Megachurches: photographing America's drab new cathedrals


From today’s Guardian:

Lisa Anne Auerbach created a ‘megazine’ of structures reminiscent of shopping malls or warehouses, hidden away from the centre of cities, where thousands of people go to worship every week


Last year I visited Our Lady of the Angels cathedral in Los Angels which is quite nice on the inside, but from the outside reminded me more of a hotel building than an cathedral. So it’s not just non-Catholic magachurches that have this kind of boxy exterior that some megachurches have.


It does seem harder to apprehend the Numinous while in a building like that.


There are a couple of buildings on there that are not awful but some of them look like military bunkers, I don’t expect everything to look like some pre-conceived idea of how Churches ‘must look’ but the feeling of a sacred space in some of those might be hard to achieve unless they look radically different on the inside.


Nobody can afford to build churches in the traditional style, and the useful space was limited

Some modern Catholic churches are also on the ugly side

Airplane hanger retrofit?


We drive 10 miles across town to avoid attending one of these architecturally modern churches, our “home” parish church is a 5 minute walk from the house but I refuse to go to it.


I’m not sure it is so few to be described as some. I think most I’ve seen are ugly. They aren’t visited now for their beauty and won’t be in the future like the old churches of Europe. Beauty really isn’t as wide open a concept as modern architecture proponents would have us believe.


Indeed, this utilitarian bent in churches is not limited to Evangelical MegaChurches. All denominations are suffering from this creeping modernity in church design. The churches closest to my house, Catholic, Southern Baptist, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Non-Denom, and Chinese Non-Denom, are all varying levels of “plain”. Drab unassuming outsides are the norm other than a small and simple spire on the SDA church. Two are in an office park and school gym respectively. The rest are indistinguishable from the small community center they’re all next door to if your remove the tiny crosses from their property.

Inside is no better. Drop ceilings, basic office style fluorescent lighting, video projectors, minimal use of candles and stained glass are the norm (and then only by the Catholics, SDA, Lutherans and Chinese NonDenom. The tabernacle is hidden away in the Catholic Church in a small alcove out of sight of the congregation. I’ve visited all of them, and none of them feel particularly holy. And the congregations don’t treat them as particularly holy places with cell phones and side conversation even in the Catholic Church being too common.


I couldn’t care less about what my parish looks like, and believe me, I’ve been a member/employee in some pretty run down and broken down parishes.

Sp long as they have a good priest and I can receive Eucharist, I’m fine.
Appearances don’t matter.
He’s still there. His people still gather to worship and sing His praise.


The one in Mesa, Arizona seemed okay to me, but most of them are just plain ugly. I think if a diocese should at least try to build a beautiful church. Beauty glorifies God. We wouldn’t let our garden become rundown if we could help it because a beautiful garden glorifies God. A garbage dump doesn’t, not that any of the churches are garbage dumps! They aren’t. No house of God is.

But people can go too far the other direction. We have a church in my diocese that is so overdone it’s almost an abomination.


My favourite was the one in Simpsonville, South Carolina. The rectangular Noah’s Ark with a gangplank and a bunch of square portholes.


At least it’s biblical.


A friend of mine said she thought it looked more like a prison.


Am I the only one struck by the irony of how “institutional” modern churches look?


But shouldn’t God be provided with the best we have to offer?


I like your interpretation!

I was reminded of a fruit storage warehouse or one of those places that rents storage spaces.


Not really. Some architects are able to use modern materials and traditional themes (not mere copying) to create some really inspiring church interiors and exteriors. At least one of the Menzies portfolio photos is a “retrofit” of a formerly very ugly building. Not bad.

If you’re not familiar with these, I think you’ll enjoy them.

Henry Menzies.

Duncan Stroik.



And we are no longer putting out our best. When a protestant tells me church is just a building, I disagree, but Catholic architecture these days seem to agree with that thought process.

Go to a Church in the old baroque, Romanesque and Byzanatine style and you immediately know you are in a holy place and you behave accordingly. The domes, the paintings, the statues, the arches that point to heaven and even the layout all tell you a story and you feel Gods presence through the beauty. You know that the people in the time it was built gave it their all, both monetarily and through their time and sweat. You are transported into Gods kingdom and into His glory. They were built and beg to have the music of the angels played, Gregorian chant and Latin Hymns and the prayers of the High Mass sung.

Todays modern Churches are simply distracting in their bareness and do not feel very Catholic. There is no story told in these modern structures.

So yes, the Eucharist is there and there might be a wonderful priest present, but it is still lacking.


Yeah it’s not that the simple structures can’t have a holiness about them. When Christ is present, Christ is present, that’s not really in question. But there’s something about the more traditional and often elaborate structures that magnifies Christ’s holy presence so much so that you don’t question that you’re in a holy place.

And I’ve noticed that the more the holiness of the place is self evident the more those in the church treat the space as holy rather than just as another building they’re visiting during their day.


I would suggest it’s not a lack of money but a lack of devotion. We have a group of Monks here who started a coffee company not that may years ago and are in the process of building a most beautiful Monasatry to replace the one they have outgrown. With a dozen 30ft tall by 12 ft wide stained glass windows in the chapel alone.

Visit the link below to learn more.

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