Rest for the Weary: 4 Ways Your Church Can Be a Place of Respite
In today’s world, we are constantly connected. Whether it’s Wi-Fi on planes and trains, or Bluetooth-enabled cars, or even waterproof devices that allow us to check e-mails in the shower, people are wired—and weary. Based on an Aspen/Barna study, the next generation is looking for a place to rest from their highly plugged in, fragmented lives. The church may be the perfect place for them to find it.
For thousands of years, the church has provided a natural place of respite in its design. The cathedrals of old encouraged reverence for—and solitude with—God. Only recently, with changes to the function, technology, and costs of our facilities, have our churches lost their sense of sanctuary—their purpose as a quiet place to rest and simply be with God.
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As churches have sought to inspire its congregants to grow spiritually through classes and services, church design has shifted to accommodate these activities. Instead of the building’s design pointing us to God, we now rely primarily on programming to do this. We need our auditoriums, kids spaces, and lobbies to be functional feeders of our growth engines. And yet, based on our research, the church needs to serve as a sanctuary as much as it needs to spiritually challenge its members, both young and old. Especially for our youth, we will continue to lose the younger generation if the church is not a place that offers rest for the increasingly weary.
The good news is that respite spaces aren't complicated to create. But they do require intention. Here are four factors to consider for creating modern-day respite spaces in your church:
1. Create respite spaces that are in the flow of people’s routine.
Designing vignettes of respite in places that are part of people’s everyday routines can help them disconnect from the world and connect with God in the course of their week. For example, St. James Lutheran Church, a cathedral-style church on a busy corner in Chicago, features a quiet, candle-lit sanctuary and a small labyrinth on the corner sidewalk that’s accessible to all who pass by. This labyrinth provides a spiritual connection for many pedestrians throughout the week, and a deeper tool for spiritual formation for those who are part of this church.
Whether it’s installing an additional window to gaze out of in the sanctuary, or planting a garden for churchgoers to stroll in, or placing a bench by a pond to invite reflection and rest, churches have myriad options for creating places of respite on their grounds and in their facilities.
2. If you’ve got a rest stop, make sure everyone knows.
When you’re driving down the highway feeling drowsy behind the wheel, the most appealing sign you can read is the one that screams, “Rest Stop: Next Exit!” You immediately anticipate the benefits of pulling over and taking a break. In the same way, churches that have places to “pull over” and take a break should promote these so everyone knows they’re there.
If you’ve got a rest spot at your church, make it clear where it is and what it’s for. The unchurched will thank you for guiding them to this quiet hideaway and helping them understand how to use it. And your seasoned churchgoers will appreciate having access to a quiet space from time to time. If your church features cathedral-like design elements, play up these ornamental features, such as windows with detailed decorative heads and sills. Use landscaping around that park bench. Give your respite a name to help communicate it. By adding even the slightest bit of attractiveness to our respites, we call them out as places to take advantage of.
3. Provide temporary but complete voids of interruption.
More churches now give young moms a break by offering play equipment for their children and cafés to connect with other mothers. But in order to provide a true respite, churches can take it one step further. In addition to a play area, for instance, if we offered child care so that mothers could fully disconnect from their kids and others and enjoy some quiet solitude with God in your sanctuary during off-hours at church, you might see renewed energy among your Millennial parents and a willingness for young moms and dads to connect more deeply to your church.
Go the extra mile and create space that's completely void of interruption. It's what our culture needs.
4. Repurpose traditional churches to be places of private prayer.
The sacred spaces of yesterday (e.g. cathedrals and traditional churches) are increasingly being abandoned, and they no longer serve their useful purpose as a church. At the same time, because of their design, they can’t serve much else of a purpose. What if churches reclaimed these existing spaces? Could they be repurposed into sacred space for prayer and respite? Could they be used as off-site or multisite venues to create a different kind of experience?
The world is acknowledging a need. Will the church step up?
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.