Church Buildings – New and Old

Blue Tarp Church

Back in February, As we began thinking of rebuilding our destroyed church facilities, I attempted to open a discussion on Church architecture. See:

I had a glitch in my comments feature and lost all atempts to add feedback. Donna-Jean emailed me her reflections.

So good to read your thoughts on this topic – and I appreciated the Sweet article, too.

I see two (related) dangers in church architecture; rather, in the actual building itself. One is with existing buildings. It takes the current generation (and I’m speaking of those in the church now, spanning a range of ages, not just ‘young’) awhile to feel ownership of a building that’s existed for a long time. I recall telling others, “We’re the church. If this item doesn’t work for us, we get rid of it.” (I say that respectfully, believe it or not, knowing that the effective past generation did the same.)

Graven images (to me) have more to do with “Well, so and so donated that, so we have to keep it” or “We’ve always done it that way” than with actual images. For instance, having a good-sized room with three little tiny rooms off of it worked well when I was growing up – for the Primary Room’s opening exercises, and then the little sit-down classes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. But our kids now learn better with more space, more centers of activity, more interaction. So some walls in our church building have come down to make a bigger classroom or nursery, one old classroom is now a kids’ library with books/DVDs/videos and a welcoming librarian each week, some tiny classrooms are storage closets for costumes and props for outreach dramas/musicals, and some are now offices (mine, included 🙂 .

The other is about building a new building. I just finished reading Steve Saint’s “End of the Spear.” (I hate that the very unfortunate Chad Allen controversy would keep anyone from the book or the movie – which I’ve not seen yet. The book is very powerful. I pray, above all, that Chad Allen sees his need for Christ through his involvement in the film. But that’s another topic.) In it, Saint talks of how the Waodani (“Auca”) people let a church building in their village fall apart and be unused. (It was built during his Aunt Rachel’s ministry there.) He asked why – and it was because a) it was built differently than their usual ‘architecture’ and so they felt inadequate for it (and it wasn’t that ‘workable’ for their open-air living), and b) it was built by well-meaning outsiders so they felt it wasn’t ‘theirs’ to use, or to fix, when it began to deteriorate.

New buildlings need the ownership of its users – and part of that comes from their involvement in its planning, creation, and realization. As you benefit from the goodwill and sweat of ‘outsiders’ (and we are always chomping at the bit to be a part of that, we are committed to helping as long as God allows 🙂 your own people must never feel displaced, or somehow unworthy (even in their own overwhelmed situation) to be decision-makers.

I love the versatility a good church building can provide. We still have wooden pews in our sanctuary, and stained glass windows imported from its former site (before we came). We love its look. But we’ve also reconstructed the platform, removed the organ (when there was no longer anyone to play it, despite tireless attempts to find an organist, even from the outside), and cut a picture window in the narthex wall so people could see into its beauty as they enter. We’ve also turned our large downstairs area into a Narnia-decorated coffeehouse, rollerblading area, ladies’ tea room, men’s sportsmen’s dinner, or kids’ game night.

And it is thrilling to see our people realize this place is theirs, it’s their place to worship, weep, rejoice, pray, marry, grieve lost loved ones, praise God, eat together (we do a lot of that 🙂 , discuss, learn, laugh, and sometimes just hang out together with our kids. (And it’s also their place to fix when things go wrong. Just as it’s encouraged so many to realize they can ‘chainsaw for God’ in Lakeshore, it’s important for those in our church to know that fixing the running toilet and adding landscaping and changing light bulbs is ministry, too. They ‘get that,’ and are now enjoying the blessing of comraderie/fellowship that such work entails.)

Perhaps it’s not the best analogy, but on the TV sitcom “Cheers,” the song for that bar was about “where everybody knows your name.” There is something to be said for church being Oasis, Refuge, Shelter, Learning and Creativity Center, Refueling Spot, Training Grounds, Home.

I can’t wait to get to church, to see these people, and to bring others into this place. As a pastor’s daughter and pastor’s wife, I’ve known Christians’ quirks – and even their barbs – individually. But corporately, church can be a taste of heaven. I pray that for you and your church family as you continue in the Lord, whether out in the open, under a tarp, under a tent, in a quonset hut, under steel – or whatever design is next. You’ve been an inspiration.

Lakeshore Baptist Church is never far from our thoughts and prayers at Chapel on the Hill.