Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unchurched Like Church Buildings that Look Like Church

According to one study, 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. LifeWay showed over 1,600 unchurched adults four pictures of church buildings, ranging from mall-like to Gothic. The majority preferred the most ornate church. The results of the study were reported in Christianity Today in its May 2009 issue.

First of all, let me deny the myth of Field of Dreams -- if you build it they will come. Buildings alone do not reach people. There are many congregations with absolutely gorgeous buildings but they are struggling and even failing.

No, the point in this is that people outside the Church like the Church to look like the Church, to act like the Church, to sound like the Church, and to BE the Church. Whether in architecture or message, the unchurched are not necessarily attracted to churches that neither look nor sound like the Church.

For all those who said that making church buildings look like shopping malls and toning down the message of the church to sound more like pop psychology or happy talk would bring in the unchurched, well, we are still waiting for the solid evidence. In fact there is evidence that these techno temples of entertainment bring in proportionately the same number of new faces as do congregations with traditional church buildings and the authentic Christian Gospel.

Then who likes these variety show styles of worship in buildings whose chief adornment is a trap set (in plexiglass surround) and huge video screens? I need only to look in the mirror -- the folks who like it best are the baby boomers who already consider themselves Christian. These are the folks who insist that the music in worship sound like what they listen to on radio and I-pods (which, by the way, is no more contemporary than rock and roll oldies or folk music styles). These are the folks who complain that church is boring and needs to get with the times. These are the folks who place a higher priority on their views and thinking than faithfulness to the Christ of Scripture.

In fact, the boomers who insist upon their style of music and worship may be turning off those younger. Consider the Lutheran group "Lost and Found" and their song Opener:

I’m looking for something stronger—Than my own life these days,
Yet the church of my childhood—Seems like the YMCA.
Well, every Sunday—Is just like the last,
As if the church has no history—And the people have no past.
We just sing what we like to sing—And we preach about the news,
And think of some new thing—Just to fill up the pews.
I want palms on Palm Sunday—And Pentecost still to be red.
I want to drink of the Wine—And eat of the Bread.
And they search for attendance—While I starve for transcendence --
But I count among this Body—Of both the living and the dead.....

Gene Edward Vieth has written well about this and what he says about worship, music, and message correlates well with this study of how churches look and how that relates to the unchurched.

In other words, the future lies not with a church attempting to look like a snapshot of the culture of the moment... no, the future lies with the Church faithful to Scripture, to tradition, to worship that embodies this confession, to a faith which passes on this Truth, and to a willingness to welcome those outside to come in and to bring what is heard inside out to those not yet there.

What will it be? That will be determined by YOU, God's people, and by your insistence that the Church be nothing less than what she was and more faithful than she has been (to the Truth and to the Mission)...


Rev. Bruce Hindenburg said...

Having just moved our place of worship from a shopping mall to a barn, I can say that many more people from the outside (those that belong to no church or those who attend "mall-like" churches) are intrigued by the fact that we now worship in a barn. Now, we have all the "trappings" of a church, an altar, a pulpit, a baptismal font (located at the entrance), etc. There are those who were members that said they would never worship in a barn...they have chosen to "move on" to places that are prettier or where they can have it their way. Those who remain say they are humbled to come into the presence of our Lord. He started in a lowly stable and we now worship Him in a barn...no...we worship in the House of God.

anniess said...

Altar? Pulpit? Haven't seen any of those recently. New churches have theatre type seating (no pews) and a stage. Not even a cross! Surely, no altar or pulpit.

I guess it does not matter where you worship, and I am more future-oriented than past, but I miss church steeples, stained glass and robes (so tired of jeans and tee-shirted preachers).