Mel McGowan: Designing Space for Mission
When thinking about creating space in today’s postmodern cultural context and economy, many of us feel like the survivors in the first episodes of Lost. Our knee-jerk reaction is to seek shelter in the wreckage of previous models. Others are getting a sense that there is a new reality that requires more of us. And like the survivors at Lost’s conclusion, we find there is more at stake than just our survival or shelter, but rather an epic battle with eternal outcomes.
The shifting ground beneath our feet
Understanding the societal shifts of the past and present is helpful to finding the right approach to creating useful, meaningful space.
Just as our nation figured out how to rubber stamp suburbia across the country, the American church really nailed how to build the “contemporary,” big box, “multiuseless gymnatorium” church to fit “Autopia,” in which it was OK for the parking lot to sit empty or underutilized 6.5 days a week.
Some are questioning the relevance of this model. Some are questioning the relevance of building anything, choosing a “Gnosticism” of place in which bricks and mortar are deemed unspiritual. They are reasonably “shell-shocked” by the crippling effects of mortgage debt, poor stewardship, and superficial settings in which audiences are consuming experiences rather than being made into disciples.
Amid those questions, we are waking up to a new demographic reality as well. The upward, middle class, white, suburban American dream in which a “moral majority” drive their Married with Children nuclear family in an SUV from the megachurch parking lot to the big-box retail strip mall is fading away. As America and the world have crossed the tipping point in which a majority of people are city dwellers for the first time in human history, we are facing a denser, more diverse urban reality.
How environments facilitate movements and mission
As we encounter a new reality, the right physical environment can do much more for the church than previously realized, contributing to the overall mission.
Just as we’ve figured out how to build earthquake-proof structures by digging deep and tying into solid foundations, we’ve also learned that building in flexibility, rather than rigidity, is the key to surviving shifting cultural ground. Blessed are the flexible, for they will not break.
Here are some lessons learned from our first 10 years of visioneering the next generation of sacred space: