Evangelical Protestants, it’s sometimes said, are cautious in doctrine but willing to experiment broadly in how they get the message across. That’s always been evident with Willow Creek Community Church, which — as historian Randall Balmer observed in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory — worships in a facility that looks more like a corporate headquarters than a worship space.
Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley will continue in that anti-traditional tradition when his North Point Ministries builds a new — um, er, worship product facilitation center? — in the upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta. Reporter Walter Woods of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution fills in the details:
But like the ministry’s 83-acre campus in Alpharetta, which looks more like a high school than a worship hall, church leaders wanted a new sanctuary minus the steeple, pipe organ and stained glass.
“We wanted it to look like an office building,” said David McDaniel, director of campus expansion at North Point Ministries. “One, because it’s in an office park.”
More importantly, “having the building look like the office a typical [person] would enter five days a week is right in line with what we’re trying to do,” he said, adding that’s making people feel more at ease about church.
OK, my journalist’s curiosity is killing me: What word did McDaniel use rather than person?
Back to the narrative:
Stanley delivers his messages in khakis and golf shirts. His opening act is a live band jamming Christian rock music. The laid-back elements, like the architecture, are designed to put people at ease, McDaniel said.
Many people expect to be uncomfortable during Sunday services — they don’t know when to sing, when to kneel, they don’t know the rules — particularly those who haven’t been in a while, McDaniel said.
“We’ve tried to remove any obstacle, whether it be tradition or whatever, from the experience,” he said. “We present Jesus Christ and the New and Old Testament as written but with no other obstacles in the way.”
The music is “like what you’d hear on the radio,” McDaniel said. “You don’t have pipe organ music in your CDs. Why would you subject people to that on Sunday?”
In an age when the exteriors of community centers and banks aspire to the same grand statements that churches once used, there’s a certain symmetry in having churches look like those soulless buildings straight out of Office Space.