Does it Matter What Churches Look Like?

Sitting in the sanctuary of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN last Sunday I thought, “The leadership of this church values art and creative people and they understand that people are deeply affected by their physical surroundings.” What prompted that thought?

Redeemer meets in a historic (1902) cathedral style building that has beautiful forms and textures. The exterior is covered in what I assume is genuine handcrafted stone.Redeemer Church Indianapolis Exterior

From the inside I was amazed by the gorgeous stained glass windows (I found myself staring at them for long periods of time). The colors in the windows are glorious. A series of smaller windows share a common theme that brought to mind Golgotha, and the three crosses that stood there.

Inside the sanctuary, Redeemer currently has two art installations! Both were very meaningful. Regarding one of them, the following was printed in the bulletin:

Explanation of Electrical Salvage Installation
Useless, used up, discarded, ugly
And yet
Rescued, rewired, restored, redeemed
Made useful for His glory
And not merely useful, but beautiful, even precious
Unfathomable
True.
This sanctuary installation is comprised of found objects including electrical insulators, utility pole cross arms, fuse
holders, light fixture parts, stained glass and more salvaged from the alleys of our Old North side neighborhood and from this building. ~~~Brian Allee

Without exception every church utilizes space (and time). Some church leaders use it carelessly and others with great attention to the details. What I noticed at Redeemer on Sunday was the great care put into creating a space with meaning. That meant a lot to me. In contrast, many churches put very little thought and effort into creating a setting that is visually inspiring. Some churches even look a lot like a Walmart with chairs.

The spaces that we create reflect what we believe. They also affect what we believe and how we behave. The idea that “it doesn’t matter what a church looks like, the only thing that counts is what is in the hearts of the believers” is not a biblical idea. This is pretty much the same as saying that matter (the stuff of which the universe is made) does not matter. God’s creation matters! God put a great deal of thought into the forms and colors of creation and He gave crystal clear instructions on how to build a gorgeous temple.

Am I saying that all churches need to meet in beautiful (and expensive) buildings full of difficult to produce art? No! In Japan we have used a many very humble places to meet. With effort almost any space can be “dressed up.” For example, the ikebana flower arrangements church members have provided in our churches in Japan have made a huge difference. I spoke at a store front church recently in Japan where a member had created gorgeous scrolls with Scripture written in Chinese characters. She was thrilled when I noticed them. A lot can be done with a little. There is almost always a gifted visual artist in our midst who WANTS to contribute. Are you getting them involved? If not, why not?

I AM saying that we need to pay attention to the visual side of life. I am very sensitive to the sites (and sounds) around me. That is the way God made me. The Redeemer Church building is media, and it spoke to me. I really enjoyed being there on Sunday. I deeply appreciate the leadership of Redeemer for creating a meaningful and beautiful space where we can gather and worship God.

Related Article by Tim Keller: WHY WE NEED ARTISTS

How does the visual environment of your church affect you?

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