Churches were built out of necessity but their form and function are symbolic.
Churches were built out of necessity but their form and function are symbolic.

Church buildings have been a cornerstone of Christian faith since the beginning, however, their size and construction have changed over the years. Early Christians met in homes or large public buildings to encourage each other and to maintain unity. As the church grew, the need for larger buildings that were designed specifically for the purpose of worship became obvious. In some cases, existing homes were remodeled to suit such purposes and in others, new buildings were constructed. The design of the church building itself is purposeful, incorporating symbolic meaning from the Bible.

Vestibule

In the Catholic church, the vestibule is usually the first area encountered upon entering the church. This area separates those who are reconciled to the church from those who are not. A baptismal, or pool of water used to baptize infants, is kept near the entrance on purpose, as baptism is the "door to the church" in Catholicism. Near the baptismal are shelves in the wall that hold oil used in different ceremonies, including baptism, confirmation and ordination. In other churches, there may be a foyer immediately upon entry or the doors may lead directly into the nave or worship center, as it may be called.

Nave

The nave is the area of the church where parishioners, or members of the church, sit or stand. In Catholic and Protestant churches, this area is comprised of pews. In modern churches, it is not uncommon to see rows of chairs or even tables with chairs in this area.

Sanctuary

In most churches, the sanctuary is in front of the nave, and kept separate by railing if possible. This area is home to the altar, tabernacle, pulpit and a chair for the priest or pastor. The pulpit is generally raised and used during the sermon, or instructional time of the service. The altar is the place where the priest prepares communion, which is stored in the tabernacle when not in use. Modern churches may simply have a stage without altar or tabernacle. In these churches, the pastor may sit or stand and the use of a pulpit will depend on the local church.

Choir Loft

In some churches, a raised area above the sanctuary, or a set of risers behind the sanctuary may be occupied by the choir. This area is called a "choir loft" and was originally used for the choir to sing responses to the mass with the congregation. Now it is used for a choir to sing hymns or Christian songs.

Non-Traditional

Some non-denominational or modern churches may incorporate other elements into a church building that are more commonly found in community centers or banquet halls. This may include a coffee bar or snack area, nursery and schoolrooms for younger members of the church or prayer closets, where one can pray onsite but separately from the congregation.