somewhere rather than meeting at a ‘church’.
    I guess the question is; how can we as a church body show that the body is about people and a relationship with Jesus and not just a building? I ask myself that same question and I’d be interested in what people have to say.
    I think it comes back to the foundations of what the church is about as a body of people and not being reliant on a building to promote Jesus but relationships outside what happens at the time in which the body meet together. I think the church building in the past has been built as the attraction, a statement, rather than a relationship with Jesus between people. There are also facets of church buildings that reflect heirachy and performance on a stage. I think there needs to be some thought given as to whether that just reflects culture and whether it is counter productive to understanding Jesus and ourselves as servants to people. Anyway . . I’ll stop there.

  2. ps if you see any eagles players before Sunday can you may slip em something, like . . . something to make them a bit sleepy . . . . I’d really like a win!!

  3. Certain styles, or ways of doing mission as a church, dictate the need for buildings. These styles or ways of doing mission as a church may not be our particular preference…but they are a valuable and needed part of the tapestry of the universal church.

    Our particular belief/value/practice is that the facilties a church owns should be part of the community…not apart from it. We aim to build a community performing arts theatre, with a kid friendly coffee shop out the front….jazz on sunday afternoons, dads day on saturday mornings….performing arts on friday and saturday nights….high school graduations during the week, toddler jam during weekdays…student internet cafe in the wee small hours….

    a hive of relational, intentional activity aimed at a pluralistic and multi generational community.

    We wont be apologising for having the most innovative multi-media mid to small sized theatre in Perth.

    My personal value/belief is that small house church style churches are not effective in reaching people for Christ. If I thought that they were, I would not be doing what I am doing. However I applaud those and support those who do think this, and I hope with all my heart that they reach people who would otherwise be going to a christless eternity.

    In the end..I dont care what people do, what methods they employ, as long as they are reaching people with the gospel…and I am sure God will bless a heart attitude which sincerly seeks to reach people for Christ.

    Also…..what methods the early church did has very little relevance to me…I dont live in the 1st century. I seriously doubt Paul would be still using the same methods he did back then, to reach this generation.

  4. Mark – big journey you are on here and great responsibilities comming your way – useable would be a good thing.

  5. I get the feeling that the researchers missed something crucial here – the older gothic style building will be inhabited almost certainly by the older gothic style denominations – Catholics and Anglicans, both of which are in decline. Has anyone tried mixing up the formula and put a new church in an old building?

    Or is that too much “new wine in old wineskins’ for people?

  6. Thats interesting.

    Is it a case of ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?” What I mean is…maybe the building has nothing to do with it…but maybe the fact that Catholics are still meeting in old buildings says that they gave up on…or stopped …being relevant to people a long time ago…as evidenced by their old buildings.

    Maybe they said, foolishly, why change our building? It suits our needs…forgetting in fact that a church needs to be thinking about the needs of the people who are not there yet.

  7. “My personal value/belief is that small house church style churches are not effective in reaching people for Christ.”

    That leaves me wondering if what is implied by “what you ARE doing” means that running a weekly sunday church service, kids sunday school program and fortnightly youth group is the most effective way to win ‘people to Christ’.

    I would beg to differ – people in relationship with other people, authentically sharing their life journey, day in and day out – would be a far more effective way that other people are exposed to the Spirit of God at work, compared to any sunday church service, wednesday night small group or house-based church.

    It seems to me that a community building or a gothic cathedral are actually peripheral to the daily activity of the Spirit of God, and serve simply to house programs and activities. These services and programs can be and are successfully facilitated in many buildings ranging from houses to a halls to cathedrals.

    which leads me back to the beginning of this post – why in the world would you want to set yourself on a path to owning and managing and marketing a multi-million dollar facility instead of simply pastoring the people in your church and encouraging them to continue to faithfully wrestle with the reality of God at work in their lives as they go?

    The Spirit of God is the only “effective” “tool” for reaching people for Christ and He is not contained with any building, program or “funky” ambience.

    Save yourself years of distraction and worry – enjoy your community now, facilitate their interaction with one another without needing the bells and whistles to keep them interested. Open up your homes, share your tables with one another and with the stranger, and simply participate with God as he continues to do the “reaching” he is actively doing every second of every day.


  8. “I would beg to differ – people in relationship with other people, authentically sharing their life journey, day in and day out – would be a far more effective way that other people are exposed to the Spirit of God at work”

    of course..we agree on the basic premise, that relationships of authenticity are the most important and effectice method. . But you are saying that happens in small groups…not big groups or in big facilities…mmmmm. You cant presume that will happen in small groups anymore than you can presume it wont happen in larger…or better facilitated groups.

    Rather than critique the ‘small group emergent stream’…I would rather be positive about what we are trying to do.

    Provide a real place for community needs to be met.
    What is at the heart of many if not all of societies issues? The breakdown and/or dysfunction of the family and marriages.
    We are seeking to change that.

    I do have a very open and hospitable home. I seek relationships of authenticity, I seek to journey with those who values/behaviour and choices are vastly different from my own.

    I also choose to be outward focused.

    If I was going to say why I choose to focus on what I do…not to the exclusion of small groups, I would say that very often the default position of small groups is to be inward looking. Which is actually fine, as long as they are only part of the church vision, not the primary focus of it. This does not mean they have to be inward focused, just that, as a pragmatist, I see this happen often.

    I have read Haggard’s book (fly fishing, dog training etc etc) and it resonates with me…

    In practice I dont see many results from the emerging church. But I am not being judgemental, just being patient. I hope and pray God uses it. But it is not something which resonates with me.

    Having something which resonates and is a significant hub of activity in the community does. Something which facilitates life giving relationships of autheniticity.

    By the way, did you see the photos of the facility that the latest forge seminar was held at? Looked pretty falsh to me bro… 🙂

  9. if you own your own building that’s great – use it for the best possible impact you can, and make sure the community are the focus of the programs you run.

    But if you don’t own your own building, maybe you could reimagine the necessity of buildings.

    you say, “I do have a very open and hospitable home. I seek relationships of authenticity, I seek to journey with those who values/behaviour and choices are vastly different from my own. I also choose to be outward focused.”

    if those are the values instilled in your congregation, then the only thing you might need to gather together for is corporate fellowship/worship/encouragement. Maybe then all you need to do is simply hire a local community hall for your weekly/fortnightly gatherings.

    And as you pack up each Sunday everyone could rest in the peace of knowing that the people in your faith community are being open vessels during the week for God to move in and through and around.

    Notice I haven’t said that this only happens in emergent type churches 😉 This sort of stuff is happening in the 6 days outside of all of our gatherings – hence the importance of needing any building is minimized.

    So I guess I am challenging the idea that having a multi-purpose community building is any more efficient than not and therefore, why spend the years and money trying to pull it off when at the end of the day the daily lives of the normal people in each of our faith communities might actually be where the majority of God “reaching” happens.

    FWIW – I too heard the Forge gig was pretty impressive. However, I fear that the organisation may actually lose much of its prophetic edge by becoming “successful” by mainstream standards.

    Truth be told, Forge crew could rock it all over most of the traditional churches if they wanted to formalise their “powers” 😉 they have incredible speakers, incredible thinkers, incredible theologians, incredible practitioners, and know their way around post modernism and popular culture like the back of their hand – many of them as you know are ex-mainstream pastors.

    Not to mention they have a powerful appeal to/acceptance by the young adult and middle aged population that is becoming more and more disconnected from traditional church congregations – see Jamieson’s “A churchless faith”.

    However, they have chosen a different way which has placed them at the fringe of acceptance for many years, and yet many find themselves in deeply authentic relationships with many of the very people traditional churches are trying to “reach out to”.

    So here is a complicated end point. Many traditional churches have massive facilities and massive budgets and massive programs and are failing to “reach” the majority of those they seek to.

    And many emerging-type groups have nowhere to call their own, no one leading them, no budgets and yet they are sharing their lives with the very people people the mainstream are seeking – but have “nothing” to assimilate them into.

    Maybe, multi-congregational use of facilities (gothic or contemporary) could be a way of the future. Where we share resources, skills, time, energy, passion and allow people to move in an out of our different groups/congregations as they feel the need. Maybe?

    I’m not sure I’m saying what I’m meaning to but really I just want to encourage you and your faith community to see this chance of being “homeless” as being an amazing opportunity to reimagine what it might mean to be the church in your local community.


  10. Thanks for your thoughts.
    I heard ‘forgesong’ (their term) :)went well, but, as an outsider, I found the fact they had flash multi media, flash buildings…flash speakers…a little incogruous considering these are the things that critique other churches for. (http://www.allelon.org/missional_journey/?p=83)

    Forge are reaching disenfrachised young Christians, good on them. I’m after non churched familes.

    In regard to buildings and ownership. God has given us some assets…we are going to use them to change our community. What disgusted me was a wealthy church in Perth, unnamed, with three full time pastors chaplaining a 30 strong congregation of over 65’s. Thats sickening.

    I appreciate your thoughts…given in grace. I am committed to and strongly believe in what we are doing, and totally disagree with some of what you have said, but am glad we can talk!

  11. Mark, I think your vision is brilliant. I hear what Anon says, but the reality is that Mark’s vision is totally outward focused and will facilitate relationships.

    Go for it.

  12. I am a different anonymous than the other one. Here are my comments-

    “Outwardly focussed”, “faciliate relationships”, “unchurched”? When did Christians start sounding like they swallowed a positive thinking book for big business.

    The Bible never mentions the “unchurched”, just the unsaved (and these days many of those are in the church and stay unsaved because the gospel is no longer preached). People who are dying every day and will spend eternity IN HELL, and who really cares? Do Christians REALLY care about the LOST?

    Jesus simply told HIS disciples to GO PREACH the gospel….but these days most churches want to make the church building so comfortable that lazy believers don’t go out, they try to convince the “unchurched” to come in, then they provide for their every need- playgroups, childminding, multi media so that the preaching is not boring, counselling for all manner of ills, all manner of community groups, fairs, fetes, fund raisers….and somewhere along the line I guess that they expect the person to become born again without even realising it- oh dear, how did THAT happen.
    …we don’t want to preach the UNCOMPROMISING GOSPEL anymore, don’t want to make people uncomfortable, don’t want to challenge them- SHAME ON THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEMSELVES TO BE THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

    The church should not be conning people in, but GOING OUT and preaching the message that men and women were burnt at the stake for, that those in other nations preach every day at the cost of their very lives.

    The people of God have become a people who want COMFORTABLE Christianity. Don’t wake me up to early on sunday, don’t preach too long, don’t upset me or I won’t put money in the offering, gimme this, gimme that….gimme gimme gimme….but Jesus said take up the cross and follow me. What does the gospel COST YOU? anything? And forget the money, that belongs to God anyway if YOU belong to him. So does that car, and the house, and everything you have, it’s all His- if you are. Do we PRAY about all these things that are creeping in to what used to be where CHRISTIANS met to worship the Lord?

    The GOSPEL is outwardly focussed, and you don’t need a lot of money or a big building, you just need an unsaved neighbour, friend or family member to share it with, and a little bit of guts.

    The early believers WENT OUT and shared the gospel and then brough people back into the fellowship, but now we have things the wrong way around, and many churches think that if they just have the right worship, the best sound system, the most expensive multi media whatever-it-is, that people will come in- but who told you to dress up the gospel?
    Who told you to make it bearable to the sinner, to water it down to a palatable level but to where there is little left to do any actual good…

    Everyone wants the big show, everyone likes the crowds, but Jesus had twelve men that turned the world upside down WITH A MESSAGE ABOUT THE SAVIOUR!

    It’s time to stop sooking and pleasing a sin soaked world and ask ourselves what the pearl of great price is really worth….
    it cost Jesus everything, but what does it really COST the Christian these days?
    They shout loudly for their favourite football team, but are embarrased to share JESUS with someone they know. These things should not be so!

  13. you need to get out more mate…and lose the judgemental tone…and stop posting anonymously…it makes you look chicken….

    I only tolerate ‘internet warriors’ for so long.

  14. Hmmm? Just to bring in something from left field … the catholic church here in Bunbury are currently planning to rebuild the cathedral in the centre of the city. The original one was blown down a couple of years ago by a fierce storm. Their goal is to build a facility that will serve the community for at least 300 years!! Their argument for such a project? They want to communicate perminancy.


  15. If you want to talk about a church which is incredibly influential…look no further than the Catholics. Their modus operandi is to buy the highest block in town, and build the biggest building on it. Makes a statement!!

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