Should a church present a welcoming image to members and those who might be looking for a church home? Does a beautiful building with gorgeous landscaping enhance the worship experience?
I think it does. But unless you are of the belief you can worship God while bass fishing, you will agree that unless an individual attends a worship service with songs of praise, scripture reading, prayers, and the teaching of a minister, you can't call a quick prayer to God between bass strikes as worship.
What resources should a church use to attract people to come and worship? There are many, but one that is sorely neglected is visual. After all, God gives us the eyes to see and a mind to appreciate his creation.
The first thing that comes to mind is the impression a church building makes on potential attendees. Such buildings range from one-room structures all the way to St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Buildings by themselves aren't going to provide a spiritual experience, but physical and spiritual factors work together to create a successful worship service.
Let's look at the church grounds. If we are worshiping our creator, shouldn't we recognize his handiworks? I've seen settings from bare asphalt lots without a sprig of grass to lush settings where the church building is set in a natural park-like wonderland. I'm not suggesting you can't worship in a tent set up in a bare parking lot, but the enhancements of spirituality matter. If the surroundings enhance the spiritual experience, that's a positive way to encourage the church-goers to come and worship.
Consider a small white-framed traditional New England church building, simple and beautiful. Some of them are situated in a bare parking lot. Let's put some attractive landscaping around the building and parking lot, complete with mature red maples. It's fall and the maples are in full color. Compare the visual difference as you walk up to the church. God's creation is vividly displayed, and your senses can't help but be aware of the remarkable display of beauty.
You can have a spiritually dead church that looks great with gorgeous landscaping, and you can have a deeply spiritually congregation meeting in a converted barn. I've worshiped in some of the great cathedrals of Europe, with beautiful interior complimented by great landscaping. Yet the most spiritual experience I had was in Zagreb, Croatia, where the church was meeting in a downtown store and the sound of Christian music drew us in. We could feel the spirituality even though we couldn't understand a word spoken.
Recently I was in Dallas, and drove by several churches, one with extensive landscaping, including large trees and a mix of smaller plants that were just perfect. The church couldn't have looked more inviting. Of course it's the people that comprise a church, but it must attract those people, and an inviting setting is an integral part of that attraction.
If we want to share God's message to mankind, we should use every means available. Many churches use technology such as Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to attract worshipers, but sometimes we overlook the obvious. Sometimes the building itself is so breathtaking that we are drawn to it.
However, a blank, faceless church sitting on a bare parking can feel just as spiritually dead as the asphalt on the parking. It seems we should try and do better, and do it visually.
Churches have volunteers who will do just about anything that promotes the kingdom of God, and if that promoting is enhanced by music, landscaping, and an attractive building, landscaping, most members are happy to join and help with whatever is needed. Proper funding and direction could easily move a lot of churches up a visual notch.
An old gospel song by Austin Miles comes to mind: I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses/and the voice I hear falling on my ear/The Son of God discloses.
Email Richard Mason at email@example.com.