Steeples and bell towers have gone out of fashion for church buildings, reports USA Today. What hurts is the reason:
Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change. . . .
Architects and church planners see today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.
Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for “churches” soar before Easter each year. . . .
After three decades of repairing steeples, [steeplejack Michael] Hardin still considers it “a bit of joy to restore something so old and so beautiful and help it retain its integrity.”
The average age of the churches he works on is a half-century. The older steeples, “built with top-notch lumber and a lot of heart,” are holding up structurally, and more often need only cosmetic fixes.
In more recent decades, Hardin says, “church builders went a little haywire. People used shortcuts and cheaper lumber or they moved to the fiberglass steeples that claim to be maintenance-free. And if there’s a problem they stand back and try to get band-aid repairs or they just remove it and cap it off.” . . .
Providence Baptist Church in McLean, Va., a congregation of 450 in the Washington suburbs, managed to get a whole new aluminum steeple and $25,000 annually for its maintenance budget by hopping on the leased-tower trend last year.
Senior Pastor Tim Floyd says the original steeple, moved from the congregation’s first location, was “in good shape, but it was too small for the larger, newer church. And we needed to bring in more money for our maintenance budget. So what could we do? We saw that cellphone companies are using innovative methods, like artificial trees with antennas, to disguise their equipment and bring in cell coverage without unsightly towers.”
Church leaders located a company ready to deal, negotiated the design and “now we have a steeple, hiding two cell antennas, that gives us a really big profile on the horizon. It’s elegant and majestic and a win-win for us,” Floyd says.
It’s also a visual contrast to a massive, modern megachurch across the street that boasts no steeple.
No surprise, says architect Gary Landhauser, a partner with Novak Design Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who worked on nearly 30 churches in past 15 years.
“We have done a lot of church designs, but we haven’t done a steeple design in 15 years,” Landhauser says.
Today, he says, people want their church to look comfortable and inviting, “more like a mall.”
Architecture, like other art forms, expresses meaning. Do you know why older churches built steeples? Why they had bells? What does it mean that today’s churches tend to use cheap materials? Why are they being made to look “more like a mall”? What does it mean when the sanctuary has a stage with studio lights, big speakers, and a drum set? What do these design features tell us about contemporary Christianity?
HT: Mollie Hemingway