Church Design

Church design is like any other form of architecture; an iterative and creative process that reflects the culture of the building owner.  The church architect in place as a facilitator and a guide through a complex process. In the case of modern church design, this is the congregation and pastoral staff.  Unfortunately, many modern churches, through a lack of self definition and construction knowledge, propagate mistakes in the current model driven church culture.  The role of the classical church and contemporary church both still serve the same purpose: foster community, disciple people in the teaching of Jesus, and Worship God.

One of the major hurtles of the modern church design is to compete with a very sophisticated and well developed consumer culture.  The classical church was at the center of the community and did not have this cultural influence to contend with then.  One heavily studied and implemented concept is that of “Third Place”, being incorporated into modern church design.  The qualities of third place should be incorporated into contemporary church design as a whole, but at very least the lobby and worship space.  As the concept of third place has become more interwoven, architects have responded by applying elements of the third place in the lobbies of retail, office buildings, medical buildings, libraries and modern church architecture.

Third Place
The third place concept comes from Professor Ray Oldenburg and Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.  Ray Oldenburg, author of Celebrating the Third Place (2000) and The Great Good Place (1991), states:

  • The ‘first place’ would be your home
  • ‘second place’ would be work. 
  • Where one chooses to socialize would be the ‘third place’.  Ideally, the contemporary church
  • “Our increasingly fractalized society can find social well being that aids in psychological health.”

Qualities of the third place environment are:

  • informal
  • voluntary
  • neutral
  • a place to gather
  • a place to connect
  • food
  • proximity

Modern church design still has the same building blocks as classic church architecture.  As language and contemporary church culture have slowly morphed in response to changing dynamics in American culture, so have the names and functions of these spaces, which have moved from the private, sacred space toward the third place model.

  • Lobby/Narthex -=>Gathering Space:

Participation is the glue that binds together any contemporary church community or group.  The problem is our classic church architecture may be hindering our efforts by watering down life changing ministry with the initial experience of a sometimes poorly maintained or poorly functioning lobby.

Express the culture:
It needs to reflect in some way the importance of the ministries and culture of the modern church design.  Everything should say, “Welcome!”  Both the contemporary church design and the people should work together to accomplish this goal. 

  • Sanctuary/Auditorium -=>Sacred Space:

Sanctuary design hinges on the worship style.  As a modern church designer, Rhodes Architecture breaks down contemporary church design into the following:

    • Presentational
    • Interactive:
    • Media Centered:
    • Multicast:
    • Liturgical:
  • Fellowship Hall/Multi-purpose room/Cafe -=> Third Place:

A place to connect:
The key to a successful third place is a multi-purpose space for families to enter, disperse, and meet again.  In some multi-phased contemporary church design projects it also doubles as a fellowship hall.  It is the area that people engage in fellowship and plan their social activities for the week

Just about any culture connects food with fellowship.  It may be one of the most universal forms of hospitality.  In modern church design, it is the center piece to the third place and it seems most projects will include some sort of food service.

If you have any questions, or if you’d like more information, please contact us today. We can be reached by phone at 206.465.2021, or you can submit to the right and we’ll get right back to you.

Copyright 2010 © Rhodes Architecture