My brother is a photographer who owns his own business and his approach to photography is always very modern and I guess it has to be taking into account the movability of art and keeping up with the times. His shops ( unlike some photographers) have always been very modern in decor and appearance. Even in his own personal lifestyle he likes to wear all the latest clothes and his house is quite modern too.
With all that in mind, nothing could have prepared me for what he was about to tell me in the car on the way home from leaving my wife off at the hospital last week. We drove past a very modern church built in my neighbourhood in 1995. I made my confirmation there too. As we drove by he shivered his body with discomfort and said ” I just don’t know about those modern churches, I can’t seem to get holy in them or feel holy or any holiness in them.”
According to my very modern brother with fine tastes he really didn’t like the modern churches at all. I was shocked and I kept silent as I didn’t know what to say except to smile a little and nod my head in agreement. Its interesting because he’s not the only one I bet. These modern churches mean well in the sense that they somehow have a desire to transmit the Gospel in a modern era and to try and adapt to modern culture in order to bring people in, but are these modern churches ( most of which are as blank as an A4 page and have little or no artwork in them except one or two statues ) actually having the opposite effect on modern young adults and their desire to be Christian or at least consider Christianity?
The physical appearance of the church is very important and people desire something different than the world. They don’t want to come into the church and see the world again but to worship The Lord and experience that otherness that is the kingdom of heaven, that contrast between the heavenly and the worldly is what we desire.
It is important to be modern in our transmission of the faith but have we gone too far so as to bring the world INTO the church rather than the church INTO the world and make some waves? Isn’t that the whole Christian Gospel message that we stand out on top of the hill and let our light be seen, to be seen to be different from the world so that the world may see us and follow our example?
I think those who are building these churches perhaps need to revisit the blueprint and start all over again. I’d love to see a survey or study of some sort in which people are brought into a modern church and an old baroque style church and asked to compare their experiences of each and all participants to be young and hip and non Christian even. Perhaps only then will the modernist church architect really get the point.