September 18, 2008
What the Unchurched See in a Building
New research says people are looking for "sacred" buildings.
On the heels of David Gibbons' interesting thoughts on the way many churches squander their resources on underutilized buildings, Matt Branaugh has this piece over at LeadershipJournal.net. Apparently, if you're going to throw your church's money into a building, make it a sacred one. -Url
Does "sacred" space appeal to or repel the unchurched? A recent survey probed 1,700 unchurched American adults, putting photos of four different church exteriors in front of them. Respondents indicated their preferences by allocating 100 points across the four images, based on the appeal of the appearance.
The Gothic look averaged 48 points, more than double the next-highest finisher, a white-steeple-and-pillar exterior that averaged about 19 points. The other two churches, with more contemporary looks, averaged 18 points and 16 points, according to the study, commissioned by Cornerstone Knowledge Network and conducted by LifeWay Research.
So should churches opt for the cathedral look as a way to attract the unchurched?
Not necessarily, says Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services at Cogun Inc., a church building design firm that co-founded Cornerstone with Aspen Group. Aesthetics are an important element to weigh, Couchenour says, but the building must reflect the values and integrity of the congregation in order to work.
"Buildings without relationships have no meaning," he says. "The vast majority of people will go to church based on an invitation from a friend or family member. A small minority of people will make a decision based on the way the building looks. If it were aesthetics alone, we'd have a lot of beautiful buildings in inner cities that are full. That's just not the case."
And one style that works for one church doesn't necessarily work for the next. Younger respondents in the study, for instance, rated exterior design as a higher priority, while older participants tended to prize a building's usefulness.
"The style is not as important as the integrity of the design," Couchenour says. Integrity starts with the church realizing what God has called it to be, what ministry needs it can meet, and how a building can help meet those needs. "People - churched or unchurched - can tell if it has integrity, if it feels right."