Visual Style: Visual style is the symbolic face a church shows to the world. A church’s visual style is reflected in its logos, bulletins, Web sites, choice of paint colors, architecture, design, and the way the parking lot flows. The way a church looks often reveals how well it is connected to its code. - from “Transforming Church” by Kevin Ford P. 82-85
What does the "face you're showing the world" say about your code?
As we were preparing to build sanctuary and 'other' space at Trabuco Presbyterian Church, we interviewed an number of architects. There is some irony in the architect we chose, Dominy and Associates from San Diego. We looked through their portfolio, we visited their buildings, and at the end of a day - none of them were like what we wanted to build. But we did diligence and interviewed many of their clients about their satisfaction with what was designed for them. When it was all said and done, every single client sang the praises of the architect. What we discovered was that the buildings reflected their values in ways that they couldn't even imagine.
Let me tell you what people said when they walked into the sanctuary at Trabuco: Warm, interesting, peaceful, welcoming, cool, spiritual, casual - but not too, comfortable, accessible, engaging, home. I'm sure there were many other comments. But what I walked away with was that the building reflected all the things we wanted to communicate from the start. We wanted a place that was "lodge-like" in warmth and demeanor - to reflect the congregations since of welcome, home, family. We wanted to reflect the idea that it was a sacred space, but not stuffy or inaccessible to the outsider - we're Christians but not holier than thou - we're like you. It's built in the form of a crucifix, but the center of worship isn't where you think it would be in a traditional church - reflecting the humor of the congregation and just a little bit of irreverence for the way things have always been done. The distance from the "pulpit" to the back of the last pew is the same as it was in the "trailers" - it reflects the intimacy that we had enjoyed in the early days of developing the church. There is a water feature for a baptismal (hope its still working and not a big mistake!). This reflected the more post-modern feel of a church paying attention to the fact that faith is not static creeds, but a dynamic response to the "Living Water" that is among us in Jesus Christ.
Would the congregation be able to discern these things? I don't know. I hope some of them. But the words that people use to describe the space still communicate aspects of code, the character of a church people.
The key to transformation, or for that matter, the key to moving well through technical changes is to honor the code that is at the core of your congregation's being. When you deviate from your code, you begin to develop resistance - even if you're trying to do good things. The resistance is usually that the "way" you're trying to move ahead is inconsistent with who you are. Matching code with the way you seek to change is critical. In many ways the means are the ends - or if you don't follow your code - the means will be your end!