Church buildings and connecting

3 06 2008

People who don’t go to church may be turned off by 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.

The findings come from a survey released in April 2008 conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The online survey included 1,684 unchurched adults — defined as those who had not attended a church, mosque or synagogue in the past six months except for religious holidays or special events.  Here is a link to the Lifeway site and survey results.

While I find these results interesting I thought another part of the survey was more insightful – “Places for the unchurched to connect:”

“Finally, the survey looked into what sociologists call ‘third place’ gathering spots. First place gatherings are where a person lives. Second place gatherings are where a person works. Third place gatherings are where a person comes “to hang out,” according to Stetzer.

“‘In the last few years churches have begun creating third place environments where the lost can come and just hang out,’ Stetzer said. ‘This study asked the question, what kind of places do the unchurched like to come to do this?’

“More than three times as many people chose a sit-down restaurant (47 percent) rather than any other single response. Other locations that topped the list include: a bar or nightclub (15 percent), a local coffee shop (13 percent), and a sporting event or recreational activity (5 percent).

“According to the survey, the reasons they meet with friends where they do is because these places are relaxing (62 percent), casual (55 percent), and fun (29 percent). When asked to describe in their own words design features of the kind of place they’d like to meet a friend, 16 percent of respondents referred to a quiet environment. Another 14 percent mentioned comfortable seating as a factor, and 12 percent said that the spaciousness and openness of the setting was important.

“‘CKN wanted to give churches another tool for churched and unchurched people to connect well to each other,’ Stetzer concluded. ‘One of the things this study revealed is the importance of space in relationships. Insights into these preferences enable churches to include space in which community can be built.'”

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