In my latest series of articles, I've been looking at leveraging beauty in our evangelism and our defense of the faith. We've already established that beauty is one of the primary virtues, and how we can know that beauty is not simply "in the eye of the beholder" as we've been led to believe. There is in fact an objective nature to beauty.
In an interesting post, Travis Dickenson pointed to an article in the U.K.'s The Telegraph entitled "One in six young people are Christian as visits to church buildings inspire them to convert." The article goes on to offer statistics of how more than one in five young people between 11 and 18 describe themselves as "active followers of Jesus" while 13% categorize themselves as practicing Christians. In 2006, a study showed that number as only 6%, which means the number of young people in the UK coming to faith may have more than doubled in just over a decade.1
What has driven this trend? The architecture of the church may have something to do with it, according to the article:
Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.
The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.
The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups and courses such as Youth Alpha, are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building in attracting children to the church.
One in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 per cent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 per cent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity.2
Leaving Out Beauty Leaves out the Full Picture of GodDickenson notes all this and offers that there is something more powerful about experiencing God in a beautiful building than in a functional box:
We build church buildings today almost exclusively for function. Function is of course not unimportant. If there's no door to get into the building, then this is a problem. But we seem almost completely unconcerned about the kind of experience a building will give. There are some incredibly beautiful doors out there!I think Dickenson's right in this. We are inspired by beauty in music, in architecture, and in form. We serve a God who values beauty, and we should properly represent Him this way as much as we do a God who values truth and reason. How do we know God values beauty? I'll offer that argument next time.
Does it sound strange to talk about beauty affecting our experience?
Consider what it would be like to read a book (even a really good book) sitting in a single chair with bright fluorescent lights in a high school gymnasium. Then consider what it would be like to read the same book [in an exquisitely crafted and detailed library.]
Or in a great coffee shop or out in nature.
The point is that the experiences depend in part on our environment. Being surrounded by beauty importantly changes and greatly enhances the experience. When we are surrounded by beauty, it more fully engages our souls. We are not just rationally engaged, but we are engaged in deep parts of our souls.
If this is right, then why wouldn't we include beautiful aspects in our worship environments? When the experience is only rote and rational, then we have not presented the full picture of who God is. 3
3. Travis Dickenson. "Want to Reach Youth? Build a Beautiful Building!" The Benefit of the Doubt, 23 June 2017, www.travisdickinson.com/want-reach-youth-build-beautiful-building/. Accessed 5 July 2018.