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I had someone ask me an interesting question the other day about whether or not I think it matters for worship what the church looks like. The trend has been for church sanctuaries to make them functional, much like a gym that you can put chairs in for Sundays. To me these rooms still function quite well as a sanctuary, but do you think it takes away from worship to be in a building without stained glass windows or pews?
I have heard of some people that say, “I just cannot worship in this church. There’s a basketball court right under my feet.” For me it does not matter what location I am in. It does not matter to me whether I’m in a barn, in the middle of a parking lot, or in the most beautiful cathedral, the quality of my worship is not contingent on the aesthetic appeal.
I am not saying that I do not like churches with stained glass or pews. I think they are absolutely beautiful, and I do love to be in them. I am just saying that worship to God does not depend on our surrounding.
My sister would tell you that worshipping in Haiti in a building almost like a warehouse was one of her most emotional times of worship. God can work in any kind of building, and God hears and enjoys our worship no matter where we are when we praise him. I think that is important to remember. Everyone has different venues that they are comfortable in, just like everyone has different styles of music that they connect with more, but as long as we have the right mindset and our heart is in the right place, we can worship anywhere in any situation. It is a matter of the heart, not a matter of what you would prefer. Our preferences should not matter in the grand scheme of worship to God.
I have been doing a lot of thinking since I asked the question, “What is the most important part of the church building,” and even in that short amount of time, my ideas have changed. If I had been asked that question on Sunday, I would have said the sanctuary. The sanctuary is like the home for the church. I would have said that it is the most important because it is the “impression room” for visitors. This is the room they will be in the longest and they will get most of their information about you from inside this room.
I have not completely changed my mind about the importance of the sanctuary. I still believe it to be extremely important to your church building and how its visitors view the church as a whole. When you invite someone to church, it is like you are inviting them into your home. The sanctuary is the main event. It’s the focus room. This is like the prized room in your house where you want guests to stop, stare, and be amazed. When you invite people into your home, you clean it up. If your sanctuary is not clean and clear, then that is like inviting your guests into your dirty house. It’s like saying, “I know I knew you were coming, but it just didn’t seem important for me to clean up.” Treat the sanctuary like your home, a place where you want to invite guests.
There were a couple people who responded to my poll and said that they thought the welcome/lobby area was the most important part, and I can definitely see that. The lobby area is the first place they will see, it is how you make them feel welcome and like they fit in. This is your welcome mat, your front door. You want your guests to feel invited and important as soon as they walk in. The welcome area can make the best first impression. It can also affect how they will view everything else.
As I began thinking about all of these things, my friend Bob Szoke responded to my post and said, “Does the facility identify those who go there? Would a facility do more than simply be a place ‘to be’ for a local group? Does a facility speak ‘sterile’, not good enough, or ‘come on in’? Things facilities say about the people who meet there: we like green well-cut grass, we match the style of our neighborhood-do you?” These comments really made me change my thinking about the question I had asked. There is no one important part of the church building, the whole thing is important.
The whole building affects the impression and influences the perception of your church. The building shows the heart of the people who live there. The building communicates the purpose and priority of the church. As soon as you walk into a church building, you know about the heart of the church.
Along with this, it is important to remember that, since your church building represents the church body, the building has to move and grow with the church. Recently I heard a pastor say that “the church is not an organization, it’s an organism. It moves, breathes, and changes.” I think this is so very important to remember that the church is going to change. It will grow, shrink, move and shift, and you want everything to move with it. The church is alive and the people in it. Your building needs to communicate the life inside your church. That, is the most important part.