Megachurches and the Iconography of Environment
448 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 83 b&w photos
- Published: August 2016
Buildings and landscapes are as much a part of the Christian church as its creeds—reflecting the faith and proclaiming God. The architecture of the church’s structures and the curating of its grounds are unique windows into the church’s history and the shape of its theological commitments.
Birthed in the iconoclastic spirit of the Reformation, the scapes of Protestant churches have experienced massive shifts in design and scope. From humble beginnings—small buildings and cemeteries—churches today can occupy thousands of square feet across hundreds of acres. The modern megachurch, with its extensive campuses, parking lots, and sprawling lawns, has changed how we think about the church and its spaces. Form follows function, and theology is in both. The shifts in scale, style, and symbol within the church’s common spaces reflect changes in ecclesial priorities, even as they form the theological imagination in new ways.
In ChurchScape, Susan Bratton chronicles the story of the Protestant church’s transformation of landscape and building. Citing the influence of college campuses on megachurch architecture, Bratton examines the features that are a part of many megachurch complexes, including waterscapes, iconography, and outdoor art. Taking readers on a cross-country journey to over two hundred churches, Bratton traces the movement from the small parish building of the nineteenth century to the extensive complexes that form today’s churchscapes. As she moves from church to church, Bratton describes how all the church’s spaces—buildings, greens, gardens, and gateways—together shape its practices, name its beliefs, and form its life together.
Bratton’s work offers the first historical and theological analysis for the megachurch and its physical planners and planters. She demands that all of us look with new eyes at the ways the church may be an innovator without being disruptive, a place of community without becoming exclusive, and a site of abundance without decadence. The church-in-place must consider how its scapes and spaces reflect its sacred life.
Introduction: From Lawn to Landscape
Part 1: History
1. Greens: Christians and Urban Planning
2. Symbols: Churches in Evolving Civic Terrains
3. Gateways: The Urban Megachurch
4. Corporate Campuses: The Suburban Megachurch
Part 2: Roles
5. Fountains: The Campus as Ritual Terrain
6. Iconography: Art and Advertising
7. Gardens, Plazas, and Fields: Recreation, Contemplation, and Remembrance
Part 3: Connections
8. Woodlands, Wetlands, and Wildlife: Caring for Creation
9. Fences, Gates, and Commons: Boundaries and Neighbors
10. Stages and Stadiums: Performance and Outreach
Conclusion: A Practical Theology of Space
Among academics and other cultural elites, the American megachurch has long been an easy target for cheap shots and caricature. ChurchScape brings an incredibly refreshing and helpful corrective to this unfortunate cultural habit. Bratton opens our eyes to the many ways the megachurch continues the ongoing ecclesial narrative while at the same time presenting a set of brand new opportunities and challenges for American religious and civic life.~Eric O. Jacobsen, author of The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment
Professor Bratton’s wide travels and comprehensive reading have resulted in a book that contains ideas and their demonstration through her careful and sympathetic—but not uncritical—analysis of megachurches’ landscapes. The buildings have sometimes been analyzed, especially in articles rather than books, with comments on their frequent departure from the familiar image of a white box with steeple and cross. But Professor Bratton has found serious meaning in their surroundings, partly made of asphalt with or without greenery, pools, or sculpted elements.~Carol Herselle Krinsky, Religion and the Arts
Susan Power Bratton brings a unique array of interdisciplinary knowledge and skill to this carefully crafted ethnographic study of United States' evangelical megachurches. ChurchScape is engagingly written, well illustrated with photographs, and a model case study of the interaction of ecology and religion in the increasingly mainstream religious culture of the American megachurch.~Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics, University of Edinburgh
A creative and fascinating book. Susan Bratton critically examines the relationship between megachurch campuses and their natural environments as well as surrounding urban-social space. She reflects thoughtfully on the link between church landscapes, practical theology, and social ethics.~Philip Sheldrake, Senior Research Fellow, Westcott House and the Cambridge Theological Federation
The many and varied strengths of this book rest on the extensive research involved in documenting observations of the 200 megachurches on this journey. [Bratton’s] descriptions of the churches are written in clear, accessible language with snapshots that give the reader access to a far-reaching narrative....This book is one of great value, especially to those working in the realm of religious-environmental action, as a way to understand the theological values of megachurches in the religious landscapes of this country.~Mallory McDuff, Worldviews: Culture, Religion and Ecology