An Aesthetic Distinctly Religious
December 11, 2017—I’m often intrigued by what church leaders, anxious about numbers and attendance, assume about non-church-goers. A lot interesting ideas get foisted on “prospects” in an effort to entice them into the church front doors—especially the elusive 20-somethings and young adults. More often than not, it seems to me, those efforts tend to do their best to make church more palatable, friendlier, cool, hip, “inviting,” and “less threatening” only resulting in stripping the Church of all the distinctive aesthetic it offers as something “set apart” from culture. I often imagine prospective seekers asking, “If there’s no difference, then what’s the difference?” Here’s an observation from the June 12, 2008 issue of the Christian Century, this one on sacred space and architecture.
OUT WITH THE NEW: By a ratio of almost 2 to 1, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like medieval cathedrals than the modern, utilitarian church facilities that currently are being constructed. This preference for the Gothic, found among both unchurched Catholics and unchurched Protestants, is even more pronounced among people between the ages of 25 and 34. “I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold,” said one survey respondent. “I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent” (survey by LifeWay Research) (p. 9).
As a self-confessed EpiscoBaptist I could not agree more. While I appreciate the reality that the Church is the people, I find no aesthetic pleasure in churches housed in stadiums, auditoriums, or gymnasiums. There’s something about dedicated sacred space that frames the mind and spirit toward the holy and the transcendent. There’s something iconic, intuitive, and archetypal about sacred space—we recognize it when we see it, and respond accordingly.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.