Q+A: Is a church just a building, or is it something more?

Sep 25 • CALGARY, Q+A • 2962 Views • 4 Comments on Q+A: Is a church just a building, or is it something more?

A designer & an architect give answers to our question of the week.


Kelly Janz of Transept Architecture is a Western Canadian designer helping faith communities make spaces that move their missions forward:


In the Christian tradition, the Church is the body of Christ, and will be the Bride of Christ with whom He will return to celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. So, biblically, the church is the people with no mention of the building at all.


But to use an analogy, if the Church is the body of Christ, then the architecture is the clothing that covers and protects the body. A wide variety of clothing is worn, with different styles suitable for the different tasks at hand. Some tasks might be with the down and out, some with the movers and shakers of this world, so the importance is to dress appropriately in a way that will make comfortable the people you are hoping to communicate and work with. One task of the Church is to reflect the glory of God, so the cathedrals that inspire awe and lift your eyes to heaven might be the ball gown of the bride. But the bride is also called to scrub the floors and clean the house, so a pair of jeans and a favourite sweat shirt is not only comfortable but appropriate too. There should be as many different styles of building to house the churches as there are missions and tasks. Sometimes a tent, sometimes a house, sometimes a cathedral — but the building is just a tool for the task. 


Finding the appropriate tool for the job is the work of each congregation that meets together. First they must decide on their vision and calling – how are they going to work out their faith in their context. Only once they know what they are going to do can the architect come along side to assist them in finding the appropriate space and structure to facilitate that goal. The wrong building will chafe and bind the same way the wrong size and cut of clothes would. So re-using an inner city warehouse or re-opening a deserted church across the street might both be valid responses for an inner city Church called to minister to their neighbourhood – but each building will affect the kind of people who will be comfortable in that space. 


Who are you serving? What do they need? These are questions the people of the Church must answer before they can discuss what kind of building will help them the most. Since the Church is called to serve the whole world, there will be an infinite variety of buildings used as churches to facilitate the work. The buildings will come and the buildings will go, but the Church is the people of God living out their calling as the Bride of Christ. So any building can become a church, but THE Church is the people that meet there and work from there to take the Kingdom of God out of the building and into that area around them.



Kelly Seminoff is an architect at Parker Seminoff Architects:


I’m going to ask you to set aside your preconceived notions of “church” while you consider these functions: auditorium, school, resource centre, food bank, clothing depot, child care facility, counselling centre, performing arts space, dinner theatre, library, cafe, conference centre, voting station, workshop, wedding chapel, funeral venue.




Because these types of activities begin to satisfy our basic human need for meaning. As we dwell in community with others we begin to identify with a way of being in the world. Buildings are an essential platform to support the human drama. As Karsten Harries asks, “Should architecture not continue to help us find our place and way in an ever more disorienting world?” 


What really excites me is the power of architecture to anchor us in place and time, to give us a reference point in an infinite universe and to nourish the human spirit. Juhani Pallasmaa suggests that “buildings enable us to recognize and remember who we are”. Really? Yes!


A “church”, if we should still call it that, can be so much more than a mere building. The world needs more powerful spaces like that.



So what do you think?

Is a church just a building, or is it something more?

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4 Responses to Q+A: Is a church just a building, or is it something more?

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