This baseball season both the New York Yankees and Mets unveiled their new stadiums. Both stadiums are architectural marvels and multi-million dollar venues. Actually the Yankees spent $1.3 billion, but what’s a decimal point and a few zeros among sports franchises? In constructing these facilities they reflect centered change. They changed to mirror the sports climate of today, while holding onto the integrity of the past. “Both [stadiums] hark back architecturally to the glory years of New York baseball, but both hint at how the design-and the role—of the stadium is evolving” (Fast Company, “If They Build It,” April 2009, p39).
Historically as the church strove to connect culture with the Christ they have looked for venues to help house communities of faith. These faith venues have evolved over time. Today churches utilize all forms of buildings, a variety of venues and structures to house centers of ministry. Innovation is only limited by our flexibility, our situations and our responsiveness to the flow of the Holy Spirit. In the building of facilities, or the adaptation of existing spaces, there are things we can learn from stadium construction.
Merge tradition with technology. New Yankee stadium “…echoes their original 1923 one…,” yet it is one of the most technologically advanced. The designers did not compromise with maintaining a traditional feel with a technological flavor. A church does not have to be either traditional, or technologically with it; it can be both/and. Tradition provides a connection with the past. It gives a sense of comfort. Technology supplies an inroad into the future.
Create intimacy. I had a minister friend who said, “The only place I like a crowd is at church.” Most pastors would echo this. We like lots of people in our facilities, so we enlarge. The new stadium constructed for the Mets will have over 15, 000 fewer seats. They want to sell intimacy. If baseball executives recognize an innate need for intimacy we ought to catch on. Larry Osborne Pastor of North Coast Community church said, “A person needs to be able to stand in one place in your building and be able to look around and find a person they may want to locate. If they are unable to do this, your sanctuary is too big.” Don’t compromise intimacy.
Multi faceted, not mono focused. In the past stadiums were used on the days of their particular sporting event. “Fans came, they saw, they left. But the stadium of the future must be—and do—much more.” Steve Burrows a venue designer states, “These very expensive facilities just cannot sit empty for days and days.” Churches need to move beyond Sunday only to seven days a week. They must be sending stations and ministry hubs. Worship ‘only’ venues are limited and limiting. In many cases a churches worship space is the largest square footage under one roof. If these are designed for week-end only worship experiences you may want to rethink their use. If the set-up of your sanctuary space doesn’t allow you to rearrange (pews or immoveable chairs) for other uses, you may want to redesign. We can be bad stewards of our space much like we are of our finances.
Be of the community, not merely in the community. A church can easily be in the community, but they need to be of the community. Earl Santee, stadium designer, believes there needs to be more interaction between the community and the ballpark. “Stadiums,” he says, “will become a point of reference—maybe even the identity—of the community.” OF is interactive, available, connected and involved. IN is stagnant, stationary and staid.
I understand that churches are not entertainment venues, like many ballparks. But this does not mean we cannot gain insights and ideas to be more effective. After all, they paid a great deal of money to determine what works, why not glean from their investment.