What is the first consideration when building a new place of worship?

When building a new worship center or remodeling an old one, a congregation should compose a statement of important planning propositions for the architect’s consideration. These propositions will strive to state the theological and ecclesiastical convictions of a unique body of believers. It is important for the congregation, not the architect, to formulate theological guidelines for the design of its worship space. Constructing a worship space is primarily a theological matter.

Emphases when planning and designing worship environments are theology, aesthetics, and practicality. However, theology is the starting point. The design of worship buildings should begin from the Cross of Christ, not style or aesthetics.

Because of convenience, congregations are tempted to arbitrarily and unknowingly let hired professionals carry the entire load of projecting worship space theology. Unfortunately, most of our church buildings are designed by architects who know very little about the ministry and testimony of the congregations they attempt to guide in these important visual matters.

A Christian community should formulate its own guidelines for the disposition of their space. The work of building a place of worship should begin in the hearts of the congregation’s people. It might well require study groups who discuss and share knowledge of biblical precepts, who edify one another’s faith, and who ultimately articulate explicitly to the architect the projected functions of the space, and its projected visual testimony. The architect, then, with skills in structural and visual design, must translate the congregation’s written propositions into visual and spatial equivalents.

A community of believers needing a worship space should begin by examining itself. The congregation is to first build itself to a rightful understanding of the Gospel so that a responsible, honest expression of faith can be formulated and communicated to a good architect. Maybe the attitude of the head builder of the medieval Chartres Cathedral was a good one. He required all his workers to first confess their sins and promise to live in harmony with their enemies before allowing them to work. Confession is not a bad way to begin a design (or any serious undertaking) — to search the heart and begin anew with a refreshed faith. The act of building the people first, then the space, leads to an authentic testimony that shows forth the nature of Christ and His Church, and, in turn, continually teach, form, and guide the faith of the congregation that dwells there. Then the church building will be at its best — the servant of worship events.

Example proposition:

We believe that all believers are priests of the triune God and that the Means of Grace are entrusted to all Christians.

Therefore, a church building should not exaggerate a special division or distinction between the space occupied by the congregation and the space occupied by the clergy.