One Sunday last fall, I walked into our local YMCA unsure of what I might find. As much as I could have used some time on the treadmill, my intention was not to workout but to check out a four-year-old church plant I had heard a lot about.
Within a few weeks of observing Discovery Church authentically live out its mission to help people discover Jesus and their place in His story, I knew it was a fit for me. And I was not surprised to learn that the church, which grew 105 percent in 2012, had maxed out its YMCA gymnasium space and was in the process of building a new home.
Although our faith family is keenly aware that church is not about a building, we are super-excited and thankful to expand our outreach through the new campus, forthcoming arts center and surrounding land that lends itself to respite, retreats and sustainable living practices. We also believe there are opportunities to influence lives through our physical space and design choices.
Designing With Multiple Generations in Mind
Our new church is located in the midst of Tennessee’s blue skies and rolling hills, so natural color palettes and organic elements—like reclaimed barn wood—were chosen to reflect our culture and land. And with a church demographic that skews young adult and young family, the design direction is primarily modern, clean and minimalist.
Since my background is in generational relations and research, I was fortunate to be included in a few of the design conversations. My first reaction was, “Wow. The space looks amazing!” My second thought was that it is ripe with opportunity to incorporate some imagery of the past to communicate the depth, history and legacy of our faith. This is especially important since much of our congregation is young.
Blending the Past and Present to Empower the Future
By thoughtfully and creatively mixing iconic and modern elements, we believe we can create sacred spaces that educate, inspire and engage all generations in meaningful conversation and community. We are in the process of discussing what this looks like at our church, but here are three ideas that have inspired us so far:
1. Stained Glass Graffiti
This visual incorporates Christianity’s past using a modern art form. In addition to being unique and discussion-worthy, this piece offers an opportunity to engage your congregation in interactive learning.
Perhaps a graffiti artist or someone with creative talents within your church could teach the art form, showing people of all ages how to make graffiti. The final product could be hung in a high-traffic area as a reminder of the past and the present, and all of the people who helped to make it.
2. Tattered Pages
We like the idea of displaying old Bibles, theology books, church directories and hymnals in clean, contemporary and minimalist ways. The juxtaposition of weathered books encased in acrylic or glass is interesting and visually pleasing.
A bit about each book’s history could be included in the display. Perhaps there could also be a dedicated time for established leaders to share about or exhibit their favorite books of the past, while the youth could share about their favorite readings of today.
3. Snapshots and Stories
Hanging pictures in creative ways can go a long way. Here are two ideas to consider:
1. Gather pictures that represent your church or church members’ past and hang them in contemporary ways.
2. Gather pictures from today—of your church, people and ministries—and arrange them in the shape of a Christian symbol, like a cross. You could even have your youth lead this project, giving them permission to use Instagram and hashtags to organize it. People who submit images could share the story or memory behind the picture. The youth could also teach how they used social media and tools like Instagram magnets to accomplish the project. The visual output would be a discussion point for years to come.
Below is the full inspiration board for a prayer and discussion room in our church. The design ideas are intended to create cross-generational conversations and faith transfer.
As our church continues to discuss our design directions, we have already learned a few key lessons:
- You can showcase the past without being gaudy or over-the-top. Quiet statements—like displaying Christian icons using light, natural elements and even screens—are often the most powerful.
- The best designs engage the congregation in the process, include an interactive component, and are tied to your church’s larger mission, vision and story.
- You don’t have to break the bank to design spaces that engage multiple generations. In fact, many of them can be created by the talent within your church, or be supplied from the storage closets of your congregation.
From Generation to Generation
While we certainly do not have all of this figured out, we do believe that design, spacea and environment can enhance ministry experiences. We are prayerful that our church’s design choices will spark conversations and connections that strengthen faith journeys for years to come. We hope they inspire you, too.
What do you think of these ideas? How are your spaces honoring the past while enabling the future?