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Churches in Context

The context in which a church building is set is crucial to an understanding both of its design and the functions that it may fulfill. Yes, it is first and foremost a place of worship but it is also a message in bricks and mortar about the relevance of the gospel to people’s lives, even a tangible expression of the love of God. That suggests the converse, that people can perceive the gospel as irrelevant when the building seems irrelevant to the community in which it stands and even appears to contradict the expressed message of the church.

A church on a high street that is closed when shops and coffee bars are open and open only when they are shut or suddenly on a Sunday morning sends a poor message. Similarly a church that is hard to enter via solid wooden doors, hard to open when the surrounding shops have automatic glass doors inviting people into a brightly and warmly lit interior expresses the wrong kind of message of being different to the world around. Thre are though, many examples of churches that have learned the lesson.

In some contexts the important role of a church may be to provide a neutral meeting space where different groups within the community may come to meet together to resolve issues. Such a specialised role of being a bridge builders requires both a community that understands the issues and a building carefully ordered to enable the people who come to feel comfortable and unthreatened. That may be an uncommon example but it highlights the need for careful consideration of how buildings are designed in the first place or re-ordered and ‘tweaked’ to relate properly to the context in which it is set.