Does Church Need More Sunshine and Less Spotlight?
I Blame Lula Rogers
Remember “Pure Country”? That feel-good movie where country singer Dusty ditches the pyrotechnics and laser shows to get back to his roots? The one about dancing chickens, and the little white bit at the top of chicken poop still being chicken poop? Yep, that one!
As a kid, I watched that movie over and over; it was a time of VHS tapes and I only had a few. Just like Dusty kicked the glitz to reconnect with what mattered, a while back I started wondering—should our churches, temples, etc. pull a Dusty too? In other words, is it time to trade in extravagant production for some, in our case, good old natural sunlight and the comforting crackle of a real fire? There’s something magical about a fire.
The Science Behind the Connection
The Biophilia Hypothesis, a term popularized by biologist Edward O. Wilson, suggests that humans have an innate connection to nature and natural elements1. Studies have shown that even minor interactions with nature, like sitting near a window with a view of trees, can significantly impact our mood and well-being2. I think this extends to our spirituality as well. Feeling at one with nature opens your soul to the connection we have with this place and its creation.
Palaces for the People: The Role of Social Infrastructure
In his book “Palaces for the People,” Eric Klinenberg talks about the importance of social infrastructure, places like libraries and parks that allow for community interaction and engagement3. Churches are a piece of that puzzle, acting as communal hubs where people not only worship but connect. Klinenberg argues that well-designed social infrastructure contributes to community well-being. If places of worship are intended to be places that bring people together to disciple, shouldn’t that place be designed with all of those things in mind? Wouldn’t they be more effective if they did?
So What’s Missing in Modern Worship Spaces?
High-definition projectors, booming speaker systems, and even pyrotechnics are transforming churches into rock cathedrals. While these features may dazzle the eyes, we should ask ourselves, do they nourish the soul? And while they may be needed to attract the attention of younger audiences that grow up going to more sodium-chloride-filled experiences, it doesn’t mean we have to move away from wood, natural light, greenery, etc. completely.
Balancing Technology and Tradition
Many religious scholars and architects are recognizing the importance of designing spaces that are not just functional but also spiritually nourishing. Integrating natural elements like sunlight, wood, and stone can make a huge difference in how connected and present we feel during spiritual practices4.
How Natural Elements Elevate Spiritual Experience
- Sensory Stimulation: Unlike digital spaces that engage only sight and sound, natural elements offer a more holistic sensory experience.
- Cognitive Ease: Researchers have shown that natural settings require less cognitive processing compared to built environments5.
- Intrinsic Connection: Natural elements may facilitate a deeper, more substantive spiritual or existential experience.
Practical Ways to Integrate Nature into Worship Spaces
- Natural Light: Emphasize windows and skylights to allow natural light to fill the space.
- Earth Elements: Use materials like wood, stone, or even water features to bring nature indoors.
- Outdoor Spaces: Create gardens or courtyards where people can sit and meditate or pray.
- Natural Sounds: Think about using natural sounds like wind chimes or running water in your service.
Just like Dusty in “Pure Country,” maybe it’s time we tuned into the natural rhythms of life and spirit. As we navigate the increasing integration of technology, let’s not forget to also nourish our innate connection to the natural world. It’s not just about elevating our spiritual experience; it’s about being deeply rooted in what makes us human. After all, sometimes, all you need is a little sunshine and less spotlight.
- Wilson, Edward O. “The Biophilia Hypothesis.” Island Press, 1993. ↩
- Kaplan, S. “The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995. ↩
- Klinenberg, Eric. “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.” Crown, 2018. ↩
- Joye, Yannick. “Architectural Lessons From Environmental Psychology: The Case of Biophilic Architecture.” Review of General Psychology, 2007. ↩
- Berman, Marc G., et al. “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature.” Psychological Science, 2008. ↩