This is not just a place for people to meet each other, but a house for God to meet us. -King David, 2 Chronicles 29:1
Greet the church that is in their house. -Paul, Romans 16:5
Houses in our society are walls, blocking man from man, man from the universe, man from himself. -Bill Void, 1965
Architectural divisions have led to social and spiritual divisions. The distinction of a place of worship from a place of residence has led to the compartmentalization of worship. Living and worship are seen as separate realms. The home and the workplace have unconsciously become places that are not about holiness.
Further, typical housing contributes to the alienation of people and the atomization of the church. I observed this while growing up in single-family houses. Each nuclear family is isolated within its own building and buffered from the neighboring buildings by yard space. Every square inch is privately owned; no thing and no space is shared. Casualties include fundamental tenets of the Christian life, especially fellowship and accountability. Two hours a week meeting with other Christians in special environments like a church building or a coffee shop does not produce meaningful fellowship or life-changing accountability. Living spaces must be shared by members of the spiritual family, not just the nuclear family.
This is not about the present-day house church movement. There, people gather in a house instead of a church for Sunday service. But most of the attendees do not live in the house. And the house remains merely a house, despite containing a holy function.
This is not even about the early church practice of gathering in houses for teaching and communion. Though here the people lived closely in community and sharing, the buildings remained merely houses.
The Church House sits more in the tradition of monasteries, where ecclesiastical and residential architecture coexist in the same complex. The Church House is not about seclusion, however, but rather insertion into every social and physical context.
The Church House is about the power of place and design to affect our relationships with others and with God. A well-designed church building encourages and inspires the growth of both relationships. Today, however, few houses are well-designed churches; even most churches are not well-designed churches. What I want Christians to envision is the gradual extinction of both the house building and the church building. In their place comes the Church House, a combination of a holy place and a residence, a marriage of the ecclesiastical and the domestic. And the focus in the planning of a Church House is the family of God, rather than the nuclear family; the family of spirit takes precedence over the family of blood.
The church of the Church House bleeds into the house, and the house bleeds into the church. Holiness runs wild. Domesticity is redeemed.
The Church House, though like the ancient monasteries in some ways, is not a Gothic building, nor a Classical one. It has an architecture for the 21st century, an expression from God to our age, a new song to the Lord. The aesthetic of the Church House is ancient, modern, and eschatological.
The architecture of the Church House is born out of awareness that a building is not a mute backdrop, but rather a house of symbols, a chorus of voices that speaks without words or sound, like nature: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God… There is no speech, nor are there words.” (Psalm 19) Meaning is cast into our minds and hearts through our eyes and bodies. And with human compositions this expression is for good or ill, so we strive to design places that speak truth about God. The main question in Church House design is not, Does it attract people? or even, Does it move you? but rather, Is it true?
A Church House is not big, perhaps never will be, perhaps never should be. It could be in a suburban neighborhood, the size of a small house – a few bedrooms, a kitchen, and a holy place. The Church House is not a megachurch, but a nanochurch.
The rending of the veil did not signal the dissolution of the holy place, but rather the setting loose of holiness upon all places. It now stands knocking at the door of every house. Let every house have a holy place; let every church have a bedroom.