The space you are in can affect a lot of things. Wherever you are right now have a look around you. Would the space you are in right now be more conducive to a loud children’s birthday party celebration or a more formal business meeting? The first would need room to run around, games, no obstacles for people to run into, and the absence of people who would be offended by such a racket. The second would probably require a large table, good lighting, maybe some AV equipment, and as little distraction as possible so people could stay focused. You don’t set up a business meeting like you would a children’s party or visa versa. The environments we are surrounded by often dictate or influence the things that take place in them.
To see how this works, let’s look at one environment that is present in many churches, the auditorium class. In most churches auditoriums are the largest room in the church. The need for Bible class space often necessitates this area to be used for a Bible class on Sunday and Wednesday. What the teacher does with the material is part of the environment that is created but the surroundings are just as important. The space a Bible class occupies plays a huge role in what takes place in that class. I can teach the same lesson in an auditorium and then in a small room with 15-20 people and it turn into a completely different lesson and people get something completely different out of it. This is because in a small room, seated in a circle, the questions I ask in the lesson are more likely to get answered by the class and develop into an actual discussion. Those questions asked in the auditorium often go unanswered as 50 or 60+ people think someone else is going to answer it so no one says anything and conversation or dialog becomes basically impossible. Conversation is also stifled in the large group setting due to rows of pews and trying to talk to the back of the head of the guy in front of you. Settings influence for the good or the bad the environments we work out of. So we have to start considering how our meeting space is contributing to the goals we have for the ministries that are being done in that space.
We haven’t often stopped to consider this because we have taken for granted that the model we have been handed is sufficient. I would argue that it was sufficient 25-50 years ago (when many of our buildings were built) but people have changed. If we don’t reflect the changing dynamics of our culture in the space we occupy we are going to miss some opportunities. This does not mean we are saying anyone in the past was wrong. But we should be free to admit that they organized what spoke well in their day and we are free to do the same. We preach the same message but we have to make sure that the way we get people to that message is effective.
Last, environment is more than the color of the paint on the walls, the size of classrooms, or having an area for coffee. That is just one component that I am pointing out because it is one piece of the puzzle of making effective environments. More on this ahead…