Why Your Church Building May Matter More than You Think

Here are four reasons why your church building matters more than you think.

Susanna Fleming

Digital giving apps and tools

The Church isn’t a building – it’s a people. In fact, the New Testament word for “Church” has nothing to do with a building. The word is ekklesia, which translates as “the called out ones.” The Church is a people who have been called out by God and have responded to His invitation to partner with the Mission Dei (the Mission of God) in the world.

Even so, there is a degree to which the physical gathering places of congregants can matter, and a recent Barna report (conducted in partnership with the Aspen Group) sheds light on this truth. 

March Madness, the Notre Dame, and Physical Places

During a recent morning coffee conversation with my sister, we delved into the topic of attending a physical church versus watching online services. I asked her if she believed that going to a physical church building was in some way better than watching church online, and she confidently responded, “Yes!” 

I assumed her reasoning would have something to do with the value of community and the importance of worshiping with other believers instead of always worshiping alone. Instead, my sister offered an explanation I didn’t expect: “Do you know how much more fun it is to watch March Madness in person than on TV?” 

My curiosity peaked, and I leaned into the conversation. She continued, “In the same way that watching basketball in the stands is way more fun and energetic, there is something about being in a church building – or any place of worship, for that matter – that makes me feel… I don’t know, peaceful. It’s like the building helps point me toward heaven.” 

I resonated with this idea. In 2010, while I was living in Paris as a missionary, I often visited the Notre Dame Cathedral to pray. I would sit in the pews and stare up at the ornate architecture, contemplating how much effort was put into the construction of this historical building. It was a profound act of worship in itself. Just like Bezalel in Exodus 31, who was anointed with creativity to craft the Temple, church buildings can serve as both signposts pointing toward heaven and creative expressions of worship.

And church buildings are not alone in this. I feel an equal sense of peace and worshipful reflection when sitting alone by a tranquil river or standing at the top of my favorite mountain hike. The towering trees seem to reach for the heavens, and the river's gentle melody rivals that of a church choir. There is something so gorgeous – and even spiritual – about these spaces.

The Value of Transcendent Spaces

The concept I’m outlining here is that of “transcendent spaces,” defined by Barna’s report as “a physical place that brings you closer to experiencing connection with something beyond the physical world.” 

Human beings are physical beings, and that means that physical spaces can deeply affect us. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, physical spaces can help us settle into a mental and emotional space to focus on God. 

In fact, according to Barna's research, an impressive 62% of U.S. adults and a remarkable 89% of practicing Christians identify Christian churches as transcendent spaces. Delving deeper into the findings, it is fascinating to note that 42% of the general population (not just Christians) feels a profound "connection to God" when inside a church building, while an equally significant 47% express that being in a church building evokes a strong sense of peace.

While nature claims the top spot as the primary transcendent space for most U.S. adults (70%), it remains truly encouraging that a significant number of individuals experience a deep sense of peace and a genuine connection with God when they enter a church building. This insight also implies that Christian churches have an opportunity for growth and improvement in creating physical spaces that not only evoke peace but also create an inviting environment.

Creating a Peaceful Church Environment

Given the value of transcendent spaces and the impact they have on people's ability to slow down and connect with God, it becomes important for Christian churches to consider how they can cultivate a peaceful and welcoming environment within their physical spaces. 

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help enhance the tranquility of your church building:

Be Intentional with Design: Is your church trendy or traditional? Do you prefer concrete floors or velvet pews? Regardless of your church’s overall vibe, be intentional about incorporating inviting design elements. Consider adding elements that inspire reverence, such as architectural features, artwork, or symbols that reflect the sacredness of the space. Thoughtful lighting, comfortable seating, and a well-balanced acoustics system can also contribute to a peaceful atmosphere.

Bring in Natural Elements: If 70% of U.S. adults consider the outdoors to be a preferred transcendent space, consider merging your worship service with the beauty of the outdoors! While it’s unrealistic for many churches to host an outdoor service, you can bring the beauty of nature inside your church building by incorporating natural elements. Add indoor plants, put trees in the courtyard, or place a fountain in the lobby. Keep window shades open to allow for plenty of natural light. These elements can create a sense of harmony and connection with the world outside.

Create Reflective Spaces: While sanctuaries offer a wonderful environment for prayer and worship, many people prefer cozier and more intentionally designed spaces that foster intimate moments of contemplation. Consider creating designated areas within your church building that cater specifically to quiet reflection. A courtyard garden, a smaller side chapel, or a prayer room are all excellent options for this kind of space. Reflective spaces may even draw in people who don’t feel comfortable attending a regular Sunday service!

A New Way to Do Outreach

Church may not be about the building, but church leaders do have an opportunity to bless people and encourage spiritual growth through their buildings. And while much of Christian mission involves going outside of the church building to connect with people, Barna’s research suggests that inviting non-Christians into a peaceful church environment may be another important way to do outreach. 

As you consider church management strategies and process how to lead your church in the midst of an increasingly digital environment, don’t forget about the importance of transcendent spaces! For more church management tips and encouragement, check out our free list of resources!

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