The other day, I was reading an article from July 17th's edition of TIME magazine. This is uncommon for me, even though I enjoy reading magazines, because on a limited seminarian's budget, subscriptions are hard to come by. But I get magazines wherever I can, whether it's getting The Atlantic Monthly from my parents, or TIME from Ben (who gets it from his parents).
The article, Redrawing the Cube, is about how businesses are planning on reinventing the "time-honored" tradition of the cubicle: redesigning it to fit the needs of modern day workers and current technology. The photo slides at the top of the page show some remarkably creative ways of making something new out of what is otherwise...dreadfully boring. These workspaces are designed for aesthetics, comfort and meeting the needs of the workers. If you can manage it, try to get your hands on a copy to see more pictures of what people are doing. There are even businesses that are creating common areas that are designed much like the interiors of most cafes where workers can grab a cup of coffee while using their laptop or meeting with their coworkers.
Businesses are on the cutting-edge of redesigning their workspaces to meet the needs of their employees. They make use of inviting workspaces in an effort to stay abrest of trends emerging in the larger culture.
Why isn't the church doing the same thing?
One of the things that astounds me is this quote from the beginning of the article: "Employing advanced materials, tomorrow's technology and the fruits of sociological research, designers are fitting the future workplace to workers who are increasingly mobile and global." (Emphasis is mine). There isn't anything super-secret or mind-bogglingly intelligent in the approach that these businesses are taking to reach these solutions. They are going beyond their discipline into sociology to help them figure out what they can do to give the people what they need. There is nothing that prevents the church from following their lead -- looking beyond the theologians and pastors to examine current cultural and sociological trends to help inform us about church...and how we need to change to fit the needs of the people we currently aren't serving.
The businesses understand this. They realize that aesthetics is an important value people hold. These new designs have a definite aesthetic appeal, making them much more pleasant than the old metal and fabric wall. They capture the senses (beyond sight!) and create a different feel than the old box. Churches seem to be a bit behind in getting this piece. Sanctuaries may be beautiful, but that beauty doesn't always engage one holistically like it did before. The current postmodern generation resonates with a different aesthetic -- not necessarily a visual one.
Even though in some way these cubicles are new variations on an old theme, I get the sense that they represent a new way of projecting forward into the future. To a certain extent, no matter how you dress them up, they'll still be cubicles; workspaces emprisoning employees designed to improve productivity. But what's most telling is this: our businesses are doing a new thing. Why aren't our churches?
I think it's deeper than the fact that dead great-aunt Mildred sat in that pew for 70 years, how dare you replace it! And I'm not necessarily talking about redesigning our worship spaces, although that may be a component of the greater package. Businesses are changing to meet the needs of its employees in a very fresh and innovative way. Why can't we change to meet the needs of our communities?