Does Church Architecture Matter? (I think so.)

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 8.49.02 AMLisa Anne Auerbach:

The architecture of modern megachurches — which is to say, box churches — is deserving a fair inspection, not least by those in Europe who know the grandeur of cultures and cities and nations who vested their money in worship-centered architecture.

“I started photographing megachurches as an oppositional idea,” explainsLisa Anne Auerbach, a California photographer and artist. “I had been doing a series about small free-standing businesses [encapsulating] this idea of America: you’re an individual, you hang up your shingle, you pick yourself up by your bootstrap, and become your own fantasy. I was thinking about megachurches being another part of the American dream – faith and family and community.”

Using a database published by theological college Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, Auerbach catalogued megachurches – “and I use their definition for this,” she stresses – in Christian Protestant denominations, which claim to have weekly congregations of over 2,000 people. Auerbach also subscribed to Outreach magazine, a publication aimed at those who run churches, which has listings of megachurches. The top 50 in the country have more than 10,000 worshippers a week….

Auerbach’s megachurch megazine is currently on view in a Paris exhibition calledWasteland: New Art from Los Angeles, a reference to the famed TS Eliot poem. The relationship between architecture, landscape and religion seems particularly strange from a European perspective. The conception of the cathedral is not only where one goes to be spiritual or commune with God, but to feel awe through the grandeur of the architecture and the building’s history. Comparatively, the US megachurch buildings are stripped wholesale of that sense of wonder and connection to the past; they are also far from the focal point of a city.

“Notre Dame is a cathedral in the center of the city,” says Auerbach. “Whereas these churches, although they’re very powerful, are hidden. The reason they’re hidden, I found, is that they’re camouflaged. They look like places we just drive by. They’re in office parks, they’re in former big box stores. I thought that was fascinating: I don’t even know what to look for. That was the impetus to say: whatis this thing?”


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.