Church Architecture and Protestants


Many Catholics bemoan the use of modernist and post-modernist architecture for our churches. However, these same designs are used for Protestant churches as well. Are Protestants bothered by these architectual trends? Does modernist or post-modernist architecture affect the way they understand God?


As a non-Christian, I prefer visiting Christian (Catholic and Protestant) Churches that use older style architecture. Modern architecture can at times feel very sterile and devoid of any connection to God - although I have visited some very awesome modern architecture Catholic churches.

The modern architecture churches I have visted, have left me a bit bewildered and required a very lengthy explanation of exactly how the crucifix was reflected.

A good argument could be made that the building is not the important thing in any case. One of my favorite church visits actually happened in a rented school (Orthodox service, they’re planning on building a church soon).


A lot of Protestants see the building as merely a place to house “the church,” meaning the people.

They are trying to build churches that are useful for their various ministries.

A sanctuary that is only used once a week is useless, so many Protestant churches build big rooms that can be used as conference halls, fellowship halls, even gymnasiums.

Also, lot of Protestant churches are building day care or school facilities, and making sure that any children’s or youth rooms are built in a way that makes sexual abuse less likely to happen. (Everything is open.)

Music rooms, LOTS of storage for electronics, theatrical sets, etc.

I’ve seen several new Protestant churches with professional recording studios so that they can make their own audio and visual media.

Cafeterias and coffee shops and gift shops or bookstores.

Anyway, that seems to be the trend where we’re from. Less “beauty,” more “use.”


As an ex Protestant, I can say that the sterile architectural style of the mega church is depressing…the small Catholic Church where I attend the TLM is so much more awe inspiring and powerful than the gigantic mega church where my family attends.

On the other hands, props must go the many Southern Baptist churches for building more traditional buildings.



I think that most of the Catholics who express their dislike for “modern” architecture in churches do so specifically because these buildings look and feel Protestant. Also, many see this “development” in design to be a symptom of post-Vatican II reform gone too far, such as the assimilation of Protestant practices, songs, feelings, language, etc.


Many of these newer churches, Catholic and Protestant, are more influenced by the modern architectural style than by the religion itself. Buildings in general just got ugly in the 1970’s. Take, for example, a courthouse or a public library. The old ones are beautiful, whilst the new ones look like boxes. Also, many of the architects who built historic churches also built courthouses and libraries. Hopefully, we will see a change of taste resulting in all architecture looking better in the future.


Actually, in both Catholic and Protestant churches alike, form has given way to function. Land prices and building costs often dictate building space - in the name of good stewarship. Most spaces have to serve more than one function, which can lead to both creativity and a sense of drab.

I grew up in a very gothic church, pipe organ, traditional architecture. It was remodeled in the 90’s for over a million dollars. To build a new structure, including a comparable pipe organ, would cost nearly 8 million dollars. There’s no way that most churches or parishes could afford such a structure.

Staff salaries and benefits, ministry programming, clerical/office costs, insurance premiums, utility costs - all realities. The church/parish I now serve cost a little under $150,000 to build in the 1950’s. It would now cost $4,100,000 to build something comparable. I don’t know how we’d pull it off.

Early Christians met in homes.



Great points, Luke! Many of the costs are also due to the cost of labour. Many of the historic churches were built by parishoners who were not highly paid. Many were immigrants. For instance, Irish Catholics, Welsh Methodists, German Lutherans. Nowadays, the labourers would expect union rate wages. The poor immigrants sacrificed what little they had to build their churches.


Most were volunteers. I wish today we could get companies to donate their time and effort to building church parishes. Ones that advertise in the back of the bulletin should be glad to help…


Even with raising cost of land-labor-material and so on. Even if building a multi functional structure. There is still no reason why a church building cannot be designed and built to LOOK like a church. It would just require a bit of imagination and creativity is all.

When my family visited Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama (Mother Angelica’s:thumbsup: ) we were overwhelmed at the beauty. Even my usually loud and active children became quiet and calm when in the Church.:wink: I never wanted to leave. I just wanted to stay and pray and I felt a wonderful spiritual calm. At my home parish which is a multi functional structure, I have to remind myself that this is still a church. I have to "imagine the Stations of the Cross around the walls, search out the Tabernacle when I want to spend quiet time with the Lord, assuming of course I can get quiet time in a busy parish.

My priest can offer Mass in a barn and my Lord will still be present in the Eucharist, but just having a church that LOOKS like a church helps pull it all together spiritually for me.:thumbsup:


Michael Rose, author of Goodbye, Good Men, has another book Ugly as Sin critiquing the issue of modern Catholic Church architecture and interiors. Rose posists that the 1970’s onward emphasis on “multi-use” worship centers among Catholic diocese’s was from a influentional but never really authoritative Bishops commitee that was highly influenced by a book on church architecture written by a Lutheran architect who was very opposed to traditional Catholic architecture and iconograph–because they supported Catholic Theology–including Eucharistic adoration.

The Parish I’m attending (Christ the King, Mesa, Arizona) has a new Pastor–and he’s already making changes to the interior. We have a beautiful permanent crucifex behind the altar and the tabernacle is no longer in a hidden away spot; it’s where it should be, behind the altar, close to the crucifis–and actual Holy Water fonts for self application will be placed by the doors (no more having to go over to the baptismal pool (I wont dignify it by calling it a font)


I don’t know about the structure as it regards the ‘worship space’ or their ‘sanctuary’ but I do know that MANY couples in my town flock to the First Presbyterian church when they want to get married because it’s one of the few churches that look like a church, the rest look like auditoriums. I was just teasing my sister about her getting married in a gym. She told me to shut up. :stuck_out_tongue:


As a Friend, I like the plainess of our Meeting Houses. We have a “facing bench” in the front where the elders(if the Meeting operates with elders) and the clerk sit, then we have rows of benches that face one antother. There is usually a table at the entrance of the Meeting Room with literature…and maybe a bookcase at the back of the Room.

No crosses, nor organs or pianos…no choir loft…just a “U” shaped sitting space for the Meeting for Worship to take place…I find “decoration” distracting from Centering.

The windows may be a pale transluscent glass or sometimes clear.


I believe that God can use any kind of architecture.

Our parish has a very contemporary look, almost bare.

This made it easy for us as Protestants to feel comfortable. I think if we had started out in our local Italian parish, which is filled with statues and frescoes (18 images of the Blessed Mother!), even an image of a saint lying at peace under the altar, and relics and Latin over the door–we would have been terrified!

We felt very “at home” in the contemporary sanctuary.

And now that we ARE home in the Catholic Church, we also feel comfortable in the Italian parish!


I know, I know, I am not a catholic but I can offer a protestant view… :thumbsup:

If God gave someone the gift to create modernized buildings that are, in today’s world, awesome and ‘in style’ then why wouldn’t He want them to use that gift FOR HIM to build a church that will serve HIM?


I think newer churches in general are just getting less asthetically pleasing. I just went on a quick drive through Pittsburgh earlier today, and you wouldn’t believe how beautiful ALL of the churches are (including the Protestant ones). I’ve never seen any of them from the inside, but at least to look at them driving by, they’re just beautiful.


I like the church I go to… but it would be practically impossible to replace it these days. We need more Orthodox people in Butte Montana!

I wonder how this affects Protestants… we have mostly Catholics in Butte.



Modern architecture does offend most Protestants. The weird, twisted, contorted stuff, like all art, conveys a philosophy, and most people don’t share the philosophy behind modern art. When you behold art that conforms to the nature of God, it evokes a different response in the soul from that which modern art evokes.

Picasso does not affect people as Michaelangelo does.

But, modern art aside, modern architectural trends are certainly driven by economics and the idea that function and efficiency are everything.


As St. Bernard explained, the more spiritual of a person you become, the less important the building is. Once you can see in the Spirit the reality of the Mass and what is happening on the altar, nothing else matters.


All aspects of Christian churches are getting more casual and that is not a good thing. Protestants don’t build their churches to make one closer to God (God doesn’t dwell in Protestant churches) and nearly all Protestand ministers will readily tell you there is nothing Holy about the building. The modern style is mainly due to economics and functionality. Also, there is a growing trend in Protestant Land to make every effort not to remind the people they are in church. This goes to the architecture of the building, the contemporary Christian music and the casual dress of the people. The thinking is that the people are more likely to come if the church service doesn’t resemble “church”. Too bad, because nothing creates the mood to worship like a beautifully decorated church with soft lighting, stained glass windows and traditional Christian music.

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