The aesthetics effect

mercbenzworldI know I bang on about this a bit but I’m increasingly persuaded that aesthetics have a more powerful effect on us than we realise. On Saturday the family and I visited Mercedes Benz world in Surrey. If you’re near that part of the world it’s a great free couple of hours out. You can wander round and look in and sit in their beautiful cars. You can have a go in their simulators. You can see some of their artwork and exhibitions. You can get a quality cup of coffee in branded cups on branded saucers with branded napkins. You can enjoy the most immaculate facilities that even have little bottles of hand cream for gentleman. The staff are smart, smiling, and friendly. The space is open and full of natural light. The floors are clean, and the lifts aren’t full of graffiti and chewing gum. All of this makes you feel very good indeed. So much so that I found myself thinking “If I did happen to have fifty grand to blow on a new car I’d probably come back and see you guys.” Now clearly I don’t. But that’s not the point. The point is the beautiful aesthetics had a more powerful and intoxicating effect than I’d realised. They’d almost hypnotised me. So I thought “what about church?” Is there something to learn here? Clearly we’re not selling a product and trying to brainwash people. But nevertheless is there something about our aesthetics which will determine whether or not people might return. Or worse, is there anything about our aesthetics which ensures they probably won’t. We want the stumbling block to be the gospel not our aesthetics. And if a good aesthetic might grant us another hearing hasn’t that got to be worth considering more seriously than perhaps we do? Thoughts?

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7 thoughts on “The aesthetics effect

  1. i always wonder about this. having studied graphic and communication design at uni, with modules in advertising, i then decided i didn’t want to follow that career because it’s quite manipulative etc. but now i work at a church i love designing the fliers and publicity stuff for the church, because it feels like ‘advertising’ something really important that i feel people really need… but i do worry about the balance of it all. is it right for me to spend ages focussing on the subconscious messages certain colours or fonts might give off for church work? or is that too manipulative for the sort of thing it’s meant to be… tricky one! but i agree that churches do need to start making things look nicer, some of the design stuff you see coming from churches can be terrible, and it is probably off putting to some people.

  2. Lots of current studies in current moral psychology would back up this observation. Some of it is fairly obvious, for example, people will rate themselves as having had a better day at work if they went to work and the office was clean compared to a day when they went to work and there was the odd banana skin lying around and fart gas had been sprayed about.

    As daft as this may sound but thinking about aesthetics also takes into account the nature of the “whole person” (a popular concept in modern day evangelicalism right!? (Dan Strange seemed to like the phrase)). If we do really think that people are more than just people with a gospel shaped hole in some module of their brain but as people with aesthetic values, moral values, heart commitments, unstable character traits that all seem to be intertwined etc etc then why let aesthetics get in the way of the gospel!?

    Obviously the above thought should be handled with care. But things like clean floors, windows and fart spray, psychologically speaking, do have an effect on people’s judgement and often judgements concerned with a moral faculty (the emotion of disgust is often an elicitor of moral objection rather than mere conventional objection).

  3. Can totally see where your coming from Martin. Deffintley think it can be a huge aid to the Gospel when visuals and aesthetics are done well. People do seem to respond better to it and at the very least, it can help not to put people off even if it doesn’t become the reason why people are intrigued.

  4. Can totally see where your coming from Martin. Deffintley think it can be a huge aid to the Gospel when visuals and aesthetics are done well. People do seem to respond better to it and at the very least, it can help not to put people off even if it doesn’t become the reason why people are intrigued.

  5. I’m with you on this – that Chris Green has influence! But the question that I find hard to answer is what kind of aesthetic should a church have and maybe we need to be more specific, what aesthetic should my particular local church have? Presumably we don’t just aim at Starbucks with the Spirit 😉

    1. now that’s a good question. I visited a church recently which had outstanding aesthetics in one sense, but communicated all the wrong things with it. The auditorium had no natural light so seeing others was very difficult – they might as well have not been there. So you’re dead right to say that good aesthetics must include something about what is being communicated. BTW Starbucks with Spirit will be in the new creation I’m sure.

  6. In reply to martins last blog post:
    Couldn’t agree more Martin.
    We have become so visually sophisticated that we can find ourselves disregarding things if they aren’t up to scratch – if they’re not bothering to communicate clearly or relevantly or failing to inspire.
    At Grace Community Church on Sunday we were hearing about being “all things to all men” for the sake of the gospel, I believe it applies here. We live in a visual culture and so i’d go as far as saying that churches have a *responsibility* to take their visual communications seriously, therefore becoming credible in the eyes of onlookers.
    After all the gospel is better than any Merc you saw in that show room, and its better than any other product we may aspire to possess. If we’re serious about executing Jesus’ Great Commission & passionate about the salvation we’ve found, too right we shouldn’t just care, we should look like we care!

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