A church dashed a pivotal opportunity to reach its community. They built a new facility in a highly visible location–but designed a dark, boxy worship space, and then hauled in the hard pews from their old location. Opportunity lost.

When it comes to reaching people today, architecture matters. Atmosphere matters.

The importance of “place” is well articulated by architect Kevin Callahan in his book Soul Space http://amzn.to/9W1i9k . He takes his readers on a sweeping tour of historical buildings and contemporary attempts at worship spaces. He’s blunt:

“Millions of people gather every weekend for worship in environments that non-verbally communicate ‘sit back, relax, and enjoy the show,’ which is a message 180 degrees counterproductive to the entire message of Jesus Christ.”

He argues that many church structures today are designed as concert halls or lecture halls, and “poor ones at that.” He illustrates how seating in today’s churches discourages worshippers from seeing one another (except for the backs of their heads). “Pretty clear here—you’re here just to hear what ‘they’ have to say—‘us’ versus ‘them.’ Not exactly what Jesus did.” Ouch. I think I just picked up a splinter from the pew under me.

Callahan advocates worship spaces that encourage an “intimate and connected” feel, using movable seating that can adjust to different themes and emphases.

And those hallowed pews that the church people couldn’t stand to leave behind? “Pews didn’t exist until AD 1100, so there goes the ‘Jesus sat on a pew’ argument.”