Designing and Maintaining Church Buildings of Excellence

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings and they need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  How can you maintain buildings of excellence.  Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of one that you are planning. Will it inspire or meet at mediocrity?

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings.

They need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  From private one on one counseling, to corporate worship, a church building has many activities that take place.  Churches are also unique in that there are a plethora of stakeholders as well.  From the staff to the constituents, many people are invested in both being financially tied to the building as well as users of the space.

Back when I was in college and pursuing a business degree, facilities management was a new discipline being offered.  I took of a number of facilities classes as I was intrigued by how buildings and space influence and support business in tangible and intangible ways.  I eventually decided on getting my general business degree (this was after achieving my broadcasting degree) but my intrigue and love for facilities would always be somehow interwoven through my career.

In my days as a technical director at a mega church, that intersection was primarily on Sunday mornings as I made use of AVL (audio/video/lighting) systems to help support and enhance worship.  As I moved on to AVL system design and sales I learned how to integrate these systems in what seemed like a constant battle between form and function. Today as I work in business development for a design build firm in essence my world revolves around buildings.

As I look at the uniqueness of a church building 5 important things come to mind.

Form

I remember it like it was yesterday sitting in a facilities class in college with the professor going over a handout/spreadsheet (computer spreadsheets were new and there were no projectors in the classroom, just whiteboards) on how to determine what was needed for an office space. To this day I have a love hate relationship with spreadsheets.  They provide great data but I believe can be overused to manipulate that data to get the outcome you desire.

The professor emphatically repeated throughout his lecture/rant that form follows function.  The phrase “form follows function” according to Wikipedia is attributed to Louis Sullivan.  I believe that Sullivan’s was conveying the idea “form follows function”, as opposed to “form follows precedent”. In other words what the building is going to be used for, in Sullivan’s case a skyscraper, required a different form than what was being currently used in construction.

However, what I took my professors lecture/rant to mean was, who cares what it looks like as long as it is efficient.  I have seen many times, where an architect will have an inspired vision and a desire to create beauty in his design, only to have a committee shoot his idea down calling it too grand, even ostentatious. The committee would always seem to come back to function alone as the driving factor. Often a beautiful design was squelched even before price or feasibility came into the equation.

Lest you think I long for gaudy, ornate and the somewhat cold architecture of the past. I believe a church building should somehow reflect tradition as well as contemporary culture and at the same time be inspiring and inviting.  Not an easy task, but it can be accomplished.

Function

If the space is not useable for its intended purpose it is useless. For some reason it always seems to be that acoustics are the thing that is consistently overlooked.  The results usually end up on the opposing ends of the spectrum.  They either seem to be overly reverberant or exceptionally dead. There never seems to be a healthy balance where congregational singing is carried well and at the same time have the programming (music and the spoken word) work well.

As Sullivan stated, the true form of a building is dictated by the function.  This I agree on. After all, if you want to create an intimate space that seats 1,000 people with the furthest seat 60’ away from the platform, a great deal of the form has been determined.  Most likely it will need to be a wide seating area that requires a balcony.  It could also be in the round or steeply raked seating like a movie theater.  The point is that function obviously has a huge impact on form.

I would argue and I am sure you agree that the function does not have to impact the beauty of the space and in common use of the phrase “form follows function” I see beauty as the “form” that everyone seems all too eager to sacrifice on.

People

Another often used phrase is, “The Church is really the people”. Yes biblically and hopefully practically this is true.  The church building is really just a place where we gather together as believer (and no believers) to explore and grow in our faith and in community together.

Where the people part of the equation comes in for me is twofold.  First is the space inviting and inspiring? Secondly the practical side, do we all fit comfortably in the space and is it functional, enough bathrooms, appropriate heating cooling, lighting to make the space comfortable.

The best experiences I have had at church usually happened because the building supported people in the proper way.  It was not too warm or cold, the seat was comfortable, all the tech worked without creating distraction and the bathroom was easy to find, it was clean and also I did not have to wait in line out into the hall before using it!

So when a building functions well and supports people properly it frees us up to concentrate on the purpose that we are there for.

Perception

I have been in buildings less than a year old that screamed mediocrity, just because they were not well-maintained.  Simple things, like a door not working properly, or a picture or signage that is crooked on the wall or the aforementioned stains in the carpet – all said in a subtle way, we don’t care.

I have also been in century-old buildings that are inspiring. The heating and cooling was up to date, the technology fit the space and worked well, and there were no dreaded stains in the carpet or evidence of great wear to be found.  Building that are well maintained convey a message of overall excellence.

People notice things and quickly form opinions. What are people’s perception and opinions of your building?

Purpose

With almost every project I am involved in, purpose has to continually be driven to the forefront.  As humans our personal interests become what is important, we push for things we want. Also, it becomes so easy to get focused on the process and the actual building, that we forget why we are doing it.  By understanding and keeping purpose the primary factor, helps bring clarity and also can keep us from getting hung up in the details.

Ask yourself these questions:
Is your building currently serving your needs?
Do you need to look at the form and function?
Does your building project excellence or an old worn-out shoe?
Do you know and understand the purpose of your building?

Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of a proposed building that you are planning. Work to make sure that it’s not just functional, but will be a facility of excellence which has the capacity to inspire, and brings beauty to all those who enter it’s doors.

 

Why Your Church Needs An Ambassador of the Throne

Nobody likes to talk about restrooms, but they are a very important statement about the church and the perceived quality of the ministry. Here are 5 steps to bathroom perfection.

Something that I have noticed at some growing churches I have visited is that they have really clean restrooms. From the door handles—-to the sink—-and mirror, everything is clean.

In fact, the room sparkles.

No, nobody likes to talk about restrooms, but they are a very important statement about the church and the perceived quality of the ministry.

One of the negative experiences a guest or casual attender can have is visiting an untidy restroom.

Imagine Mary’s (first time visitor) reaction when she enters the restroom and sees paper towel on the floor, cobwebs in the corner, water splashed on the counter and a mirror which has not been cleaned in months.

Top that off with toilets that have yellowed in color over the years and stall partitions that have rust spreading on them. Obviously, Mary would not feel good or welcomed by this experience.

5 things to make your restrooms sparkle.

1) Deep clean the restroom monthly. Most of us are familiar with spring cleaning, that time of year when you open the windows and wipe away the cobwebs.  With your restrooms, every month should be spring cleaning month.  Check them out to make sure all of the corners are clean, all of the smudges are removed from the wall and ensure that everything sparkles.

2) Fragrance can be your friend.
I say can. If you are trying to use fragrance to cover up a bad odor, then people will smell what you are trying to do a mile away.  If there is a bad odor, first find the source and eradicate it.

What a light amount of fragrance can do is give a fresh clean smell to the room.  I would recommend staying away from floral scents and anything that is to over bearing.  Really, what you want is to have is that just been cleaned smell.

3) Fully Stocked. Have you ever washed your hands and then went to grab a paper towel only to find the dispenser empty?

Yes, that is frustrating. Even more frustrating is when a stall is out of toilet paper and you have to look for another stall that has toilet paper, praying the whole time you will find one that is stocked.

Really it’s simple; Check your restrooms before services or events and top off anything that is needed.

4) Lighting and sound.
Proper lighting helps everywhere.  In a restaurant we may desire low level lighting (mood lighting). We like the atmosphere it creates as we don’t want to go to a restaurant and have it feel like you are in a surgical center.

On the other hand, in a public restroom you do want to see that everything is clean so surgical level lighting will also help give it a clean look and feel.  Another thing to consider is background music.  Again this creates a nice atmosphere and let’s face it, it can also mask some of the noises created in a restroom.

5) Keep up appearances. Before and after a service or event your restrooms get a lot of traffic. This is where the Ambassador comes in, the Restroom Ambassador.

Assign a gender appropriate person to keep tabs on the restroom, wipe up water when needed, pick up paper on the floor and make sure everything is stocked.  Doing this will ensure that throughout the event or service everyone will have a positive experience.

One note of caution here, the Restroom Ambassador should be invisible, just randomly entering the restroom to make sure thing look good.

If the Ambassador hangs out in the restroom waiting to take action or continually goes from stall to stall checking supplies, people will become uncomfortable with the Ambassadors presence.  People really do like privacy in the restroom.

A lot of ministries get the first 4 steps, but miss out on assigning a Restroom Ambassador.  To make sure that everyone has a positive experience having a Restroom Ambassador is a necessity! So go and clean, put in a fresh scent, get the proper lighting and make your restrooms sparkle.