Congregations today tend to favor building churches with large, open designs and multipurpose spaces. But function and architectural form needn't oppose each other, says Peter Norgren, staff architect of the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. Norgren, who works with the ELCA Division for Outreach and mission congregations, says buildings should be easily identified as churches and fit the congregation's ministry. "You don't want it to look like a car wash," he says. "But wanting [it] to look just like the church of your childhood can distort [its] function."
Contemporary worship has most influenced the last 25 years of church building, Norgren says. About one-third of his projects have a theater-like arrangement, special lighting and acoustics, and space for video and electronic projection.
Along with the cross and the altar, musicians and screen projection become focal points, he says, noting a change from medieval times when "people's social activities and needs took a back seat to expressing personal devotion and the power and majesty of the gospel."
Yet the medieval model had drawbacks too. "The sanctuary, chancel and nave were socially defined areas with dividers between them and only a tiny place for people to gather in the narthex," he says.
Norgren advises congregations not "to make a monument and then fit people into the monument. We're building churches to spread the gospel. We want to design them so that somebody who's never been there will come there."
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