As a result of the global recession, funding for artistic projects, communities, and individuals is being cut. Rather than killing the creative spirit, however, these cuts seem to be spawning creativity in ways to save money in artful ways. For example, a recent post at The Guardian Theatre Blog highlights several innovative approaches to building theatres that make financial sense and make art. One of these projects is The Jellyfish Theatre, described on their website as “an eye-opening new venue made entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials.” The Guardian article claims that this will be the first ever theatre venue constructed from 100% recycled and reclaimed material. Now that’s an accomplishment! Here’s a digital projection of what the theatre will look like. Unfortunately, shows will only run in this theatre for a little over two months before it will be dismantled.
Some theatre companies are abandoning theatre buildings completely and getting creative by performing in abandoned building or public spaces, although this is not an entirely new development. Performing in the streets and other public places has a long history in theatre. A more permanent example is the Waterloo East Theatre that is soon to open in Lambeth. Because the designer has no funding, grants, or loans, he is making do with recycled materials and hopes that besides being an example of artistic creativity within constraints, it will be a beacon of environmental awareness.
What can Christian churches learn from these developments and initiatives in theatre? Should Christians be thinking more creatively about the places where they meet for worship? Should millions of dollars really be used to construct impressive and elaborate church buildings? Interestingly enough, if you google “innovative church spaces” or “innovative church buildings,” most of the top results include companies that build massive churches or individuals highlighting enormous church complexes constructed to be a one-stop shop for your every spiritual need.
What I would love to see is churches thinking creatively and with innovation about worship spaces that do not cost millions so that those millions can be spent caring for people’s needs. I know this is a controversial point, but perhaps it would be less controversial if by more cost effective we did not mean ugly. All too often building a cost-effective church means meeting in a white-washed cardboard box of some kind with gray folding chairs and a scribbled Jesus banner hanging up front. What I imagine instead is a community of people using their creative abilities to create a beautiful, engaging space while aiming to save costs and focus on how the church space contributes to God’s mission to the world. When my wife and I spent a year working with Armonía Ministries in Mexico, one of their practices was to design and build their community spaces with donated material and in a way that would serve the community’s needs. Because of this, the community would take ownership of the building and pool together their creativity and artistic talents to make the space not just functional, but beautiful. The building materials were corrugated metal and concrete, but the result was something meaningful and beautiful like the painting pictured on the left.
Can you think of other examples where Christians communities have constructed innovative worship and meeting spaces, and by innovative meaning both cost-effective and beautiful? Do you think the churches should be even more radical and not have their own buildings at all, but simply meet in rented spaces in order to save money? Of course, sometimes this is inevitable, but what are the advantages or disadvantages to this perspective?