Friday, January 13, 2012

Church Creep...

When I began as a Pastor, now 32 years ago, the conventional wisdom suggested that 5 acres would be sufficient for a church plant.  Today there are those who would suggest that four or five times that is no longer deemed enough to support the grand plans for development of a church facility.  Because of this, congregations have continued the move outside of the cities and into the suburbs where land is available to support the mega master plans envisioned by their developers.  The cost of such an exodus is born not only in land and construction but in the cost of parking for all of those who commute by automobile and the cost of that transportation.  Further, it is created the scenario in which a campus located so far from where the people live must justify their transportation cost in time and money by becoming a full service ministry in which programs for everything from children and youth are supplanted by gyms, exercise rooms, classrooms, meditation rooms, retail and food locations, and a host of other so-called "ministries" which in reality have little to do with the Gospel.  Some are beginning to question this idea and have returned to the old idea of a parish church in which the urban sprawl of a congregation is restricted and some of its acreage returned to the ordinary use of housing, retail, professional, and community.

I have a big interest in church architecture and in the creative response to the typical problems that face congregations today (across the denominational spectrum).  While some may still buy into the mega church model of facility development, I wonder if we might not see the future lies elsewhere for most of us -- especially suburban congregations which have attempted to mimic the mega model on a smaller scale.

One such plan for a Roman Catholic parish is given in the journal Sacred Architecture.  I am not going to repeat the whole article here, but, if you are interested in church architecture, this is something worth your reading and reflection.  You can survey the words and pictures here.  I include two pictures -- a before and after...  What is most interesting here is that the architectural firm has structured the changes so that they do not disrupt the parish life and so that they are largely self-supported by the use of existing land for other purpose.

Typical suburban parish sprawl in multiple structures inefficiently taking up the space.

Architectural rendering of a return to a parish church facility and different use of the land.


Anonymous said...

It is no surprise that the non-denominational mega-churches deliberately choose to build in a location in the outlying suburbs. I have seen many denominations choose to close many struggling churches in the inner city and the inner suburbs and merge those congregations into one mega-structure in the "exurbs". Such structures resemble an outlying shopping mall. Given the Lutheran fascination with Willow Creek, I am surprised that the LCMS has not yet adopted the same practice.

I see that the second illustration is an attempt to recreate the concept of neighborhood. Since the traditional community is an endangered species, it is up to church architects and forward-thinking urban planners to promote new urbanism. People are drawn to areas that foster a sense of place and time. If there is no sense of community, then build the structures that make it so. Recreate Mayberry as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting article. There is a fad in development of suburbs to do the shopping/residential/entertainment all in one but never including a church.

What I have been watching myself is what new churches around me look like. While everyone suffered under the 60s and onward it seems one group is returning to the old forms of church architechture and another is turning into the mall/theatre.

Google around on st james cathedral orlando florida and you will find more pictures etc. Not far away a new parish just went up and it too is clearly going back to the traditional architectures.

It is good to see tradition returning somewhere.