I see God in nature (God’s creation) and in architecture (our creation). God makes beautiful stuff, and, being made in God’s image, we make beautiful stuff too. God is in the Missouri River as it rolls toward St. Louis and the limestone caves of south Kansas City.
God is also in the expanding shells of the Kauffman Center and in the graceful swoop of the Western Auto sign. I love the prairie grass of the Flint Hills of Kansas, and God loves the shuttlecocks on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
But I am struck by how much church architecture I don’t like. How did we end up with so many beige barns, awkward education wings and stuck-on steeples?
The Greatest Generation built lovely churches as part of building a great society. Back from the war, the church-going among them faithfully copied European cathedrals, providing them with stained-glass windows, rose gardens and pipe organs to support family-based congregations.
We baby boomers prefer stuff that makes us look and feel comfortable. So we go for the megachurches — big, open spaces with flexible seating and homogeneous small-group study and seriously friendly pastors in creased blue jeans. We project the words in 48-point font so we don’t have to get out our glasses. We are immersed in music so professional and so loud that we sing along without hearing ourselves at all.
As Generation X has aged, the majority say they believe in God, but increasingly large numbers claim no religious affiliation. Their architecture rises in an invisible, coded world, built of applications that I love but do not understand.
Their stuff, beautifully and wondrously made, gives us more power and more creativity than we have ever had before. But what do Google and YouTube offer someone seeking God? Do social media platforms offer opportunities to worship? Can a fellowship dinner be virtual?
Millennials grew up with what Gen Xers made. And they know that it is good. So they need less stuff — thus their movements toward tiny houses, capsule wardrobes, clean-running little cars. But inside their devices, they develop complex and powerful stuff. They don’t fear building their lives in these black boxes because they were born using them. And they self-identify as the most spiritual and hopeful of us all.
Recently, I heard about a congregation that sold its building, leased space and drastically limited the stuff it uses to be church. They are courageous and forward-thinking, but, at the same time, they follow an ancient example. They are assembling a kind of Old Testament tabernacle — a flexible church like the tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. Until Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the faithful got by with the stuff that they could carry.
So as demographics shift, where will the next spiritual spaces be constructed? What will they look like? Maybe they will be part of what we carry — churches built on the smartphones in our pockets.
Lea Young is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.