Two things that create atmosphere are very tangible, architecture and interior decorating. I wonder how often the architecture and the interior decorating of my church change my mood, my perception of what’s going on around me? Because the atmosphere of a church should be different than any other place, a sacred space with a sacred purpose.
I read an interview with architects who design church buildings, and they shared what they think about as they work with a congregation. I loved the way they talked about choosing flooring and ceiling heights to enhance the opportunity for people to connect with God.
Now, my church probably needs more than a new floor plan or some different carpeting. Architecture or interior design alone do not make a space sacred, joyful, or peaceful. But the church architecture and decorating scheme moves people from the ordinary to the sacred, striking a balance between the human being who comes to worship and the soul who fellowships with God. But these things came to mind, when I considered correlation between the lack of tangible sacred space and the architecture and interior design of my church. It might also explain the lack of joy and peace I feel, when I think about the building; sad, but true.
The lack of a hallway upstairs-There is no way to get from the balcony of the sanctuary to the upper level of the children’s wing, because there is no hallway upstairs. It’s hard to be joyful, or peaceful, when you have to detour down the stairs, down the hall, up another set of stairs, and down another hall that always makes you late to Sunday school.
The fluorescent lighting-Nothing looks sacred under bare fluorescent lighting. It just doesn’t work. It’s too unforgiving.
The lack of nooks-There are halls, and if you stop in them to talk to someone you clog traffic. There’s a cavernous lobby, that traffic flows through but never really stops. There are long, empty halls and some ice cold walls of windows, but there’s no place to pause.
The unnatural colors and artwork-The shades of green, beige, and white give a bad seventies vibe. Everywhere posters of free scenic images with Bible verses pasted over them. There’s no joy in creation, or beauty in art, and definitely no sacred differentness to say you’re in a church and not a doctor’s waiting room.
Churches serve so many people, there’s no way to please all of them. But would it be so divisive to make the lighting a little softer, to create places for people to pause, to bring in some real artwork and natural beauty, and to think about where hallways are necessary?
My church doesn’t have a large budget for building maintenance, let alone redecorating. But atmosphere matters. A well ordered church with planned sacred space, joyful space, peaceful space, shows me a pattern to follow. DIYs don’t happen overnight, whether you’re working on a house or working on your character. Atmosphere matters because we often don’t know what we want until we see it, or what we need until we experience it.
I’ve walked into sacred spaces that made me pause, breathe a sigh of relief, and recognize that God was there. Not in the building itself, but in the way the His people had prepared the building, in the way they wanted His presence made known to all who came through their door. Atmosphere matters. Architecture and design can create safety and order, or they can allow chaos; they can provide a place for the sacred, or keep it away. When I walk into church, the atmosphere helps me come to grips with the Savior I’m coming to worship, the presence of Christ I’m coming to partake of.