Architectural Evangelism?

Did you know that through the centuries the church has used architecture as a kind of public relations tool to influence culture and advance the cause of Christ?

It would probably be no surprise for me to say that the elaborate Gothic churches that were built in the early second millennium were designed to assure the church a central and very dominant role in society. These designs were imposing and awe-inspiring. They served to make the congregants feel awe for God and the church. They were very successful for a while. But after a few hundred years along came Luther, Zwingli and the reformation.

All of a sudden the Catholic Church had serious competition. Protestantism sprang up all over Europe and siphoned off millions of Catholics. Kings and princes chose sides in the conflict. Wars were fought, and many of the buildings that had been Catholic churches were converted into protestant meeting places.

The church had to respond. Rome was not going to sit by and let the world pass it by. Something had to be done to fight for the attention of the people. How Rome responded was reflected in theology (the Council of Trent) as well as in the architecture of the buildings. Yes, the Catholic church undertook a massive building campaign to update their old Gothic places of worship into the new style of the day: Baroque! It was often a move by the Roman church or various kings and princes to expressed their devotion and loyalty to the Catholic church. This architecture gave the people something new and exciting to see and experience. It worked! Many returned their loyalty to the Pope.

As the counter reformation continued, the renewed Catholic church manifested its own changes with a renewed emphasis on the sacraments, better clergy education, and new, more devout orders of priests. At the same time baroque architecture was showing a new face of the church. It was opulent, extravagant, and dominant. Some amazing buildings were built in this period to show the power and might of the Church. It continued on into the next wave of even more elaborate design called Rococo.

As a result we have some architectural treasures still around to see, such as St. Peter’s in Rome (completed in 1615), the des Invalides in Paris (completed in 1679), St. Paul’s in London (completed in 1711), Melk Abby (completed in 1736), and Karlskirche in Vienna (completed in 1737), and many more.

Today, churches are still thinking about their facilities as tools to win the lost to Christ. It may not be evangelism in the purest sense, but it can have an indirect impact for the gospel. Having a fresh, up-to-date facility will not win anyone to Christ by itself, but it may just help to make people aware that the church of Jesus Christ is still relevant and as contemporary as the latest tweet or live web cam.