NASHVILLE, Tenn.-- People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.
The findings come from a recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The online survey included 1,684 unchurched adults – defined as those who had not attended a church, mosque or synagogue in the past six months except for religious holidays or special events.
"Despite billions being spent on church buildings, there was an overall decline in church attendance in the 1990s," according to Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services for Cogun, Inc., a founding member of CKN. "This led CKN to ask, ‘As church builders what can we do to help church leaders be more intentional about reaching people who don’t go to church?’"
When given an assortment of four photos of church exteriors and given 100 "preference points" to allocate between them, the unchurched used an average of 47.7 points on the most traditional and Gothic options. The three other options ranged from an average of 18.5 points to 15.9 points.
"We may have been designing buildings based on what we think the unchurched would prefer," Couchenour concluded. "While multi-use space is the most efficient, we need to ask, ‘Are there ways to dress up that big rectangular box in ways that would be more appealing to the unchurched?’"
"Quite honestly, this research surprised us," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay Christian Resource’s missiologist in residence. "We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building..."