Modern church architecture commoditizes the Gospel

Still slowly making my way through Mako Fujimura’s recent blog entry, where he plays off of Lewis Hyde’s idea that art is a gift, not a commodity. I’m on page nine now, and Mako is turning to how the Gospel, God’s salvation for fallen man, is also a gift and how the modern American Church treats that gift.

Instead of treating the Gospel as a gift, he suggests

    . . . we have treated the gospel like a commodity, shopping it around like salesmen, or worse yet, showmen full of savvy. When our churches look like gigantic malls, or hotels or even strip malls, and when we proclaim — “salvation comes free, at no cost,” we are unintentionally tapping into the language of consumer economy. Of course, informed decision-making needs to be part of the transaction, and we must have a convenient location to meet for worship. But the context and method for sharing the Good News taps too often into the consumer mentality. Yes, you might argue, but if that method works, and the Good News is preached, what’s wrong with that?

    The problem is in not spending time and effort thinking about the context of communication, as much as the content of the message. We may seek out experienced business minds to lead our church drives, but churches usually do not seek out artists who exemplify “the gift economy” to guide and direct stewardship, and communication. And if we do not consider the context, the context will define our message, as much as our preaching or singing.

I’m with Mako all the way on this. As I’ve said before on the blog, buildings speak, whether we want them to or not. And like he says the problem seems to be a lack of any forethought on the part of building committees as to how their facade may be perceived. Just as a missionary needs to contextualize the Gospel when taking it to a new culture (which, admittedly, didn’t happen as it should have in certain historical mission eras), a group of Christ-followers needs to take into account their own local culture when designing a place of assembly.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

One Response to Modern church architecture commoditizes the Gospel

  1. Tim J. says:

    You’ve had a lot of juicy fodder for discussion, lately, and I wish I could sit down and do it justice. I’ve been getting our house ready to sell, though. I’m a busy bee.

    The problem might be that we Americans tend to commoditize *everything*. If it has any redeeming qualities at all, we will find a way to turn it into a packaged product, or use it to sell some other product.

    I really don’t know much about architecture, but I do think you’re right when you say “buildings speak, whether we want them to or not”.

    What does it say about us when we don’t CARE what our buildings say, or whether they speak or not, or actually try to silence them by making them totally utilitarian?

    Many church buildings seem to have this generic quality, now, as if it didn’t matter whether one was using the space to present the gospel, or hold an auction or present a sales seminar.

    But then, the gospel is often presented as some kind of self-actualization program, or cure-all, or what-have-you. Maybe these utilitarian buildings are speaking the truth about us… that we are a utilitarian people with no imagination, no passion and no vision. A nation of consumers too busy for beauty.

    Now that I think about it, it seems to me like a consumer culture might not be expected to leave behind much of value for “posterity”. That would take a people more focused on responsibility (rather than entitlement), relationships (rather than self) and producing (rather than consuming).

    That doesn’t sound much like us, at present.

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