MegaChurch design

kinnon —  October 11, 2005 — 9 Comments

Slate has an interesting photo essay on MegaChurches. From the comments on Willow Creek:

The sprawling complex, on an attractively landscaped 155-acre site, includes not only two sanctuaries but also a gymnasium that serves as an activity center, a bookstore, a food court, and a cappuccino bar. Goss/Pasma Architects of Evanston, Ill., did not include any traditional religious symbols on the exterior: no steeples or spires, no bell towers, no pointed arches, not even a crucifix. It doesn’t look like a place of worship, but what does it look like? A performing-arts center, a community college, a corporate headquarters?

most contemporary megachurches are resolutely secular in design. The 4,550-seat sanctuary—it’s actually called the Main Auditorium—of Willow Creek appears to have good sightlines, excellent audiovisual facilities, and comfortably wide aisles for moving around in. But inspiring it’s not. It’s the architectural equivalent of the three-piece business suit that most nondenominational pastors favor.

You have to love the fact that there is absolutely nothing offensive about the three featured “evangelical” church buildings.

via CP: Fresh Signals

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

9 responses to MegaChurch design

  1. Willow Creek’s architecture may not be “inspiring,” but their services sure are. I’ve been up there a few times and have been blown away by the production and content they consistently provide. I’ve attended their worship arts workshops and each time I return with a renewed enthusiasm to artistically, creatively communicate the message to people.

    Slate has, in my opinion, published a wonderful critique of book covers.

  2. Saw these pics and my jaw literally dropped. Amazing design, even if it looks more like rock concert than church! 🙂 I can understand why folk would find them attractive and stream in – especially if (as Dust!n says) it has inspiring services.

    Second take – how many hungry/homeless could have had their lives permanently changed by the cash it took to do that? Did that even cross anyone’s mind? (But that’s just me, I’m weird)

  3. Dustin,
    There is no doubt in my mind that Willow Creek is a wonderfully creative environment. They have their production values down to a science and they produce a great product. Which is probably what I react to – the packaging. The gospel has been made incredibly attractive. No offense of the Cross for our customers. Just a subtle gospel of health, wealth & happiness.

    These places both rock as entertainment venues – great sight lines, great sound – all you’d ever want for a wonderful entertainment experience. My younger son, Rylan, was at Willow Creek this summer and was blown away. (He’s a 17 year old musician/producer.) He doesn’t remember the message, but the venue blew his mind.

    My issue is less with the expense (as I believe that my Father, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills has a limitless supply) but with the “boomer me-focus” of much of seeker-oriented Christendom. A church whose focus is on the radical call of the Gospel looks first to the needs of those outside its walls – calling us all to take care of the widows, orphans, imprisoned & sick. That GOOD NEWS changes those inside the community, those investigating the community and those outside the community being touched by the love of Christ through the community.

    A good friend of mine pastored a church in Jo’burg, about a kilometer from Alex. The church was initially very white and well off. They heard God’s call to impact Alex and ending up building a virtually debt-free multi-purpose facility. They began to reach out to the folk in Alex – and when I was there a couple of years ago, the place was filled with about 400 kids from Alex, many of their parents and about 60% of the original church folk. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face – and continually had to dry my eyes.

    I wish that story had a happy ending, but my friend left the ministry and the new leadership felt called to focus on their original community. The church no longer echoes with the happy sounds of the children. Yet, for a brief moment, many of us experienced the truth of the Good News – in a wonderfilled building.


  4. Unfortunately, many people label Willow Creek by what they see on the surface. The church supports, endorses, facilitates, and equips it’s members to minister to people outside the walls of the church. Our church here in Tulsa, OK adopted a version of their cars ministry. We have men who give up a large portion of their Saturdays to work on cars for those who can’t afford to pay for a mechanic. Church members often donate their used cars that are in good enough shape to be tuned up and given to those who really need a car. Meanwhile, many women donate their time to minister to the single/divorced/widowed mothers as their cars are being worked on. Often sharing the gospel message in the process.

    Also, if you go inside Willow Creek, often they have artwork on the walls that echo the gospel and the Christian life.

    A church is much more than what happens on Sunday morning. Much more than the building. We understand that, and I believe Willow Creek does also.

    I’m not here to argue, though my tone may be easily misinterpretted since I’m just using pixels on a screen to communicate. As one who appreciates the ministry of Willow Creek, though I may not agree with the way they do everything, I felt compelled to step up to the soap box. I enjoy the fact that we can discuss this and still recognize we’re on the same “team.”

  5. Dustin,
    Your “team” comment is apropos. We are all in the same family and forgive me if I communicated otherwise. Willow Creek has done lots of good work in the Kingdom and is filled with people who love Jesus and the Body of Christ. My concern with mega churches (and I spent a good chunk of the last year as a senior leader in one) is that we too often view people as numbers – and want “bums in chairs” more than relationships in community. 7,000 seater auditoriums are not the easiest place to build relationship or community. That being said, there are many good mega churches that focus on building community in house groups, specific ministries, missions etc. Willow Creek is one of them.

    Your family member,

  6. True, but even small churches struggle to not focus on numbers. My father is a pastor of a church that has fluctuated between 25 and 150 people. Small church, different scale but similar challenge.

    Our church is moderately sized. We made some adjustments in direction and lost several long-time members. It was cause for re-evaluation, but the leaders of the church still sensed that it was the right direction. Our numbers have rebounded, but the real validation is seeing people’s lives change. Seeing ministry take place. (related, as we see individual lives change, we see them find their “place” in ministering to others. Extremely gratifying.)

    Thanks for letting me rant. This is really fun stuff for me.

    Back to work. 🙂

  7. Dust!n, I hope I didn’t offend by my “generalizations” of church resources and how they’re used. It’s just that I’m a world away, and can only see the surface.

    Bill, I think that’s what I was trying to say – that I wonder about where the focus is. Only you, as usual, have said it so much better than I can! 🙂

    I wish more churches would be outward-looking, like the one you mentioned in Alex (if only they’d kept the momentum!), using the “go” in Jesus’ command more than the “come”. In other words, focus outwards more than inwards.

    I’m trying to live it as an individual – and don’t often get it right, so I’m talking to me too.

  8. Dustin,
    You’re not ranting at all! That’s the joy of these conversations. Iron sharpening iron as it were.

    My concern for the western Church is that we have focused too much on the individual and not enough on the community. We’ve made the Gospel “attractive” & non-threatening in an attempt to bring people to a place of “personal salvation” and have largely ignored our call to be builders of community. (Note: most of the New Testament is written to communities.) Smaller churchs are often more effective at this than large ones. Changed lives in a wonderful community is what it’s all about.

    The church outside of Alex was becoming a community. It was circumvented by people who wanted to “go back to Egypt.” Who wanted things the way they “used to be.” ‘Twas very sad.

    None of us do a great job of getting it right. That’s why we need each other.

    It’s great to be in the same family as both of you.

  9. Michelle,

    Absolutely no offense taken. I can understand that viewpoint. MegaChurches have their downfalls. I just wanted to point out that some do a lot of good as well.

    Hopefully we’re causing people to see their need for a holy God, who touches them and transforms them, then they minister to OTHERS from out of that transformed life.

    Like Bill said, “Changed lives in a wonderful community is what it’s all about.”

    We want to bring people into the Kingdom of Heaven. That includes heaven on Earth (feeding hungry, healing hurts, bringing the lonely into community).


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