Lifeway Research, part of the Southern Baptist Lifeway Christian Resources, has conducted a survey of 1684 unchurched adults in America (defined as not having attended any religious services in the past six months). They were given four options of church styles to choose from, with the instruction to allocate preference points among the churches. The winner, by close to a 5 to 2 margin, was a Gothic cathedral style, shown in this graph.
Ed Stetzer, the director of Lifeway Research, was surprised, expecting modern, unchurched people to prefer the more contemporary style, which, actually, placed last among the four. He surmised that this was perhaps the desire for feeling a connectedness to the past.
Younger people especially prefer the Gothic look: "Those between the ages of 25 and 34 used an average of 58.9 of their preference points on the more ornate church exterior. Those over the age of 70 used only an average of 32.9...on that particular church exterior."
"'I don't like modern churches, they seem cold,'" said a respondent who chose the Gothic exterior. "'I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that's transcendent.'"
Especially important for the consideration of those building churches, and salient for our project here, more than half of the respondents said a church's design would impact their enjoyment of a visit to a church. The interior, too, is important, for respondents allocated more than a third to the traditional Gothic nave look—more than double that for a contemporary theater setup.
This is an encouraging survey, for it shows that the appreciation of beauty has not been completely lost in America. And as this reminds us, beauty is one way that we can be drawn closer to God. It will be interesting to see how Southern Baptist megachurches respond to the issues raised in this survey.