the church building

Two weeks ago I had a discussion with a local pastor. We got on the topic of whether or not a church’s appearance actually matters. His thoughts were that the church shouldn’t have to be up to date because people should want to come worship Jesus without the “bells and whistles”. I get where he was coming from, but I think that it’s pretty hard to get folks that don’t like church or sort of like it to actually come into the church building without at least some “stuff”.

I mean, when I drove up to the building I knew what kind of church it was going to be without even going in.
You know the kind.
Terrible sound system. Old orange cloth pews and ugly light fixtures. Funny smell and an organ.
I was spot on.
It was like I was back in the early 90’s again. I was looking for the choir robes but couldn’t find them.

Even though the people were really friendly, I just couldn’t get past what my eyes were seeing. Maybe that’s my shallowness. Maybe I’ve been in church so long that I don’t know what churches really need.

There’s only so much a “ok” sermon and decent music can do for folks. Or maybe this is just me…Or maybe this is just the American church.
Church is sometimes more about “What can it do for me?” than God and community.
People in other countries don’t need “stuff” to do church. Somehow we Americans keep needing junk and church staff keeps trying to feed the masses’ appetites.

So, here we are. In the land of churchplants, to “just got off the ground” churches to growing churches to mega churches.

Do you care what the building looks like that you do worship in or does it not matter?

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  1. says

    There’s not necessarily anything specific I’d like to see in a church, but I definitely think it matters what it looks like. I wouldn’t want to go to a church where the people didn’t seem to care abou their facilities.

  2. says

    I wonder the same thing…I balk at how much churches spend on their buildings, especially when there are people in their own neighborhood who have little to eat. But at the same time, I don’t want to go to church in a run down shack or an abandoned warehouse. I also like churches with gyms, because I like playing basketball. But sometimes when I’m there, drinking my free Starbucks coffee, admiring the art while a state of the art sound system blares the music from the worship band that is dressed in designer clothing, I feel wrong.
    So yes and no, appearance matters. I guess I’m just conflicted.

  3. guest says

    I always feel awkward when the missionaries come to speak about their experiences in third world countries and how they have practically nothing while I’m sitting in a VERY nice santuary with a VERY nice sound system. But you are right, the way American’s think is “what can I get from this” or if it is run down or out of date they think “I’m too good for this”. I suppose having the high tech, appealing facilaties is part of ministering to the American people. Which I think is very sad.

  4. says

    Everything in a church should be done as well as possible, within means.
    I have served in churches with the worship wars, and in a church where it was just excepted that what we had was an 80 yr old piano player who could play 1/2 the hymnal.

    I believe that small/rural churches have an entirely different outlook than urban/suburban churches.

    We dont have the $ to make big changes, nor would those changes really do much for gaining attenders.

    Our focus is on some small cosmetic changes. In my church we have taken down a big old missions board and are replacing with digital photo frames.

    Keeping the building clean throughout the week, lawn mowed, garbage picked up and such are more telling than if our chairs are 15 years old.

  5. says

    I think its sad but agree with other posters, this has unfortunately become part of ministering to America. Do I wish it wasnt this way? Sure. But can we just ignore it? No.

    “His thoughts were that the church shouldn’t have to be up to date because people should want to come worship Jesus without the “bells and whistles”. ” When I read this all I could think of is the fact that we can’t place “Christian” expectations on non-Christians. Our first thought should be to get people to want to worship Jesus Christ in the first place.

  6. Anonymous says

    My daughter moved from Waco & ubc to Austin in 2009. She had several churches she wanted to visit. She settled on a newly planted church. They share space with an acting theater in downtown Austin. Not bad coming from the former grocery store that is now ubc. Decorated by Toni Crowder. It is a wonderful place. It is friendly. It is fun. Each Sunday School room has a “theme”. It doesn’t have the big stained glass windows or pews. I really miss visiting occasionally.

    I, like my daughter, am more drawn to the more eclectic of churches. No pomp & circumstance. Just people who love & follow Jesus and work hard to make it community-friendly. Unassuming. Just like Jesus. I LOVE the part about community-friendly. Within blocks of both the State Capitol building and the famous 6th street and blocks from some of the poorer sections of Austin. What a great beacon in a large community!

    Look at Austin Stone. They met at Austin High for years. Sharing space with a high school! Appearance is not important to me. The message is. Make it welcoming to ALL.

  7. says

    If church were only about Christians having a place to worship, it probably wouldn’t matter. BUT, we tend to evangelize by inviting friends to our worship services. We disciple by getting them involved in what we’re doing. If our building is outdated, but our people are loving and outgoing and welcoming, people will see the love. If our building is new, hip and awesome, but the people are cold and uninviting, people will see the lack of love.

    I think, more than the building, the people who are the church must make the impact. When people talk about how they felt when they went in that old church building… how it looks won’t matter so much.

  8. says

    My professor in college once did a sermon about how a church building actually reflected theological views to some extent. Don’t remember much of it, but he spoke about how Catholic cathedrals, with their grandeur and intricate details, displayed a very high view of a sovereign and powerful God (especially with their height). Catholic sanctuaries are laid out in the shape of the Cross; Orthodox are laid out like the design of the tabernacle (I think). Oftentimes, especially in older churches, these details were a reflection of the artisan’s love for God and his desire to create a suitable dwelling place for Him on Earth (like Solomon and his temple). The God reflected in Catholic, Orthodox, and some mainline denominations (Episcopalian, Lutheran, Anglican, and others) is indeed a very “high” God, who is sovereign, powerful, mystical, and transcendent.

    In contrast, most evangelical or Pentecostal churches are very austere, being low to the ground in most cases (except with megachurches, obviously) and without much decoration, kinda like the one you described (By the way, Adam, you described my home church from my childhood to the letter. They’ve since remodeled a little, but much of it remains the same). This view reflects the closeness of God, as in a personal and intimate relationship. Because God is so imminent and personal with us, He will always come to be with us regardless of decor or detailed planning. With evangelical churches, though, there can be exceptions, of course, but most churches are opting out of buildings altogether and meeting in high schools and movie theaters, either to save costs or, most of the time in my opinion, to seem more relevant.

    Long and short, your church building speaks a whole lot more to outsiders than you know. It can tell people how you think of God, or how welcoming you are. People who don’t take their building seriously are seen as not taking God seriously. How you do it is entirely up to you (all the above mentioned concepts are good views of God’s attributes, between sovereignty and intimacy), but take some pride in your house of worship, and let that pride flow out of your love for your Creator.

  9. Marion says

    it matters to me! My opinion is that if God’s mercies are new every day and if he’s all about doing a new thing, our property/advertising/outreach/etc should reflect that!

  10. calebrowden says

    I think whatever a church does…they need to be intentional about it and it needs to match up with their vision and mission to reach their community. I’ve seen churches be intentional in having a very simple facility with minimal media, etc…but it totally worked in their context. Having said that, I also think that churches like the one you described…old and unattractive just because they don’t care…are doing the Kingdom of God and the people around them a terrible injustice. I don’t think churches need to work to make the Gospel ‘attractive’…it is that already. But it’s our job to contextualize our ministry and make it appropriate for the people God entrusts us with from week to week.

  11. says

    I have been church my entire life. And it was the old-fashioned kind you’re talking about. Now we go to a churchplant that meets in a school. I must say that the fact we meet in a school is a draw for myself and my friends. I think it makes us realize that the church is not a building at all.

  12. says

    I believe the Lord’s church buildings should look as nice as possible. I’m not talking about entertainment or “stuff” I’m talking about the appearance of the building. It is supposed to be a place that the Church has dedicated to the Lord. The building is not the Church, the members are. Since the building is a place dedicated to the Lord for the Church to worship there, then the members should want it to be kept up and looking beautiful within the means of the Church budget. If the Church can afford to do some updating and things that will make it look nice, then that’s what the Church should do. We should be giving only our best to the Lord. Now I do not believe that the Lord’s churches should be trying to add all the bells and whistles and entertainment to draw people in. The Lord’s churches are for the Church body, those that are saved and have been baptized, to learn and grow and worship. The Lord’s churches should be concerned about how the building appears to those outside, but ultimately it is the Truth of God’s Word that will cause people to stay or leave. If people are coming and staying just because of the appearance on the outside, then those people will eventually fall away when the Word steps on their toes, provided that Church is actually teaching the Truth and not sugar coating much of it like so many churches do today.

    • says

      agreed. people are definitely different now than they were even 10 years ago. i guess the real question is, how far does the church need to go to “entertain”, so to speak. I guess it would depend on resources…

  13. says

    My wife has taught me that what is manifest in people’s homes is often a reflection of their internal state of being. Think of the shows such as Clean House or Hoarders. These folks have internal junk that shows up as junk in their home.
    In the same way I think church buildings reflect the spirit of the congregation. Traditions often become ingrained. Decor was updated 40 years ago with someone’s memorial fund and becomes a sacred cow that can’t be changed without offending the family. On the other end of the scale, a building that is overly ostentatious may signify that the church is more concerned with appearances than with substance.
    I loved your comments that you could tell what the church would be like by just looking at the building itself. I agree that the most important thing about church is to encounter Jesus and worship God. And God isn’t influenced by our decor but rather the preparedness of our hearts.
    So I think the way a church building looks matters in that it is an outward reflection of the inner reality of the hearts of the people.


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