The suitability of contemporary church design for Christian gatherings and worship – a regional analysis.
Williams, Walter Hurst.
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The core of this thesis is seeking to find the most appropriate and successful architectural responses which best support the contemporary local church (the term ‘church’ defines a body of believers who meets regularly together for worship). To be able to put forward advice or direction in this regard the thesis firstly presents a clear brief of what is required for a church to be successful. It looks at such questions as: ‘How does one gauge a successful church biblically?’, and ‘What is a local church called to do?’ The Literature Review section of this thesis attempts to answer the above questions by looking at all relevant Biblical instruction on the subject. It then continues to look at all Biblical comment on design and construction of places of worship, including the Tabernacle and the Temple as described in the Old Testament, and their relevance, if any, to contemporary church design. The Literature Review then looks at the history of church architecture. It is a vast subject, therefore the review will only focus on the direct ‘ancestors’ of the current churches we have in South Africa and in particular Kwazulu-Natal. Questions that are dealt with are: ‘Why were churches built like this?’, ‘Did they work?’, and ‘Are they still relevant today?’ The Literature Review also touches on Indigenous African, as well as more recent church architectural design, and its appropriateness to the contemporary church. The primary research for this thesis consists of a case study of ten churches in KwaZulu-Natal from various denominational and cultural backgrounds, looking at the reasons behind the design of each, and which aspects of each design are successful. The findings and observations are based on interviews with pastors or church elders from each of the churches, as well as the author’s own observations from attending church services in each of the ten churches. Some of the areas that are discussed and grappled with are: The holiness of beautiful architecture, the importance of volume and light in the main worship space (and how the emergence of a strong audio visual element is impacting this), the importance of the building catering for young families, how successful fellowship areas help church attendance, and the ever present problem of acoustics. Each of the buildings is analysed in terms of its architectural merits and functional successes. Going from large to small scale architecturally, each area of each church is looked at. These results are then analysed together, looking for trends and synergy in the various areas and distilling what emerges as the most important aspects of each area. The thesis concludes by emphasising the importance of well thought out church architectural planning in a contemporary culture that is fickle and far less denominationally committed than previous generations.