Since joining Logos, my business card says “Information Architect”, which means i’m supposed to be thinking about the structure of information, as well as what we used to call the user interface (the preferred term among practitioners these days is “user experience”). In a nutshell, the user interface (UI) is the practical means by which people access and interact with your system. The term applies to many kinds of systems and devices beyond computers: you can think of that handle on your refrigerator as part of its UI.
Do churches have a user interface? Well, not exactly, but a recent survey conducted by Lifeway Research found that unchurched people preferred church buildings that resemble a medieval cathedral over more contemporary styles, by a ratio of 2-to-1. The study was sponsored by a group of firms that develop church facilities, and found the preference was especially strong among those ages 25-34.
Here’s one conjecture about their finding: systems and devices that have familiar features also tend to be more usable. There are lots of ways you might imagine to control the direction or transmission of a car: but most people have learned to use steering wheels and console-based shifters, and consequently you can get into most any car with no confusion about how to operate it. (in UI design, these features are called affordances) I suspect many people prefer Gothic-style buildings, not because they work better, but simply because they present a more familiar user interface that matches their expectations of how the outside of a church “works”. Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer points out in the article that, just because unchurched people say they prefer a particular architectural style, that doesn’t mean they’re any more likely to actually attend such a church.
(Hat tip: DJ Chuang at Leadership Network)