By Dustin Stoll
A current trend in many contemporary Christian churches is the adaptation of a generic, “one size fits all” attitude towards church design. Symbolism plays an important role in all forms of religion and one of the most significant symbols for a congregation is the actual building in which they conduct their worship services. One of the first things people associate with a particular church is their building, which means that the building plays a very important role in how an individual congregation is perceived. The design of a church not only affects those who are in direct contact with it, but it can also have great influence on outsiders as well.
Tillich (1987) discusses the importance of an appropriate church building for a church. He does acknowledge the fact that there are many examples of Protestant groups who have taken over old Catholic church buildings, and have still been able to have a function very well as a church, in spite of using an inappropriate building for a protestant group. Tillich (1987) does not have a problem with the mentioned scenario, but instead he is offended by those who create new buildings that are solely based on traditions of the past. Tillich (1987) does not view the idea of tradition as a continual reproduction of designs from the past. Instead, he sees the concept of tradition as a challenge to create new, which promotes a necessity to reject old ideas. There is no particular style or design that can be labeled as religious, so to justify the use of a particular style due to traditional reasoning, is artistically dishonest. “The artistically untruthful repels anyone of religious sensitivity and prevents the experience of the numinous” (Tillich, 1987, p. 212). In the same way that a piece of art does not require a religious theme, religious architecture does not require a particular style or theme to be considered an appropriate religious building (p.212).
Tillich (1987) sees a church building as serving two main purposes. First the technical purpose, which serves the congregation with a place to meet. The second and equally important purpose is to be a symbol for the church. A problem that can arise is that the technical can become separated from the symbolic, or in some case the symbolic can be turned against the technical (p. 211).
Tillich, P. (1987). On art and architecture. New York, NY. The Crossroad Publishing Company.