Visuals appear to matter. At a church I used to serve I would get into these conversations with someone who would identify beauty as an attraction that brought people to a specific church, it brought her to our church. She would then identify specific things that we should address in the church that would help us attract new people; a new paint job for the entry way, make the washrooms more “pretty” and put nicer furniture in the room where people socialize. As part of our newly minted Stewardship Committee I am reading a book by a mainline Minister in the northeast United States on how her church grew and grew and grew. Among the list of things this Minister did was beautify her church, make it more attractive to the eye, paint, furnishing and colour. It struck me that many, many people do notice and are affected by such things.
Yet again this reminds me that I don’t see the world as others do. Part of it could be my gender, though I do think this is overplayed, I think men do notice whether space is attractive but perhaps in a way less to do with specific colours. What I do know is that I don’t notice those things and thus I need to listen to those who do, women and men, so that we can offer to those searching for a connection with a faith community a space that welcomes them and feels like home.
What makes a space beautiful? I remember coming to the suburbs in 2006 and getting out to visit all the households which included the many young families that were connected to the church I then served. Each family, husband and wife, told me they were excited to live in a home where THEY chose the colours in their home. There were no paintings or prints as such, they were all prints from Home Sense with swirls or designs, the important part being that the colour of the print matched their furniture. So there were no beautiful works of art, print or original, and it was not due to price. Prints of beautiful works are not expensive. It was a choice, valuing the matching uniform colour over the image of a beautiful piece of art. There were photos, lots of photos, of the people who lived in the home. But no art.
The embarrassing thing to me as a visitor was that this “unique” interior that was being presented to me with pride was in fact just like the other homes I was visiting, the colours were often identical. There was this myth that that family was choosing something original and “us” when in fact they were opting for conformity.
I think it is clear that people, women and men, are influenced by colour and beauty. Churches often present themselves as either unkept (dwindling numbers and energy) or old (a reflection of who is there). To a young family this can be a turn off. Churches are supposed to reflect the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit and thus should offer to the visitor a sense of flare and beauty and transforming visuals. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but it is clear that most people want something more than drab tones and archaic image of white Jesus with pious portrayals of him with various other male disciples.
There is an opportunity to offer the seeker something that reflect the dynamic quality of a faith community that is animated by the Spirit to be transformed and engage the world and at other times to be still and know that God is present. For that transformation of still moments and active moments words are not enough. Images, colour, art, all of it make us who we are. Churches too.