November 5, 2014—Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place. A stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine.

How does this design shift impact worshipers? What about outsiders? What do church buildings say about the faith of those inside? And, when it comes to the next generation of believers—who, leaders worry, will darken the church doors less and less often—does the building itself have anything to do with their resistance or attraction to the church?

To understand the principles of design that best resonate with Millennials, Barna Group partnered with Cornerstone Knowledge Network to conduct a multi-phase research program. First, Barna recruited Millennials from a variety of religious backgrounds to tour urban cathedrals, suburban megachurches, city parks and coffee shops. Along the way Barna’s researchers asked what they did and didn’t like about each space, what they would use different spaces for and how they might change each place if given the opportunity.

After observing these Millennials, Barna better understood the scope of issues confronting churches as they work to optimize their buildings for the next generation. The Barna team then developed an online survey for a nationally representative sample of 18- to 29-year-olds. This survey combined word-driven questions with “visual” polling—asking participants to respond to sets of images—for a unique, in-depth look at what types of spaces Millennials resonate with at home, at church and at work. Additionally, the survey sought to uncover Millennials’ perceptions of Christianity beyond the four walls of the church.

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