It’s true that church, in its root meaning, is the assembly of believers, it’s the people. Church didn’t originally connote a building. But get enough people assembling together and you might want a building.
A building, then. In some parts of the world, you build a hut and are grateful for the hospitable shade. In other parts of the world, you have the luxury of choices. Outwardly it could have functionality and beauty. Before any greeting is given, any word spoken, any sacrament shared, the building could convey theology in wood and stone. Its design could serve its churchly purpose – or thwart it.
I remember being in NYC – such a secular place – but a place with hundreds, if not thousands of beautiful, impressive churches. Those buildings lift their soaring steeples and say things about beauty and worship and transcendence – or provoke questions – what purpose inspired such extravagance of carving and arch and window and vaulted heights?
There was a recent trend towards building church buildings that looked more like a mall or other bland public building — so as not to seem outlandish to visitors. Other church buildings have been put up with all possible frugality – to keep the focus on money flowing toward acute needs in the human family around the world. I can think of no argument against that. But apart from that, I’m for architecture that speaks in its own way about the sacred and lifts spirits with its beauty.
Here is an article published in Christianity Today about a growing preference towards church buildings that look like church buildings. “Keeping Holy Ground Holy”
“When we built it, there was a lot of movement towards the warehouse look, with black ceilings,” says Dana Blackwood, Church of the Apostles’ director of facilities. “The church leadership understood that that look was going to fade. People wanted to have a sense of tradition, something that looked like a church.”