All buildings speak, and they speak in many ways. Sometimes they use written words. Drive through the Midwest and you see barns proclaiming, “See Rock City,” urging travelers to visit a massive natural rock formation atop Look out Mountain in Tennessee. Sometimes buildings speak out loud. In the center of Indianapolis, when you walk past a radio station’s building, you hear what is currently on air.
Other buildings speak without words. An elementary school that shines with faculty and students working together has walls that whisper, “These children are special.” There is an ancient tradition that says structures—stones and bricks and locations—speak. They may not use words like humans do, but they do communicate meaning related to the events and experiences associated with them.
The buildings housing our worshipers communicate. Even if the people themselves are silent, whether in prayer or in doubt, the stones cannot be silent. Buildings that express beauty and faith through symbols and design tell stories about how worshipers’ facilities reinforce their faith identities.
One way to look for the message that a religious building communicates is to interpret the building in the same way one interprets Scripture. This looking includes seeing what the whole facility has to say. Discerning a building includes actions. Ask questions.