Disclaimer: I have nothing against Interior Decorators. If you are one, I do not intend any malicious intent against you or your profession.
The church has gone through many phases of design. Last month, I talked about how the original church was about people and relationships. There was not a physical building associated with the church.
Shortly thereafter the church went through a phase where imagery was distinct and heavy in the church: stained glass, art work, frescos, and statues. Every form of imagery imaginable was used to cultivate worship in grandiose buildings meant to inspire your attention toward the Creator. Not only were there pictorial elements used to engage in worship, but there were also sensory elements used in the worship services: candles, responsive readings, communion, and music. These elements created an atmosphere of awe, reverence, and response.
The modern church movement swung the pendulum to the other corner. The church atmosphere became a living room environment. Interior designers wanted a comfortable environment. So the church became a living room.
Living rooms are not bad things. Living rooms are where we do life. Living rooms are a place to rest. They’re a place to kick your shoes off.
But they aren’t active. And worship is an active response to what Christ is doing in our lives.
We aren’t trying to create a great place to take a nap. We shouldn’t be looking for a way to make our spaces look “pretty.” We should look to create an atmosphere where people can engage with worship and community.
It’s not about fake plants, a little beige paint, and teal carpets. Great atmospheres are immersive. There is sight, taste, smell, touch, talk/listening.
Your atmosphere doesn’t just start when you walk into the worship space. It starts when you get out of your car in the parking lot. What you do, what you value, and who you value should be incredibly evident in every piece of the church atmosphere. Your experience should be highly intentional – creating a place where people feel like they’ve come to connect and have community.
Another way to look at this is to look at Apple. They are highly intentional – not only about the design of their products – but also the design of their product packaging. They put someone in a room with the product and discover how to improve every element of the unboxing experience. They turn every aspect of the product into an experience.
What’s in a church experience? The carpet colors? The paint on the wall? Just the worship center? The halls going into the worship center?
I’d like to propose that it is all in the mix – what you see, taste, smell, hear, converse about, how you check in your children, the person that greets you at the door or brings you an umbrella when it rains, how the worship center is set up and lit. It isn’t just an interior decorator’s job any more. There are ambient light levels and sound levels in the halls, projection in the worship center, and spaces meant for community that all come into play.
I lived in Texas for a few years and got to experience some of the largest churches the US has to offer. Churches like Gateway, Watermark, Irving Bible Chapel, and Fellowship Church are being seriously intentional about creating spaces that create conversation, engage relationships, and take their environment beyond the fake tree.
Gateway and Fellowship have some of the most engaging children’s environments I’ve been in. Talk about a way to wow people and make them feel comfortable about leaving their kids for an hour or two. Irving Bible and Watermark have created lobby spaces that speak to what their church is about and encourage community.
There are many churches that create this experience well. And others that are trying to figure it out. But it is all relative to your community. Some churches thrive on that coffee shop feel and some actually enjoy the living room feel. Some are more artistic; and that is reflected in how they engage their community on the weekends. Still others are more traditional. It isn’t about right or wrong but being intentional about who you are.