Derwin Gray on How Physical Space Impacts Prayer–From the Church Architect’s Desk
Derwin Gray, former NFL player and founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church, discusses cultivating a life of prayer and intimacy with God in this week’s ChurchPulse Weekly podcast, "Derwin Gray on How the Lord's Prayer Has Reshaped How He Views Intimacy with God and His Beliefs About the Importance of Physical Space."
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I was really excited to hear that Barna had lined up Derwin Gray for the second podcast in the “Making Space” series. Pastor Gray’s book The Good Life really impacted me last year after frustration and discouragement had set in with the uncertainty of COVID. It was around that time that I started searching for beauty as reminders of God’s goodness.
Derwin touched on something in the episode that resonates deeply with me—both in the sense of what “the good life” is, as well as the conversation about what kind of space connects us with God in prayer. He said, “people have a hunger for beauty.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I am fascinated by beauty and God’s design of the world. In fact, beauty is a major part of how God has gotten me through some dark times in life.
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I think Derwin’s observation is correct: People come to the church looking for transcendence, something better than the news, something bigger than their own overwhelming lives, something beautiful to draw them out of themselves. He said, “God uses spaces and places to draw us to the magnificence of his love and his care and his presence.”
Just as Derwin mentioned the coffee shop where he writes, and the Montana camp that his family has visited for so many years, I have a few places that serve as beautiful reminders of God’s goodness, that are especially meaningful in difficult times.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of those places looked like a modern worship center. I’m not putting down modern worship centers—I’ve designed scores of them! But as Derwin said, “We get so technologically advanced that we look just like the world. The church needs to have a distinction that is utter and beautiful.” Sometimes all we need to do is set aside a small space with a unique purpose that in turn changes our practices and ultimately transforms our hearts.
"Sometimes all we need to do is set aside a small space with a unique purpose that in turn changes our practices and ultimately transforms our hearts." –Derek DeGroot, VP of Design & Integrated Services, Aspen Group
One unique thing that churches can offer is space to pray. Of course, you can pray anywhere—that’s one of the beauties of prayer—but there is something about a space set apart for prayer that invites us into a practice that we often tend to neglect. Churches can take advantage of what Danish Architect Jan Gehl observed, that people generally do what they’re invited to in the built environment. If you want to reinforce a practice of prayer in your church, why not create a beautiful, inviting space just for prayer?
I think we’ve often missed this in our modern church design. Gothic churches used to have a layout in the sign of the cross, with chapels and prayer rooms in the wings designated as spaces for quiet prayer. But for many churches, worship has gotten louder and spaces for quiet time with the Lord have become scarce.
The church has the ability to offer two things that the world desperately needs right now: space to connect with people who are different from us, and space to connect with God away from the anxiety and hurried pace of the world. One of my prayers as we work on this Making Space for Formation research project with Barna is, that it might help churches consider a new kind of space to design for their congregations, including spaces that encourage spiritual disciplines. I think most pastors already would say that they think of their church as “a house of prayer.”
What would it look like if you designed and built distinct spaces in your church to more fully be “a house of prayer”?
About Derek DeGroot
Derek DeGroot is Vice President of Design and Integrated Services for Aspen Group. After graduating from University of Illinois-Chicago’s architecture program, Derek began his career in residential design. At the same time, his church was embarking on a building project. Derek quickly realized that churches needed to find a better way to build. Soon after, he discovered and joined Aspen Group in 2007.