Does Where We Worship Matter?
I was raised in a tiny country church on liturgy and hymns. White, steeple, pews, potluck dinners—my church had the stereotype covered. I loved it. Though I was excited to explore other churches when I went off to college in the city, I found myself in auditorium-style sanctuaries with rows of cushy seats and screens flashing lyrics over pictures of running creeks or ambiguous twisting rainbows. When we sang, the worship band brashly added choruses or enhanced the hymn-turned-pop hit with appropriately choreographed lighting. The windows were clear glass, not stained.
I suffered a sort of church culture shock.
And I don't think I'm the only one. In a post yesterday on "The Exchange," Ed Stetzer noted that churches' pursuit of a space to serve as a permanent symbol of their vision creates very real problems when the communities around them grow and change. Trendy buildings—or even staid, traditional structures—demand resources, yet too easily fall prey to the progress of urban sprawl. Stetzer writes:
When we glorify trendiness, we unite the message of Christ with faddish architecture, giving the impression that the unchanging gospel will one day become irrelevant.
When we view our building as our legacy—as the thing that will last—we tie the church, which Jesus founded and against which the gates of hell will not prevail, to a building, which will crumble and collapse in a matter of time.
And small churches buy into the importance of space, as well.
We've all heard the stories of churches experimenting with new worship settings, or perhaps we've attended them ourselves. A Baptist congregation in Springfield, Nebraska, tired of not owning a building of their own, opted to move into a former bar, saying that the building "really kind of fits us." News of the former Crystal Cathedral's building swap with a local Catholic congregation made headlines.
Lists of the top ugly churches (and even more ugly churches) make us laugh and fascinate us—what were they thinking?—while photo features such as the one published by Wired last month draw attention to the elaborate stage setup of today's megachurches.
For years, American churches have been moving into these kinds of new spaces—shopping centers, warehouses, and shiny, new buildings—and devoting them to God. But it took my own halting adoption of contemporary worship to make me more aware of the significance of where we gather before God.
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