TBT: Cathedrals vs. Contemporary Churches

Time for another Throwback Thursday post from the archives. Here’s one from Adam that brings up questions about the relationship between spirituality and the physical world. Does place and space matter to the human spirit and it’s worship impulses and habits? What is the relationship between truth and beauty? Let us know what you think in the comments. (View original comments here.)


People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.

Well, we medievalists knew this already; nothing is cooler than Gothic spires or immaculate domes. But, Lifeway’s article on this subject questions our current trend of church building and making churches more like homes.

 cathedral photo
Photo by decar66

I’ve known people who tried to start churches that just met in homes. They thought they were “getting back to basics” or emulating the early church, or something. Either way, this was usually a counter-cultural trend (thus, it was just as dangerous as any other trend) that did not manage to work out.

Why? Because it’s almost creepy to be asked to attend a religious ceremony in someone’s home. At a church building, you can at least run away if the preacher brings out poisonous snakes or if the music minister decides to start rapping. At someone’s home, you could be in for a tough time.

The article also questions the wisdom of modern architectural trends of normal churches.

“I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold,” said one survey respondent who chose the Gothic design. “I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent.”

No argument, here. While visiting Italy, this summer, I lamented that the church I attend (and truly enjoy) can’t retain the older artistic flair that attested to the church’s spirituality. I don’t really know how such a legacy could be retained in a modern setting; I’ve seen people attempt it, but not successfully.

I recommend checking out the entire article, the survey that was used to gather this information includes other useful facts about successful and unsuccessful physical church models.

What do you think?