This is a common question. There have even been questions as to why our meetinghouses, where we worship each Sunday, seem so understated and not elaborate in architecture and design. I have found several articles that can help give answers. I've also included links to them on my sidebar for quick access.
What is the difference between a temple and a meetinghouse?
"Regular Sunday worship, instruction and other social and recreational activities occur in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, or chapels. In temples, on the other hand, faithful members receive specific instruction about the purpose of life and their relationship to God. There they take part in family-oriented ordinances, both for themselves and in behalf of deceased ancestors. Sacred ordinances available only in temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally."
I think that would explain why our meetinghouses are generally understated and not ornately decorated or embellished. We utilize our meetinghouses for a variety of purposeful activities, not only Sabbath worship. It has always been my opinion, however, that generally the chapels in our meetinghouses, though understated are beautiful, as that is where we perform the sacred ordinance of the Sacrament.
I thought this paragraph found in this article, might be helpful as well.
"Often local Mormon Church buildings include more than a chapel. Such multi-use buildings include classrooms, administrative offices for local lay-leaders (bishop and clerk’s offices), a library, a kitchen, and a cultural hall. Mormons sometimes call these local buildings the “meetinghouse,” “church” or “chapel,” but they generally refer to the building itself instead of some specific section. Most LDS meetinghouses display the Church’s logo, meeting times and a “Visitors Welcome” sign somewhere on the building or on a small marquee in front. Additionally, there is the ubiquitous spire or steeple associated with such buildings that tend to reflect, despite architectural nuances, a sense of familiarity and connectedness no matter where they are found throughout the world." - I think this is one of the reasons why our meetinghouses are less stately then our temples, because they are uniform. This gives a great feeling of continuity and enables our churches to be recognizable wherever they may be.
A truly great reference for Questions that are frequently asked about the temple can be found here.
Here is an article explaining the differences between Temples and Meetinghouses or Chapels.
President Gordon B. Hinckley sums up the differences between temples and meetinghouses perfectly in this article when he said,
"These buildings (temples), different from the thousands of regular Church houses of worship scattered over the earth, are unique in purpose and function from all other religious edifices. It is not the size of these buildings or their architectural beauty that makes them so. It is the work that goes on within their walls."
It is what goes on within their walls that makes them different. Understanding those differences can help explain their design and purpose as well.
Questions are good! We love questions! And I love anwers and can always use help in that department so if anyone has any other great answers or references as to what the differences are between temples and meetinghouses, let me know!
So, here's my Frequently Asked Question: When are people going to start sending me pictures of themselves or their families at the temple lot? Today would not be a good day to go take pictures...you will get muddy, but the forcast looks good in the future!