In the last post in this series I explored the all too controversial dress code. In today's post I would like to focus on the next concept to emerge in the Barna group survey: the worship space. While most may assume that millennial Christians are anti-tradition this survey reveals a more nuanced reality. The topic of worship space is a perfect example. The same millennials who prefer to dress casual to dignified also prefer a sanctuary to an auditorium as a worship space. An incredible 77% of those surveyed said a sanctuary - a more traditional and ancient worship space - was more appealing than a modern-fresh-cushion-seat-auditorium. As a millennial, I have to say I agree. I'm not really a big fan of the auditorium church. Of course, I'm not suggesting that its bad. Auditorium churches are actually really good at removing the intimidation the unchurched often experience in a classic church building. Its a more neutral space that eliminates what - to many people - has the potential to be a stumbling block to Christ. Auditorium churches are neat, and I think they should stay. Nevertheless, I also vote that we keep the old school "sanctuary". It has a charm and depth to it that just cant be replicated in an auditorium. And perhaps, it is this charm and depth that millennials find appealing. While most modern churches look like every other building we go to, the old school "sanctuary" feels more like a... well... a sanctuary. A place to get away, even if for a minute, and rejuvenate. However, that doesn't automatically make me a fan of the sanctuary model either. Truth is, the old school sanctuary and the modern auditorium are really the same thing. The only difference between these two worship spaces are their cosmetics. But underneath both there is a narrative that has not changed. It is this narrative that I find the most unappealing.
Church architecture often reflects both culture and theology. Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed on what a church building should look like for the simple reason that church buildings don't exist in the Bible. Now, I'm not against church buildings as a place for gatherings, training, and other relevant and practical uses but I am the first to admit that the existence of the church building does not find its roots in the Bible or the New Testament believers. Church buildings came later. Because church buildings do not originate in the Bible, those who designed them did not do so under the guidance of Holy Writ but instead utilized the trends of their day and the theological worldview that they had. Thus, generally speaking, Coptic churches architecturally reflect Coptic (Egyptian) culture, Greek Orthodox churches reflect Greek architecture and the Medieval churches reflect Medieval/ Gothic culture. However, religious architecture carries an element which its cultural context does not which is what tends to set churches apart from other structures. These differences are often fueled by the churches theology (its narrative). For example, in Catholic churches the center of attention is on the altar where the mass is enacted. In Protestant churches the center of attention is on the podium where the Bible is preached. Because the center of Catholic worship is the mass it influences their architecture and likewise for the Protestants whose central focus in worship is the preaching of the Bible. A lot more can be said about the seating arrangement, the height of the ceiling, the height of the platform, stained glass windows, the size of the main entrance, the placement of the baptistery, steeples and other elements of church architecture which I don't have time to get into. Suffice to say, church architecture tells a story. It reveals the church's beliefs, values, and priorities. The sad part is lot's of modern Protestant churches don't realize this. It seems many of them just copy what others have done without any thought to the story their architecture is telling. And the most damaging part is when the architecture tells a story that is different from the story Jesus came to tell. And this is perhaps the reason why I am not a big fan of many church buildings whether they be modern or ancient. To be frank, I find many of them inadvertently damage the story. When the center of attention is a stage where the audience passively sits in straight, long rows, and watches the clergy perform we are sending the message that what matters in church is not community but passive observance. The story this tells is that the most important people are those on the stage. The holiest man is the pastor. And the baptistery tends to be hidden or tucked away in the back. At times its hidden behind the enormous lectern which shields the preacher making both the preacher and God seem unapproachable. None of these architectural elements seem to reflect the story Jesus came to tell - a story of self sacrifice, redemption, togetherness, community, restoration, and sanctification.
I am not an architect, so I will not presume on what a church building should or shouldn't look like. My only contention is that, by and large, church architecture should more accurately reflect the narrative of scripture. I would love to see a church that had a seating arrangement that inspired community rather than repelled it. A church whose design reflected the priesthood of all believers instead of placing certain people on a higher platform than others. A church where the baptistery was visible and inviting and where the people did not feel like mere spectators in a theatrical worship performance but were, in many ways, the very heart beat of it. A church where the grandeur of God was honored, but not at the expense of his withness, his intimacy, and his approach-ability. A church that was designed for the benefit of others instead of itself. A place built to facilitate training, equipping, and practical service and evangelism as opposed to a place construed for nothing more than the comfort and nurture of its own members. New Testament Christians met primarily in one another's homes. While synagogues and temple courts were often used as well these were not used as "church buildings" in the sense that we think of them today. Perhaps part of how we can recapture an architecture that tells the story of Jesus is to go back and explore what made the house church so effective in the NT. Perhaps it is because the inherent architecture of a home is exactly the kind of space needed to reflect the narrative of Jesus. And perhaps, that is exactly what we need. Further reading: New Testament house churches: A model for today's complex world? _________________  ...“It can be rightly said that Christianity was the first non-temple-based religion ever to emerge.... Strikingly nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building” (11). According to Viola, sacred temples were a concept that belonged to paganism and Judaism. The sacred temple of Judaism and its services were done away with at the cross. Because of this, the New Testament Christians met in homes. However, over time Christians began to pray for the dead martyrs, then to them. Their grave yards became viewed as holy places on which shrines were built and eventually buildings were built over the grave sites (during the time of Constantine) and considered holy as well. All of this has origins in paganism and not Christianity. When Constantine came on the scene he built cathedrals for the Christians and even named the cathedrals after certain saints. A practice which was also pagan. The church building then came to be viewed as a sacred place. Having no biblical precedent to defend this, the proponents of the church building began pointing to the Old Testament temple as a defense for their sacred church buildings, but this was based on faulty exegesis. Viola rightly argues that the New Testament church was the people not the building. He traces the concept of a sacred building in Christianity to paganism, Clement of Alexandria (the first recorded to use ekklesia in reference to a meeting place) and Constantine whom was the first to, “erect special buildings for worship” (12). For Viola, church is people not buildings. The church is something you are a part of not an edifice you go to. I agree with Viola in the sense that the incredible amount of money spent in up keeping a building most people only use once or twice a week could be better spent in reaching the lost. - Excerpt from "Pagan Christianity? A Book Review."  Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 1, 2; Colossians 4:15.
If you go to church or have gone to church you've probably heard this saying before "We don't go to church for other people. We go to church for God." It sounds noble. And if you don't look into it you may end up believing it. But it turns out, it isn't really true. The New Testament introduces us to the concept of church. The Greek word it uses is the word ecclessia which literally means "group of people".* So when Jesus says to Peter, "On this rock I will build my church" he is literally saying, "On this rock I will build my group of people". Likewise, when the NT speaks of believers having church it simply means that they were having community. Nowhere in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building or a location. Not once. Instead, the church is a non-building, non-temple, non-institutional group of people who do life together with God and each other. With this concept in mind, it's impossible to maintain the old adage that "We go to church for God not people." What we are literally saying is "We go to a group of people for God not for people." I don't know about you, but that sounds really weird. If the church were a place you go to worship God then yes, it would be exclusively about him and no one else. But the church is not a place! It is a community. It is a group of people. When we go to church we go to connect with God and with this group of people who love him and worship him. Most of the time when people say that church is just about God and no one else, they are trying to convince someone who has been hurt by someone in the church or who is tired of the hypocrisy to come anyways because its just God you are there for. It comes from a good place. But its horribly flawed. People are not supposed to come to church just for God. They are supposed to come for the people as well! The church was made for community. For friendship. For togetherness and withness. It was made for companionship and social support. Its about God and people. If this is true, then we need to stop excusing our hypocrisy and failures with the "its just about God" cop out. Instead, we should take a good hard look at ourselves and an even longer/ harder look at the cross of Christ. What are the areas in which we are failing to be the kind of community that God has called us to be? And how can we become that ecclessia? __________ * Ecclessia: 1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating 1b) the assembly of the Israelites 1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously 1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting 1d2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake 1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body 1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth 1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven Synonym [https://lumina.bible.org]
The Church Was Never Meant for Four Walls, Anyway by Rachel Dymski We didn’t go to church this weekend. We told people who asked that it was because Andrew was sleeping off a migraine, which was the partial truth. The whole truth was that we were tired and just plain didn’t feel like it. The truth is that the word “church” has had a sour taste in our mouths lately, the kind we try to brush away with fresh words of “community” and fellowship” and “learning from the scripture,” all the while wondering why we actually haven’t experienced any of these things at the building labeled “church” for quite some time. We wonder why it is that we feel more like outsiders at church on Sunday morning than we when we’re out on Saturday night, why park picnickers two tables over have whole conversations with us but members of the pew behind us have never asked our names. The truth is that we’re in between moves and in between churches, and so in between trips that we forget it’s Sunday. And we try to reason and assuage the guilt we feel, all the while wondering, why do we even feel guilty about this in the first place? When did our church, we wonder, become small enough to fit inside four walls? We didn’t take notes in leather-bound books as we listened to a Sunday sermon, but as we drove to the river my head was teeming with thoughts from a discussion earlier this week. Early in the morning in the middle of the week, five other girls and I drag ourselves out of bed while the sky is still dark, and, dew on our skin and sleep in our eyes, we open the Book of Life together, discussing and learning and praying together. We leave, each carrying burdens of the other and yet somehow feeling lighter, and as the world wakes up I wonder if this is how the early church felt— meeting in secret and brimming over with joy. We didn’t recite the ancient literatures or sing beautiful hymns this week. Our words, instead, consisted of “I love you’s” and “You make us so proud’s,” an outpouring of love for a brother and sister who graduated on Saturday. We witnessed the tradition of commencement, overheard the ancient literatures of “we’ll be in touch” and “I’ll see you soon,” the prolonged farewells of the graduated. I watched my sister walk across that stage, heart swelling at a woman both beautiful and good, so that if you turned her insides outward she’d be exactly the same, and could there be any greater testament to the gospel than that? I watched Andrew’ s brother, a man so kind and warm he can’t help but exude it, accept his diploma, a reward for his faithful years of hard work. Later we took pictures and braced our bodies from the wind, celebrating, hearts singing, perhaps, a different kind of hymn. I looked at my parents, Andrew’s parents, the parents of other friends, and thought on the gifts they had given their children.Our parents, who gave us opportunity but also grace, who raised us up on the literature of Chicken Licken and hymns of Jesus Loves Me, who grew us up in the church, yes, but also in the home. It is these people, I thought, watching the happy crowd, who I want worshipping with me when I one day cross the river of Jordan; these people, singing me into eternity and greeting me at the other end. With a church family like that, it’s hard, really, to be anything outside of thankful. Sunday morning found us not in our best, but in our rags, hiking through a forest in Western Pennsylvania. We carried scripture, not in our hands but in our hearts: over a picnic lunch rich with thick brie and strawberries so ripe the juice trickles down, and we could “taste and see that the Lord is good,” not only in his faithfulness but the depth of his flavors. We watched the muddy river flow, thinking about the “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal” flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. We listened to the calls of crickets, of bullfrogs, of swallows and magpies, all able to be only exactly as they were created, all answering the command to “praise the Lord” with their breath. We observed “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” through too many species of plant and tree to count: wild geraniums, honeysuckle, cherry trees, all with a different print, smell, and texture; so many, in fact, that I had trouble sleeping last night, wondering what kind of God this is, who gives us such diversity in things that at first appear the same. Growing up, I never understood why people said they felt “alone” in the church. The church, for me, was a watering hole: a place of community, resource, worship, and inter-generational friendship. It’s hard, I think, when you feel at home to imagine that maybe another person doesn’t.
Living in four states in four years, and on the verge of another move, I feel like I finally understand what people mean when they say they feel unwanted at church. I’ve entered too many churches where the doors profess “All Are Welcome” but the hordes of turned backs tell me otherwise. I’ve listened to too many sermons that use scripture selectively, opting for relevancy over truth. I’ve been overdressed, underdressed, and excluded more for it, whether innocently or intentionally I’ll never know. You are my brothers, my sisters! I want to shout, indignant enough to forget that they, too, are human. I am fragile and weary and you are the watering hole, but I’m starting to think you’ve run dry. The problem with the church, I’d wager, from my own narrow experience of it, is not that it is too big, but too small. We’ve become narrow, small-minded, eager to place God in a box of Sunday mornings on tight schedules of: opening hymn, prayer, sermon, closing hymn, coffee and exit. If we are not finding, seeking, discovering God— all his love and diversity— in our day to day living outside the church, how can we ever hope to be a light to others in it? Maybe the soft chairs and coffee cups are blurring our memories to a time where, we too, were lonely, lost, in need of a friend. Maybe we’ve stopped realizing that there is more to Christian living than sitting through a sermon, more to fellowship than coffee hour. Maybe the spirit of American Individualism has invaded even this place so that instead of love thy neighbor our mantra is every man for himself.
Andrew and I, in the past two years, have met more people dissatisfied with the church than we ever thought possible. We’ve met people who have felt excluded, abandoned, like they didn’t fit it, uninvited from small groups and refused Communion. This, I think, nothing like the church I knew in childhood, nothing like the fellowship I’ve found in my family and friends, nothing like God I’ve found in the Bible or nature. They are made to feel guilty for not attending, and ostracized when they do. The church, it would seem, has become a selective club, requiring the right dress and doctrine for admittance. A club from which those too loud, too quiet, too old, or too different are excluded. I’m not giving up on the church; I know that it is broken, bruised, as in need of redemption as the rest of us. I know it can be powerful, encouraging, a place of hope for many— and we hope and pray for a church to call home. (If any of you are reading this from downtown Pittsburgh and know a place like this, please let us know!) But this weekend, I was also reminded that the real church is much, much more than a building, that God can be found far away from its pews. That church, is, above all, people who love greatly because they’ve been forgiven a debt, who sing songs of gratitude from dawn to dusk: at work, at graduation, among friends, in the woods.
On Sundays, yes, but they also know gratitude on all the days in between. Because they know that the church was never meant for four walls, anyway. Rachel Dymski is freelance writer living in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. You can read her blog at rachaeldymski.com