Pelham Road Baptist Church | Greenville, SC

The Beautiful Church

The Beautiful Church

How style, aesthetics, and beauty can enhance congregation life and maybe our faith.

The Beautiful Church

How style, aesthetics, and beauty can enhance congregation life and maybe our faith.

People know what appeals to them. Notice how Wal-Mart is looking more like Target, and McDonald’s resembles Starbucks. How a place looks and feels effects our experience. “Aesthetics or styling has become an accepted unique selling point on global bases.” These are tough times economically; we live in a day where price matters. McDonalds and Wal-Mart led the way for value shoppers, yet they felt pressure from the dark wood of Starbucks and wide aisles of Target to make changes to keep customers. Which goes to show that even in tough times, people will still pay more to have a better experience. Aesthetics rivals price as a selling point.

A Michigan hairdresser joined a humanitarian mission to Kabul a few years ago. The party included doctors, dentists, nurses, and social workers. The hairdresser went to serve as an assistant to the professionals. Once word got out a hairdresser had come to town, she had appointments every fifteen minutes. Even the serious business of health care cannot compete with our thirst for beauty and style, and the good feeling which accompanies beauty.

Technically, aesthetics is the philosophy of art, beauty, and taste. In practice, aesthetics are how we “feel” or “sense” what we are experiencing. The church welcome center can be, by professional’s standards, well designed, staffed by the best and brightest in the congregation, stocked with your most updated literature, and feature great tasting coffee but this may not make it a pleasant experience. We are good at asking the first questions, how does this space look? Are the colors calming and welcoming? Do the people look inviting? The next question is equally important: how does this space make people feel? How does the church café or kitchen make people feel? How does the youth suite make people feel? How does the parking lot make people feel? Beauty can be seen and felt.

Beauty is defined this way by Harvard Professor, Howard Gardner, “beauty is something that’s interesting, that has a memorable form, and that invites revisiting. And as a bonus, it gives you a tingle.” This means we know beauty when we see or feel it and when we don’t.

We do business all the time with establishments who make no attempt at beauty. The dry cleaners, the elementary school, and the diner with gravy as good as our mother made. We make these choices for a variety of good reasons. There are no dry cleaners with a welcoming and inviting storefront, so beauty is not a choice. Our child is zoned to this school, and the teacher is wonderful, so we forgive the ugly sign and narrow hallways. Mama lives too far away, and the gravy is so good that we put up with the street parking and the small tables.

When you give us a choice, we migrate to beauty. This car or that car, the price is similar, the features are the same, we will pick the car we consider prettier. This grocery store is across the street from that grocery store, but this one is well lit, and the scent of the flower department encompasses the entire story and that one, well it smells like people shopping for groceries after working all day. We are going to shop at this one which smells like gardenias. If the “Gravy Boat” was to open a second location, with the same gravy, a parking lot, larger tables, and three urinals, not one, we’d go there even if it was on the by-pass. Therefore when beauty is an option we prefer beauty.

Congregations survive without beauty or paying attention to the elements of style, for the same reason the “Gravy Boat” survives. People have sentimental ties to the people and the place. Both restaurants and churches will one day run out of sentimental people. All the people who aren’t coming to our congregation or aren’t staying are doing so because they don’t share those sentimental ties. Beauty may not make you come, but the lack of beauty may keep others away.

In congregations, we need to move beyond the flat screen monitors, which have been installed at the entrances or the gardens manicured like a country club. This is us trying to make our place visually pleasing; beauty and style are so much more. We typically “do,” we re-decorate, we put up signs, we spray air-freshener, this is where most of us are willing to live. Style, however, is the willingness to use beauty and aesthetics to create a place where God speaks before the choir sings or preacher says a word. It is thinking intentionally about the feelings, response, and needs of those who come to us to commune with God. It takes more time and energy, and more intentional decision-making to create an atmosphere where beauty is valued and enhanced.

The result is not prettier gardens or fresher restrooms. When we intentionally create spaces of wholeness, harmony, and brightness, we create beauty. When we care about style and how a place makes people feel the result is that pleasure and meaning are associated with God’s kingdom.