Consider the Bathroom: an (Im)Modest Proposal for Church Architecture

The first time I walked into a church and found two French Provincial pink and blue stuffed chairs near the pulpit, I thought they had been brought in for a drama of some sort. I was participating in a worship conference and had arrived early to check out the piano, organ, and sound system. I assumed someone would remove the chairs after the drama section of the program.

As the conference progressed, however, I discovered that no drama had been planned. The French Provincial stuff was not temporary. Someone explained to me that the congregation had added the chairs to make their sanctuary look more like a living room. A living room is, after all, where families have fellowship, the member reminded me.

Since many speak and think of the church as an extended family, I suppose it is not surprising to see furniture from homes in churches. Carpets too. We like our homes nice and quiet and have learned that carpets are soft on our soles as well as our ears. Few stop to consider what effect that "quiet" might have on church music.

As I was driving home that night, it occurred to me that maybe the living room isn't the best room in our homes to model a church building after. After all, families that can afford fancy living rooms probably have dens or family rooms where their real family living takes place. Many living rooms are just for show. Maybe another room would be more appropriate.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there's another room in our homes that is vastly superior to the living room as a model for church architecture. I would like to make a modest proposal that churches consider this room in future planning.

The room I have in mind is the bathroom. The bathroom is a room no family can do without. It's also a room that in at least three basic ways is superior to the living room as a model for churches.

First, consider the purpose of the bathroom. We enter in need of cleansing, of renewal. No pretense is possible there. We leave cleansed, refreshed, and ready to go out into the world again. The shower serves as a reminder of our baptism. The mirror shows us who we are, as we are, both before and after cleansing. Here is a room no one can ignore.

Second, consider bathroom dimensions. A living room is ordinarily much longer and wider than it is high. Not so the bathroom, where the ceiling is proportionately higher. It seems to me that while a living-room church design might promote fellowship, its focus is far too horizontal. The bathroom has the appropriate vertical dimensions. Much better as a model for worship.

Third, consider the acoustics. Here is where the bathroom really excels. We can lift our voices in praise, and the very shape of the bathroom gives a full-bodied sound to our music. The sound that comes forth reveals the transformation of one in need of cleansing to one who is given power to witness far beyond the walls of the room.

Consider the hard surfaces along with the proportions of the room, and you will soon learn the secret of good church architecture. When adapting the model to the church, the furnishings need to be a bit different, I'll grant. But, oh, how cleansing, how uplifting, how invigorating it would be to walk into a church and raise a congregational voice in song that brought the neighbors knocking at the door.

The great thing about the church is that even though people need to enter one at a time, there is room for everyone at once. If we get too crowded, we can build another church-— provided we remember the appropriate model of the bathroom. Or we can start having services morning, noon, and night. Maybe even daily.

Emily R. Brink ( is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 9 © September 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.