Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Theology of Interior Design

What is the relationship between a church's theology and its interior design. (I wonder if that sentence was as weird to read as it was to type!) Stick with me for a while while I explain. I believe that such things as the arrangement of a church's worship space make statements about the way that church views worship itself.

Most churches that I have been in have the typical arrangement of a podium on a stage with a Lord's supper in front of it, usually a step or two down from the podium. There is a comfortable distance between the stage and the pews. The pews themselves are simply in rows.

I believe that such an arrangement makes the following statements about our worship:
  1. The preaching has the central place in worship, for the preaching area is placed in the most visible, prestigious place.
  2. The Lord's Supper has slightly less importance since the communion table is usually placed at a lower level from the podium.
  3. Congregational worship is more about a bunch of individuals coming together to offer individual worship than it is about a family to come together to offer praise to god as one voice and one mind. It is difficult to interact with those with whom you worship when looking at the backs of their heads. While others are present, the individual, in many ways, worships alone.
Perhaps the congregations with these arrangements don't hold these views. Nevertheless, these views are communicated by the arrangement of their worship space. Furthermore, I believe that this communication will, with time, influence the way worshipers view their own worship.

On the other hand, consider an arrangement like the one that I enjoyed when worshiping with the Dayspring Church of Christ in Edmond, Oklahoma. In the center of their worship space was the Lord's Supper table. A comfortable space separated the table from the seats on each side. The seats were on all four sides of the table, no more than four rows deep. A small podium was in one corner for the use of the speaker.

In contrast to the traditional arrangement, consider what this arrangement communicates about worship:
  1. The Lord's Supper is the focal point of the gathering, since the table is at the most visible, prestigious place in the room. The congregation, like a family, is gathered around the table together to remember.
  2. The worship and praise that is offered is done while the congregation's members are looking each other in the eye, seeing the expressions on one another's faces, etc. This fosters a view of congregational worship which is not based on individual, but joint praise.
I don't believe that building architecture, interior design, and decoration are theologically neutral. To be sure, they are not the most theologically significant parts of a congregation's life. But neither are they unworthy of consideration. After all, church facilities often provide the first communication from a congregation to its community.

Imagine a situation thousands of years in the future. Archaeologists discover your community, which was destroyed along with all historical records and literature when global warming virtually wiped out all forms of human civilization. (Remember, this scenario, much like the hype surrounding global warming, is fiction being used to make a point! But that's for another post!) When these archaeologists discover your church building, what conclusions will they come to about your congregation's theology based solely on the facilities that they investigate? Would their conclusions be consistent with biblical teachings of who we are supposed to be and what our worship is supposed to be about?

Food for thought.

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