Consumer-minded, user-friendly buildings—not glorified monuments—are driving church designs.

It’s Sunday morning, and you are heading for the newest church in town. As you drive up, you spot a large parking lot, clearly visible from the street. After a short walk from the car, through a glass-paneled entrance, you pass into a large foyer. People who attended an earlier service stand in small groups and chat as newcomers enter for the next service. Broad hallways radiate from the foyer, leading to classrooms formed from movable walls.

Moving into the worship area, you find a seat in one of the curving rows of contoured, upholstered chairs. The colors and patterns are lively. The feeling is comfortable and warm. In the center of the semicircular rows, several adjustable risers provide a platform for a small band, a stage set, and a lectern, all wired for sound and lighted with theatrical flair.

Welcome to the ultimate, intimate, “user friendly” church of the nineties. From curbside to carpeting, church architecture is being reshaped by changing lifestyles and ministry demands.

Break from tradition

“So many significant times happen in church,” says Clark Baurer, a partner in the Chicago-based architectural firm of WareAssociates, a church project specialist. “Our goal is to enhance those times.” He and other architects often see churches where new approaches to ministry are creating demands for spaces and uses far different from traditional church buildings.

One of the most compelling forces driving church design today, especially among evangelical churches, is emphasis on outreach to the unchurched. With the influence of the church-growth movement and “seeker sensitive” churches, the focus of ministry is on drawing newcomers in ...

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