Do Church Buildings Still Matter? How U.S. Adults Feel About Spiritual Spaces

Articlesin Culture & Mediain Faith & Christianity•November 2, 2022

Does sitting in a church building evoke a sense of transcendence or offer moments of calm in an often-chaotic world? How might our physical experiences of a church relate to our worship and understanding of God?

As many pastors struggle with how best to retain members and grow them spiritually post-pandemic, new research from Making Space for Inspiration—the first journal in a three-part series created in partnership with Aspen Group exploring why church design matters in ministry—suggests opportunities for leaders to connect with current and new congregants, starting with a more intentional approach to the places they meet.

Making Space for Inspiration

Just 3 in 10 U.S.  Adults Regularly Visit Spiritual or Transcendent Spaces
One of the goals with this study was to assess respondents’ feelings surrounding space, starting first with one’s perception of transcendence or connection to a higher power. This was especially important to consider in the wake of pandemic-era disruptions that have left many churches wondering about ideal environments for worship services.

In the report, a transcendent space is defined as “a physical place that brings you closer to experiencing connection with something beyond the physical world.” More than half of U.S. adults (55%) say they do not regularly visit a space they consider transcendent. Self-identified Christians are only slightly more likely to say they frequently visit transcendent spaces: 37 percent claim they do so on a regular basis.

What makes a space transcendent? A sense of peace or calm (51%) tops the list for most Americans. Interestingly, no segment—including practicing Christians, who by Barna's definition attend church regularly and say their faith is important to them—exceeds 50 percent in saying “an awareness of a greater power” makes a place transcendent.

47% of U.S. Adults Say Sitting in a Church Makes Them Feel Peaceful
In a world where we are more fragmented and disconnected from each other and meaningful experiences, it seems even more imperative that the spaces people inhabit, worship in, visit and rest in are places of peace and calm.

Many adults—especially Christians—say they feel peaceful when sitting in a Christian church. In fact, most Americans experience positive emotions when sitting in a church building, reporting they feel “peaceful” (47%) “connected to God” (42%), “safe” (40%), “welcomed” (39%), “comforted” and “hopeful” (37% each).

Despite their warm feelings towards these spaces, do Americans specifically label church buildings as a transcendent or spiritual place?

Data show over half the general population (62%) and 89 percent of practicing Christians believe Christians churches are transcendent. For most U.S. adults, though, nature comes in first place (70%), alluding to opportunity for church leaders to creatively incorporate nature into their church design or ministry.

The data show that there is ample opportunity for churches to become safe, inviting, welcoming spaces for all Americans, not just Christians. If pastors are open to making changes, the church building and the land it sits on can be used to solve some of the formative issues pastors are grappling with for their people today. Making Space for Inspiration points to some of the ways that can be done.

Making Space for Inspiration

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About the Research
Research for Making Space consists of data and analysis based on an online quantitative survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted from February 28–March 9, 2022. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. For this survey, researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the United States population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).

Photo by Raimond Klavins from Unsplash.  

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2022

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