“Perfect” shapes have long fascinated architects, builders and their patrons. Complete forms like tetrahedra and spheres, whose simplest elements are stable geometries, offer real structural advantages, but the appeal of these geometries more often comes from the way they lend visual power to buildings. It should be no surprise that simple pyramids, cubes, and domes have so often been harnessed to communicate religious ideas and authority. But a too-perfect shape can handicap the kind of organic and unpredictable growth that healthy churches experience.
The risk of a choosing a rigid form was recently brought into focus when I visited a nearby church that meets in an octagonal room. I’m told that her pastor chose the roundish layout because it was a “complete ” form. He’d done so at another church about 15 years earlier. It’s a pleasant, simple room with a strong physical presence. But his main objective was to find a shape couldn’t be modified and would force the planting of new churches to address eventual overcrowding. Both churches have struggled with how to accommodate growth (and acoustics and theological symbolism) issues in a healthy church even as they launched and nurtured new ministry elsewhere. Healthy churches aren’t usually deciding whether to grow or plant, but how to do both.Their experience highlight some of the issues presented by “perfect” shapes.
- Something that is complete cannot, by definition, be added to without destroying the characteristic that first made them attractive.
- When additions aren’t anticipated, the results of building one can yield difficult (expensive) or awkward (aesthetically or functionally challenged) results, tapping resources that might be used for ministry or hampering ministry effectiveness.
- Perfect geometries tend to present acoustical issues because their shapes reflect sound back to the occupied center or symmetrically arranged surfaces create rapidly repeating reflections, or flutter. Careful surface shaping and material choices can reduce or eliminate these effects, but you start off at a disadvantage.
The Holy Spirit can wreak havoc on our plans. And the practical, technical, and symbolic objectives of ministry must be addressed (there’s no other reason to build). But the question that gets asked too rarely is, “What will we do if God blesses this ministry in ways we’ve not yet imagined? “