David Greusel is a friend of mine and a friend of Youthfront. He designed the Prayer Chapel at Youthfront South. David has worked as an architect for more than thirty years
with several Midwestern firms of varying sizes. He is founding principal
of Convergence Design, a Kansas City-based practice specializing
in places where people gather. While with another firm, he was lead
designer for two major league ballparks: Minute Maid Park, home of the
Houston Astros, and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009,
David was named a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects.David has also for several years been a cast member and writer for Right Between The Ears, a radio comedy program broadcast on public and satellite radio. This is a guest post by David.
Archeologists rooting around in the remains of 20th-century
North American civilization are likely to be stumped by this question:
Why, in the world’s richest society, was the design of churches so
I considered this question recently while attending a worship service
in a pre-engineered metal building with a retractable basketball goal
hanging over the apse
(or what would have been the apse), and plastic sheeting bulging between
the metal slats that held the building’s insulation near the roof.
Church architecture of this era is not universally bad, but rather
uniformly. From small town congregations to big city institutions, one
can watch the degradation of church design like a bad movie in
super-slow-motion: from the 1920s, when churches were still pretty nice,
to the postwar years, when modernism began its death march through
academia, to the brutalism of the 1970s, to the self-conscious
non-churchiness of the 1990s . . . church design has been on a downward
spiral for nearly 80 years.
The question is, why? The blame, I suggest, belongs in equal
proportion to two camps: the designers and the congregations themselves.
Church designers (again, uniformly but not universally) are guilty of
following the dicta of modernism that we were all taught in school, the
ABCs of architecture: Form follows function, ornament is crime, less is
more, and so on. These axioms, questionable in their own right, become
downright deadly when applied to the design of worship spaces, where the
“function” of encountering the Divine Presence is much harder to
express in a formula than the function of holding, say, 500 seats and a
choir. And it is the former function which invariably gets shorted when
church design is limited to functional problem-solving.
In his jeremiad on church architecture Ugly as Sin,
Michael S. Rose offers that good church architecture would have three
qualities: permanence, verticality, and, since Rose is Catholic,
symbolic content. Though not Catholic myself, I agree with Mr. Rose on
all three points. Protestant churches can have symbols, they just need
to be understated so the hyper-Calvinists don’t reach for the
Unfortunately, most churches built in North America since World War
II (and yes, I readily admit there are exceptions) lack all three of
these qualities, sometimes to an alarming degree. Some churches I pass
by as I travel from town to town in the Midwestern United States could
be mistaken for storage sheds, pole barns, or discount tobacco stores,
to which they bear an uncanny resemblance at times.
Bad church architecture is not, however, entirely the fault of
architects. The other portion of blame goes to the congregation itself.
Bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is
of bad design. For over a hundred years, the evangelical Church in North
America has been dominated by fundamentalism, a flavour of Christianity
that affirms core points of doctrine that I also affirm (like the
virgin birth of Christ), but that also emphasizes personal salvation as
the only worthwhile goal of the Church. While personal salvation is
unquestionably of supreme importance, the tendency to overfocus on this
one aspect of God’s redemptive plan has had some unfortunate
One of those consequences has been the tendency of the Church to view
buildings (tellingly called “facilities”) as nothing more than shelter,
a place to keep the rain out while souls are being won for Jesus. This
tendency, to see buildings as having only instrumental and not intrinsic
value, has led directly to some of the unfortunate sheds that have been
constructed, on purpose, by churches over the past half-century or so.
You may object at this point that churches are non-profit
institutions (or should be), run by underpaid staff and volunteers, and
that resources are too scarce to be wasted on carved stone gargoyles.
But gargoyles are not the issue. The issue is the Church’s general
disregard for good design.
In North America, the Church (broadly understood) has always been
underfunded, yet it did not until recent decades build so poorly. Even
frontier chapels erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
by pioneer communities have a dignity and beauty that is largely
lacking in the North American Church’s more recent physical
manifestations. And it is hard to argue that our communities are actually poorer than they were seventy or eighty or 120 years ago.
This argument from scarcity is also a poor reflection on God, who
showers us with uncountable abundance if only we have the eyes to see it
and the wisdom to steward it. People who claim that the Church lacks
the resources to build well are betraying their lack of faith in the
Resource from which all resources ultimately flow.
So what ought church architecture to be? Well, Mr. Rose’s three
qualities (permanence, verticality, and symbolism) are a good place to
start. But church architecture should be as diverse, I submit, as the
body of Christ. There is no one right answer to that question, even in a
relatively homogeneous culture. But we can agree, I hope, that church
architecture should be expressive of the best of the visual arts, the
best craft that can be brought to bear, and the most beauty that a
community can see fit to sustain. To do this, we need to recognize that a
church building may cost more, perhaps a lot more, than a school or an
office building on a per square foot basis. That will be difficult for
some to swallow, but those who see beauty as an unjustified expense tend
to have an impoverished view not only of church design, but of what it
means to be human, and ultimately, of God.
The day before I left for a much needed vacation in North Carolina I visited both of our camps. Youthfront Camp West was my morning destination. I arrived in time to see the guys packing food for Haiti. Our staff does a great job of explaining the purpose of packing food and leveraging the formational aspect of this work. Not only do they package a lot of food but the way they look at the world gets shaped and through a regular rhythm of these types of formational exercises and service they experience transformation.
Following the packaging of food we entered Midday Prayer. I love attending Midday Prayer at Youthfront West with Middle School students who embrace this classic and contemplative form of prayer time featuring Scripture Reading, Silence, Prayers of the Church, a Proclamation of Faith, The Lord's Prayer and a Benediction, with an amazing amount of respect and reverence. I still have youth workers challenge me that Middle School students are not capable of this kind of spiritual exercise. I often think the real reason that some youth workers resist it is because they aren't willing to engage in this type of spiritual discipline.
After lunch I headed over to Youthfront Camp South. It was free time so I mostly hung out with the staff and got caught up on all that is going on. This week we have an oversold High School week (we take a limited amount of extra kids who are willing to sleep on a mattress on the floor.) This is a bummer of a week to be on vacation because I have several youth worker friends from around the country who brought groups this week and I will miss them.
I have a couple of guest posts for today. The first one is from Andy Root. I've read both of the books Andy is talking about in this post. I plan to do a full post on The Promise of Despair in the future. Andy is one of the most important voices in youth ministry today. Seriously consider this offer...
I wanted to get before you the chance to get a free copy of my book Relationships Unfiltered.
As the new school year approaches and you think about volunteer leader
meetings and trainings I would like to suggest you take a look at Relationships Unfiltered. It's
written just for this setting with discussion questions and chapters
filled with illustrations and stories--but also promises to get you and
your team thinking theologically about your core practice this coming
school year: forming relationships with young people.
Here's what I can do: If you'll email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I'll send you a free copy of the book so you can look it over and
decide if it would be of help to you and your volunteers. If you're
interested in using it you can then go to Zondervan.com or Zondervan.com/ministry and type in the code 980752 in the “source code” box. Starting August 1 this will give you a 40% discount on as many books as you’d like.
I'll also offer this, if you do use the book with your team, I'm
willing to do a select number of skype or ichat conversations with you
and your team after getting through the book.
One of the first things we did when we moved into our home 17 years ago is make a big deal about planting a tree in our front yard. It was not much more than a twig for the first couple of years but it hit a growth spurt and hadn't stopped growing until the Storm came to town. We are sad. We enjoyed a lot of shade, beauty and life under our tree and now it is gone. The pictures go from Spring in full bloom, to fall, to winter, and finally the destruction.The rest of the tree is coming down right now.So
Yesterday was Tom Ryan's last Sunday as the primary interim speaker during our year long transition at Jacob's Well after the departure of Tim Keel our founding pastor. I had the privilege to honor Tom at the end of the 11:00 am service. The congregation graciously gave him a standing ovation. Tom shared this quote in his message today and I think it is quite profound.
has been called
the unforgivable sin—not presumably because God refuses to forgive it
but because it despairs of the possibility of being forgiven." Frederick Buechner
Lexi has improved a lot today. With Bacterial Meningitis ruled out and her high fevers gone, Lexi was released from the hospital about an hour ago. The healthy Lexi personality is back. The big event of the afternoon was the ride from the hospital room to the car. Thank
you for all the prayers and words of encouragement.
Lexi is still at Children's Mercy Hospital and has consistently had a high fever in the 101 to 104.8 range. She definitely has Meningitis (hopefully just viral) but they are testing for tick-borne disease and other things that can cause Meningitis. She has a high white blood count. They have been treating for Bacterial Meningitis (the most serious kind) until they can eliminate it. Still waiting for tests to determine what's going on. In the picture below, not even her furry friends could cheer her up...
Our sweet Lexi is still very sick. Her fever spikes based on her latest round of medications. They are still running tests and we are waiting for results. We are happy she is at Children's Mercy one of the best Pediatric Hospitals in the country. Lexi has been prodded and poked and is about as brave as a three-year-old could be.
Our grandaughter Lexi is in Children's Mercy Hospital. She has been there since yesterday. The test indicates Meningitis and we are waiting to see if it is viral or the more dangerous bacterial form. She is running a high temperature - 105. Pray for her...