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A welcoming appearance

by Richard Mason | July 18, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
Richard Mason

Should a church present a welcoming, beautiful image to their members and to those who might be looking for a church home? Does a beautiful building with gorgeous landscaping enhance the worship experience? I think it does.

Unless you are of the belief that you can worship God while bass fishing, you will agree that unless an individual attends a worship service with songs of praise, scripture reading, prayer and hears the teaching of a God-called minister, you can’t call a quick prayer to God between bass strikes as worship.

So what are the resources a church must use to attract people to come and worship?

I won’t attempt to give you an overview of the many ways a church goes about attracting worshipers. However, I will dwell a bit on one I feel is sorely neglected, and that is the visual. After all, God gave us the eyes to see and a mind to appreciate his creation. In the next few paragraphs I am going to try and tell you one way I think will please God.

Of course, the visual can never be more God-pleasing than spiritual, but I contend visual is an important tool to enhance the spiritual.

The first thing that comes to mind is the impression a church building makes on a potential attendee. After all, you can’t have a worship experience without people.

One thing churches have in common are that they are buildings — from small, one-room structures all the way to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. I think a building may compliment the worship experience, but buildings by themselves aren’t going to provide a spiritual experience. I believe all the physical and spiritual factors working together make a successful church worship service, and the grounds and building, as well as the building’s interior, can enhance the worship experience.

First, let’s look closely at the church grounds. If we are worshiping our Creator, shouldn’t we recognize his handiworks? Of course that means the physical setting of the building.

I’ve seen settings from bare asphalt lots without a sprig of grass to lush gorgeous setting where the church building was set in a natural park-like wonderland. Now, I’m sure not telling you that you can’t worship in a tent set on a bare parking lot, but knowing the act of worship is certainly spiritual, the enhancements of spirituality matters. That’s right, and if the surroundings enhance the spiritual experience, that’s a positive way to encourage the church goers to come and worship.

Let’s look at an example: consider a small, white frame, traditional, New England church building set on a bare parking lot.

I’ve been to New England several times, and throughout the area you can find hundreds of simple but beautiful structures. They are wonderful, traditional buildings. Now, we’re going to say, as an example, othat ne of them is sitting on a bare parking lot.

Let’s put some attractive landscaping around the building and parking lot, complete with several mature red maples. It’s fall and the maples are in full color.

Compare the visual difference from the same church sitting on a bare parking lot as you walk up to the church. God’s creation is vividly displayed, and your senses can’t help but be aware of the remarkable display of beauty. Would this beautiful traditional church building surrounded by landscaping be more spiritually enhanced when accompanied by the singing, prayer and sermon?

Yes, that example may be a little over the top, but it makes a point. Everyone is affected by the visual.

Well, consider this: let’s say you are new in town and are looking for a church to attend. Yes, I know you can have a spiritually dead church that looks great with gorgeous landscaping, and you can also have a wonderful, deeply spiritually congregation meeting in a converted barn. Of course you can, so where do you go from there?

I’ve visited, and on rare occasions, worshiped in some of the great cathedrals of Europe. However, I certainly would be amiss in saying the beautiful interior complimented by great landscaping was a great spiritual experience. In fact, the most spiritual experience I had was in Zagreb, Croatia, where the church was meeting in a downtown store building and the sound of Christian music drew us in. We could feel the worshipful spirituality even though we couldn’t understand a word spoken.

Well, after saying all of that, where do we go from here?

Recently, I was in Dallas, and drove by several churches, and only commented on one of them. Its landscaping was gorgeous — large trees and a mix of smaller landscaping plants that were just perfect. The church couldn’t have looked more inviting.

Now, I know what a church is, and of course it’s the people, and the church buildings are where the members of the congregation meet to worship; but a church must attract people in order to have a worship service, and I contend a beautiful setting is an integral part of what attracts churchgoers.

If we really want to share God’s message to mankind, then we should use every means available to do so. We should, and many churches do, use technology such as Twitter, Facebook and other social media to attract worshipers; but sometimes we overlook the obvious, which is the visual. Many times, just the building itself is so breathtakingly beautiful that we are drawn to it, and the interior is so inviting that our worship experience comes easily.

However, many other times, a blank, faceless church sitting on a bare parking lot is just as spiritually dead as the asphalt on the parking lot.

It easy to ignore the landscaping, and yes, landscaping costs. However, it seems to me that instead of trying to preach or teach God’s word in a rundown building on a bare parking lot, we should try and do better, and do it visually.

Churches have volunteers who will do just about anything that promotes the Kingdom of God, and if promoting God’s Kingdom is enhanced by a beautiful music, by a gorgeous building or adding landscaping, most members are happy to join and help with whatever the church needs to draw people to God. Many churches even have a Landscaping and Grounds Committee, and with the proper funding and direction could easily move a lot of their properties up a visual notch.

I think it’s very easy to see how a beautiful church set in an attractive landscaping could be more productive in promoting the gospel than a blank building sitting on a bare parking lot. If you believe that, then you should do whatever necessary to enhance not only the looks of your building, but the entire church property. Planting trees and landscaping in a bare church parking area may not be the ultimate thing that will draw worshipers, but what if it did draw worshipers? How many would it have to draw to be worth the expense — 100, 50, 20, 10, five or one? Pick a number.

As I finished this landscaping column, an old gospel song came to mind: “I come to the garden alone while the dew is…” Can you finish this line? Song by Charles A. Miles.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]

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