Squares, Cubes and the Sustainability of Churches and Cathedrals
I was in a stewardship meeting this week where it was expressed that many cathedrals are facing deficit budgets and this set me thinking as to a possible reason why this is the case and the implications for the flourishing of larger places of worship.
The “Square-Cube Law” is the law which determines that there are no enormous insects in the world – and the same thinking can also be applied to the size of church buildings. Let’s assume, for the want of argument, that churches are approximately cubes. Thus if a small church is had length, width and height of L metres and a larger church has double the dimensions (2L) then that larger church will have four times the floor space but eight times the volume. Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that the income of the church is directly proportional to the number in the congregation and this is proportional to the floor space in the church.
The costs of running the church will be related to the total surface area (the six sides of the cube) but also to the volume (for heating for example). Also as the level of ornamentation in the church fabric increases the level of upkeep costs will also rise. Thus as a church gets larger its demands for income can increase faster than the size of the congregation that uses it.
In a commercial building it will have extra floors with commercial activities with each contributing to the costs of the structure – but in a church it is usually by and large an open space.
Thus the larger the church, the less economically viable it is likely to be if it is run from contributions from a single congregatiSo, how can this be countered? Well, in the same way that commercial buildings have more floors, a large church can have several congregations at several services. Many include book shops, gifts shops and cafés to increase the turnover per square foot. The church can be used for events, dinners, concerts, etc.. It can also look to foster work in the communities around it which may generate income.
Another way to look at it is that larger churches (and cathedrals) need a sacrificial amount of giving from a wide community to allow them to be large spaces set aside for God in the midst of the community. Also, as many cathedrals have, they may need endowments that have a large volume of money which works to generate income for the church/cathedral to allow it to continue to operate.