What should the church of today look like, and how can we attain the design on a budget? As a Christian designer, these are the questions that are currently surfacing my ears the most, especially as we find ourselves recouping from any losses brought by natural disasters, including the one none of us has been able to escape—a worldwide pandemic.
Churches feel a sense that something needs to look or feel different going forward, and everyone simply wants to know, what’s next? I believe we are on the verge of God doing something new in the design of His Church. I also believe that we can handle these transitions not only on a budget, but with little or no monetary costs.
You may be expecting this article to deliver a typical to-do list of the latest trends in neutral paint colors, updates of furniture and accessories, clear signage, clean surfaces and facilities, a welcoming environment, adequate lighting so people are alert and don’t fall asleep, ADA accommodations, an understanding of balance, scale and proportion, etc. However, instead, this should help us explore design on a deeper level.
For those who have an ear to hear it, you will learn “How to Design Your Church on a Budget from a Biblical Perspective.” Below, you will be given practical tools—ones that will allow you to sit down with your church today and work through the redesign process of your church with God. And believe it or not, this process might involve paint—but it might not. Lean in; this is what God has revealed to my heart when I have taken such questions before Him.
Just like when you visit the eye doctor and they ask you which lens looks more clear, we will explore three lenses to help you redesign that will not only potentially be at little to no cost to your church, but these three lenses will also help provide a clearer vision of Christ in the process.
THE FOUNDATION LENS:
First, let’s grasp two key foundation factors. Committing this lens to our minds and hearts before we tackle our practical tools of redesigning the church will be the launching pad to help keep your eyes focused on Christ—the Why & Who of the church. When things get hazy or confusing, come back to this lens.
We must first and foremost acknowledge that God is The Designer. He spoke everything around us into existence. Most Christians agree with this, but we also need to acknowledge that God is capable of spelling out instructions for our church design (budget or no budget). Sometimes we forget this one. It’s not popular to sit and read all the fine details found in Exodus spelling out the exact curtain dimensions of the tabernacle, or the details for the ark—but those designs came directly from God, not man! Our God, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, did it then and He can do it again. Nothing is off limits for Him. Should He choose, He can communicate to your church what He desires your interior and exterior to look like! Do you have faith? Good! Let’s press on.
Allow me to instill a visual equation in your mind. Design is part of the communication arts. What did God design? (Answer: Everything/all of creation.) What does all of creation communicate? All of creation points to Him. I think it’s safe to say that His designs communicate His Omnipotence, Glory, and Authorship. We are made in His image, and in His image we too create. A question we should be asking ourselves is, are our designs reflecting Him, or just ourselves and each other?
THE OBSERVATION LENS:
Get Out of the Space
Now for your how-to’s. How did God design? When we observe the evidence in all the Biblical creation accounts, God resided outside His creation. So, let’s reside outside our design, with Him as well. Let’s ask, and seek His wisdom for each of our churches. This may involve prying our hands from things we have too tight a grip on such as ideas and personal preferences, including dislikes. Are our convictions about design preferences really Biblical, or are they personal opinions or cultural preferences we are attached to?
Understand Your Community
Residing outside our design also involves us getting outside the four walls and into the community more to understand the needs of those around us. This allows us to grasp a better vision for what the design of our churches really reflect. Is a “welcome” sign the best way to invite individuals into His church? Would your budget best serve your building or the community? Does your community find large buildings intimidating? Does your building look and feel safe?
Building relationships with people outside the four walls might be the most effective way to redesign and understand God’s heart of love and compassion for those around us. If we remain inside our four walls, we risk that we are only going to redesign for ourselves over and over—when in fact, God calls us out to go and subdue the land, to go and make disciples. As a result, this challenges us to go figure out what pleases God first, followed by what He says best communicates what His desires are for your church to share with your unique community. God already knows every person who will ever step foot through the doors of the church you attend. Have you ever thought about that? He knows what will speak and communicate best. This conversation is completely free.
Get to Know Your People
This next skill is more of a challenge…should you choose to accept it. Try getting to know your congregation’s gifts and talents. This doesn’t mean just for the sake of encouraging them to help with what you already have in place. It’s to get to know how the Holy Spirit works in them creatively.
The first time we see the “body” on display was actually “God’s” design in Exodus when He establishes the tabernacle design. He calls those who are skilled, filled with the Spirit, gifted in various trades, and “willing to do the work.” Here we have all these people coming together, each in their own crafts, working together on God’s design/plan. This can bring a church together.
However, it needs to be in humility “remembering Him.” The heart posture of our opening “FOUNDATION LENS” mentioned earlier is key. All eyes need to be on Him. To successfully do this, the body must come together beforehand, in agreement for the cause, that they will be willing to do the work and submit to the Spirit in the process, not with the intent to let personal will or selfish ambition get in the way.
Designers who are called, can be helpful in navigating this process of vision and graceful cohesive leadership.
When the temple, designed by David, and constructed under Solomon, was in the process of being built, so many gave because they wanted to be a part of the house of the Lord. In fact, there was an incredible surplus over and above the needs of the church. The people were excited and gave with a joyful heart praising the Lord!
Echos of the tabernacle language were used by King David when he left the instructions to Solomon, from which the Holy Spirit revealed through Him. He closes by saying, “…and every willing person skilled in any craft will help you in all the work” (1 Chronicles 28:21, emphasis added).
Often times today, the congregation is only asked to provide financially, and in the process, this cuts out the gifts God has instilled in them. This also cuts out their involvement, and their willingness. It’s often for the selfish sake of worldly goals: timelines, budgets, and pride by which we cut, essentially, the Spirit out, even when we know that these gifts and abilities come from God through His Spirit. This is an opportunity for the body to be displayed and ‘known by their love’ to the community around them.
Is it the easiest way? No! In fact, quite the opposite. It takes a great team of leadership in humility, patience, tenderness, and compassion…and character building skills that all come from a deeper connection of the Holy Spirit.
Can you see it yet? Do you see Christ in that list? Can you see how closely related design can be to the Holy Spirit when involving Him? Can you see the missed opportunities for growth?
THE CREATIVE LENS:
Now, let’s cover some design concepts. I use the word “concepts” because this section might launch your thinking into a more abstract/creative thought process.
Look for Biblical truths that improve the relationship between man and God. We know Jesus restored once and for all what man never could, and we also know that we are called to be set apart. All throughout scripture, we know that God wants to be remembered. How can our designs visually reflect that? Maybe discuss with your congregation unique elements in your culture that need the most reminding. His faithfulness. His status as our Provider. His Omnipotence. Discover what speaks the most to your congregation and perhaps creatively implement art, verses, signage or design elements to help you “remember Him” in these ways unique to your situation.
God’s Purity and Holiness
How are your spaces reflecting His Purity and Holiness? We are called to walk with God in the Spirit, not to fulfill the desires of the flesh. Think about how your current design honors or dishonors this.
This is a hard one. A lot of our culture aims to please the physical senses, doesn’t it? We take a lot of cues from what we see already in existing architecture to shape and form our church spaces. It’s not all necessarily bad, but something to pray over. Prayerfully define “flesh” and what satisfying flesh means to your church home. Jesus describes the different types of seed/soil, and I believe we want to design churches that grow deep roots. We should be cautious not to design spaces for the world to offer the word in a quick joy that only lasts a short time. Design in a way not to sprout quick short-lived fruit (see Matthew 13).
King David says in 1 Chronicles 29:1, “…the task is great, but this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.”
Fruit of the Spirit & Protecting the Sacred Space
Ask your church how the design is showcasing the fruit of the Spirit? Go through the list, think creatively and prayerfully. Does the house of worship you belong to evoke joy?
Historically, the temple was a place for prayer and reconciliation with God. Is there a space for this? You don’t have to spend money to create a dedicated space and facilitate a sacred, holy ground, set apart, for that one-on-one time people still need with the Lord.
Now, Go for It!
This is by no means an exhaustive list—we are only getting warmed up!—but you can see now, how you can go through your Bibles with a design lens and seek the Lord’s will and wisdom as you plan His church. In Revelation, we see letters to seven churches. Jesus reveals Himself in different forms which are applicable to each church’s needs. He lays out what each church is doing well, and what they need to focus on—to better please the Lord. Notice He’s not focusing on paint color here. We aren’t reading “Gee, I really wish your exterior illumination would have represented Me more; maybe then all your town would have known you were the light!” No, He cares more about our internal temple—where two or three are gathered, there He is among us. We collectively are the Church. Let the head of the church speak fresh breath into His house. His very words hold the DNA of life. He can redesign your space with you. Even if there’s no budget, or a huge budget, He will provide for His plans!
Barbara Ann Holmes is the designer & owner of Lintels & Lallies, known for their approachable designs.