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Architecture and Unchurched

October 20, 2009

I just read an article about Church Design and perceptions of the unchurched:

http://www.buildingforministry.com/2009/10/rethinking_church_design.html

I have an issue with this article that goes back to my days in seminary.  One of my seminary professors was Thom Rainer, who is now president of Lifeway.  As a leader in church growth theology, Dr Rainer raised a question about church growth in the ’80’s and ’90’s — Researchers have done all these interviews with unchurched people and adjusted what we do to listen to them . . . and they still aren’t coming.

As a result, Dr. Rainer did a series of studies and books related to “newly churched” people — people that had recently started attending church that had either never been in church or been out of church for at least 10 years.

The contrast of results between these “newly churched” people and those who are “unchurched” was quite significant.  Reality is, many of the “unchurched” would not come no matter what the church did, it really depended on the relationships they have with church people that makes the difference.

With this in mind, I would much prefer to see an article talking to “newly churched” people about how the building design affected their decision to attend church in general and the particular church they are attending.

I am only speculating, but I imagine the particular style or design would have no more affect than the paint colors in a house for sale.  There is an affect, but a smart buyer knows a coat of paint will raise the value. However, certain design aspects probably would make a big difference such as ease of getting on/off campus, in/out of building, and navigating through; acoustic issues and intelligibility; appropriate graphics and communication pieces; etc.

As an architect, I have designed traditional churches, contemporary churches, warehouse churches, and more.  I can give examples in each category that are genuinely reaching the unchurched.  That, to me, speaks volumes on this issue.

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