Defining Good Church Design: Measuring Your Facilities’ Form & Function

Both form and function need to be equal partners – often at great tension with each other- that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

 

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase; Form follows function.

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”
Louis Sullivan 1896

Sullivan is the creator of the modern skyscraper that started popping up in the growing large industrial cities in America in the late 19th century.  The great improvements in steel and also skeletal design at that time fueled the growth in popularity of the skyscraper.

A skyscraper is a good example where function (driven by the need to go vertical as cities grew) was a strong driving factor in the design of buildings in that era.

As we look at our church buildings, what is driving the design form or function?

A modern-day example of form winning out is the Crystal Cathedral (now owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in Garden Grove, Orange County, California.

Completed in 1981 it was touted as the largest glass building in the world.  The Cathedral was known for its terrible acoustics.  The initial $1.2 million sound system installed at the construction of the building was completely unintelligible. The system was 2,800 pew back speakers each row on a digital delay.  Three crystal clusters (custom built speaker clusters) also provided coverage.  Altec horns were added in the ceiling grid to get better frequency response.

However time and phase was not addressed, thus the sound was unintelligible.  The nearly 3,000 speakers were eventually replaced by 11 speakers that created a system intelligible enough to last the next 18 years.  But, it was still not a great place to hear a sermon because of the acoustics of the building.

A modern day example of function leading the way is the trend over the last decade to build black box theater type of worship centers.

In general, they are designed to be acoustically very dead, the ceilings are painted black and as the antitheses of the Crystal Cathedral there are no windows. These spaces were designed specifically to do production style of worship.  The dead acoustics allows for a studio like sound from the worship band.  The controlled lighting and video presentation provides the feeling of a concert.

As inspiring as the Crystal Cathedral was to look at, the black box theater style of worship space screams forget about the building watch only what is happening on the stage.

The two extreme examples above show that when the scale is tipped to heavily to either form or function there are great tradeoffs that end up happening.

My goal is not to say that the Crystal Cathedral or the Black box style of worship center is bad.  Rather my goal is say that both form and function need to be equal partners, often at great tension with each other that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

How can form and function translate to good design at your church?

Function

1. Traffic flow inside and outside

I have a friend who writes a blog and basically makes a living online.  He talks all the time about making interactions with his customers as frictionless as possible.  He posts multiple places, uses multiple social media channels and does direct email.

His reason is to make it as easy as possible for each person to receive and engage with his content.  Traffic flow should be looked at in the same way.

How are you providing the easiest way for your attendees to get in and around your building?  Have you ever just studied your traffic flow on a Sunday?  Often some minor changes to a building or some signage updates can greatly improve the traffic flow.

2. Climate, heating and air conditioning
If your attendees are not comfortable it is difficult for them to fully engage.

Do you have someone who is monitoring the climate control system?  They should be looking at objective data, temperature and humidity.  Everybody has their own comfort zone regarding temperature so the best thing to do is pick a standard and then stick to it.

If you determine temperature off how someone feels on a given service that person may have a cold and thus turn up the heat to try to create comfort for themselves. At the same time this puts many other into discomfort.  The key is consistency. With consistency people can choose what they wear knowing that they will be comfortable at a service.

A person that I know brings a sweater every Sunday (even in the summer) they know sometimes it’s a little too cold for them so they come prepared.

One other note you should check your system every 4-6 months.  I suggest doing it at the change of the seasons.  Check to make sure the system if performing optimally also check the temperature in multiple different spots in the room to make sure the temperature is uniform throughout the space.

3. Sound (lobby noise and sanctuary sound)
I argue that one of the most important parts (if not the most important) is sound.

This includes background noise in the sanctuary and lobby. If people cannot hold a conversation in the lobby because of all the noise created by other people having conversations, consider getting some acoustical treatment to help deaden the sound.

One of the main social functions of church is that people get the opportunity to talk to friends and meet new ones, so create a space that helps make those conversations comfortable.

I also argue that the spoken word is the most important element of a worship service. A poor performing sound system where people need to strain to hear, or like the original system at the crystal cathedral where you could not understand what was being said makes people uncomfortable and frustrated.

Form

1. Beauty
What are you doing to bring elements of beauty into your space, indoors and outdoors?  Take a fresh look and walk around in and around your building.  Would painting an accent wall or adding a piece of art bring beauty?  How about planting some flowers around the entrance and trimming the bushes well you are at it?

A question I ask myself as I visit and consult with churches is; does this space feel institutional or warm and inviting?

Then the important follow up question, Why?  Color, furniture placement, plants and many other things factor into the feeling a space gives.  What are the things of beauty in your space?  What could you change to make the space inviting?

2. Engaging
Along the same lines as making the space feel inviting, what causes engagement in your space?  I have seen artwork bring engagement as well as beauty.  People stopping to view a piece of art and reflecting on its meaning.

Architecture can also do this.  Is there anything on the exterior of your building that engages people?  A recent church I worked with was looking for a new home, the building that they chose to purchase was purchased impart because the industrial look of the building fit well with their brand.

3. Uplifting
We attend church to have an extraordinary experience.  I am not talking about the cool light show and production. The point is the overall experience should not be like our ordinary daily experience.

A building has a personality, it invokes emotion from those who come into contact with it.  Is the personality of your building uplifting?  Do people sense and see something out of everyday ordinary life that lifts their spirit?

Yes, Sullivan is correct when he says the form follows function.  The building needs to work well and suit the needs of the congregation.  It also should point us to our creator with beauty and form.

I contend that good design involves form and function working together to create an extraordinary experience.

5 Elements of An Engaging Church Facility

One of the activities that a church facility needs to facilitate is creating an active sense of community.

It is true that buildings are basically what we call brick and mortar, however we must also recognize that they have character and thus communicate a message about the inhabitants and often facilitate very specific activities.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

This might be as simple as doing some of the above. Moving or creating new coffee stations, creating seating areas, adding tabletops can all give clues to where people should go and connect with each other.

Another way to help in traffic flow is to have key people that set an example or politely encourage people to move to s specific location.

If someone is lingering in front of the coffee station having an extend conversation blocking the area often someone simply coming up and saying excuse me as they walk towards the coffee station with give a social cue that the people in conversation need to move.

Your facility can most definitely facilitate community. 

Your challenge is to do the work and figure out what you can do to help make this happen.

Wayfinding, Which Way is Which?

One of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable. Here’s what you can do to help visitors – before and after – they enter your doors.

I believe one of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable.

The difficulty lies in the fact that every person is unique in their needs and desires.  Some want to be warmly welcomed and shown around.

Others just want to slip in an out unnoticed until they are ready to reveal themselves.

However there is one commonality that can make every visitor very uncomfortable. That is the feeling of being lost.

For most people anyplace that is new and different can be, and often is intimidating.  If the experience is visiting a large unfamiliar church – that visit can be overwhelming. And even being a guest at a small local church can be scary.

So what can you do to make that visitor feel more comfortable – before and after –  they enter your doors?

Give them an experience before the visit.

People feel more comfortable if they know what to expect.

A number of churches do a good job on their website, explaining what attire is expected and giving a little narrative about what to do or where to go.  But why not give people more of an experience on your website?

A church that I am working with is putting together a visitor experience for their website that includes a fly thru with a drone. The drone video will take the visitor from the parking lot thru the entrance, show the visitor center, coffee area, restroom locations and children’s area.

The idea is to stage it so it looks like a Sunday morning. So there would be people in the building, making it look as life like as possible.

I love this idea!

Now if drone footage is not possible for you to get on your website, add a floor plan and pictures.

The more comfortable you can make someone feel the more likely they are to walk thru your doors on a Sunday morning.

Guide their Sunday church experience

For me one of the frustrating things in life is not knowing where to go when I walk thru the door of a building.

The problem for the person designing the wayfinding is that they do know where I want to go or what my level of “knowing” about that building or similar buildings are.

So to make signage work well, the designer of the wayfinding system must take a lot of different variables into account.

Even though there are a lot of variables some very simple truths hold true.

The first is to keep signs clear and concise.  Don’t make people have to think or interpret what the message is.  One of the many great laughs I had at the last WFX in Louisville, KY a few months ago was over this conference center sign.

One of my friends saw the sign and called me over and said, I guess no miracles allowed here because they won’t let Jesus walk on water.  Thus we created the meme

Really wayfinding is a pretty straight forward proposition and with some thought and planning it doesn’t have to be subpar.

What is good wayfinding at your church facility?

Wayfinding is really a simple problem solving exercise:

1) The person needs to know where they are at (i.e. main entrance)
2) They need to know where they want to go (i.e. childrens ministries)
3) They need to find out the route that will get them there
4) They have to be able to correctly follow the route
5) The have to know when they get to the destination

To solve these simple problems with the use of signs:

1) Keep it simple
2) Show only what is needed, don’t overly complicate directions or maps
3) Give clues along the way to keep people on the route.

In addition to having good signage there should also be a person at the welcome area that is very good at giving directions.

The person giving directions should have some simple nice looking floor plans printed on paper.  The direction giver can then draw on the map and point out landmarks along the way.

Another great way to solve the problem of giving directions is to have someone available that will lead the person to where they want to go.

In numerous churches I have been at the children’s check in area is usually the most difficult to find and the most difficult to figure out what to do when you get there.

So having an advocate (guide) that can take a family to the children’s area and then walk them thru the check in process would help make a lot of first time visitors feel much more relaxed and comfortable.

Wayfinding really doesn’t have to be a frustrating, difficult thing.

With some good signage and some people available to assist newcomers. You can easily make all of your guests feel comfortable.

A Word To The Wise When Thinking DIY

I’ve seen and heard some really scary things done with a “do it yourself” AV systems approach

Often when I’m working with churches (particularly smaller congregations), the issue of installing things themselves comes up. It usually revolves around the church purchasing the equipment (hopefully from me – on occasions churches have taken a design I’ve done and then gone online and purchased all of the equipment to install, and then to top it off they call me and ask for advice when it doesn’t work) and then pulling the cables, hanging the loudspeakers and hooking it all up themselves.

I’m all for having volunteers working alongside a qualified contractor. By doing a project in this fashion, the volunteers not only learn a lot about the system, they also get some real “skin in the game” and thus some ownership.

However, based on a lot of years of experience, I’m not a fan of a church doing an installation without the assistance of a professional. Under this scenario I’ve seen and heard some really scary things.

Recently I was at a venue where the ownership had obviously decided to try and save some money on the design and installation of a sound system. It has two loudspeakers that must have been purchased from the local music store – they were a portable design with handles for lugging them around.

To install these loudspeakers, someone came up with the great (not!) idea of throwing a tow strap over a beam and tying each end of the strap to the handles (see the photo above).

In a way, it’s somewhat amusing, but it’s also disturbing and more than a little frightening, because these speakers are hanging 20 feet above an area that people travel heavily, thus creating a huge safety issue. A qualified contractor would never install anything in a fashion that would resemble these hanging weights ready to fall.

Further, the coverage is awful. The loudspeakers are almost 80 feet apart, and as I walked through the coverage, I also determined that they must have a 40-degree horizontal coverage pattern (as I traveled into coverage, then out of coverage, then back into coverage…).

And the sound coming out of these loudspeakers resembles a total “frown face” EQ setting – harsh midrange and not much else.

So, how can you make a DIY successful rather than something resembling this example?

1) Don’t do any part of an installation that you’re not 100 percent confident that you can do correctly. This seems rather obvious, but a lot of folks do not seem to be able to correctly determine if they are competent enough or not.

2) Pay for and use the advice and instruction from a professional. Don’t just try to pilfer information – be up front with them and ask them to provide you with a price to consult you on the project. Note not all contractors will be willing to help with advice only because they’re not used to doing business this way.

And perhaps more importantly, they may be (rightfully) concerned about the liability issues involved by dispensing advice on how to hand loudspeakers. My suggestion is that any part of an installation that could potentially lead to a safety issue should be left for a professional to do.

3) Select a qualified professional that will act as a partner. Choose a contractor that will work with you in dividing the tasks and responsibilities for the project. For example, the volunteers at a church could pull in all of the cable, with the contractor doing testing and termination.

Saving money and having some ownership in the installation of the system is a good thing, just make sure that you can competently (and safely) perform all of the tasks that you set out to do.

 

Church Etiquette For Parking Lots

 
Traffic flow can greatly influence how a ministry functions. Here are four keys to developing a parking lot plan to ensure a safe, timely and engaging welcome.

 

At an earlier point in my life I was on staff at a large church that at the time held 5 services on a Sunday. Three in the morning and two at night.

Particularly in the morning we had huge traffic flow issues.  If the first or second service went over in time by more than 5 minutes our parking lot would literally fall apart.

For that season our parking lot dictated a lot of our ministry, most notably the time element of ministry.

As I look back we did a number of good things to help minimize the problem, but it wasn’t until we expanded our sanctuary and parking area that we could really relax and not feel pressured to push people out right after the service was done.  I am sure this took a toll on the amount and quality of fellowship that normally occurred before and after the service.

Note that traffic flow and parking does not just impact a large church, but a church of any size.  How it is handled at every church leads to many perceptions that people form.

Why does parking and traffic flow matter?

When I visit different churches as I do 30 or so times a year, my first impression after seeing what the facility looks like is the parking lot and traffic lanes.

I usually have an immediate insight into a number of things about the church and its ministry based on what I see.  If the parking lot is full, I begin looking for clues as to how to navigate to find a spot to park.  If the lot is empty or sparsely filled I wonder if I am in the right place, or if the person that invited me inflated the number of people that attend on a given weekend.

Now I am going to make a bold statement.

Every church should have at least one parking attendant and yes they should be wearing a safety vest.

Why would I make such a statement?

Surveys say that the average church on a Sunday morning has 186 people in attendance. Additionally, 50 percent of church goers attend a church that falls in to the top 10 percent of churches based on size.

Another way of saying the previous statement is that ½ of all church goers attend a church that has attendance of 350 people or greater.

Using the figure of 2.5 people per car, that means that the average church has 75 cars in its parking lot on a Sunday morning.  That translates into 75 times parking attendants can share a smile, a warm welcome as well as help and instruction every week. For the top 10 percent of churches where ½ of all church attenders go, that first impression number is obviously a lot larger.

What does a well-trained parking lot attendant (or as I like to say, “parking greeter”) do?

  • 1. Depending on the size of the parking lot and number of parking greeters they are directing traffic. The goal is to keep traffic flowing, moving.
  • 2. A parking greeter helps keep the lot picked up and clean of debris. As traffic flow usually becomes an issue just before or just following the service a parking greeter has sometime before the people start arriving to canvass the parking lot and grounds and pick up litter blown in or left behind.
  • 3. Parking greeters provide a feeling of and actual safety and security.  I recommend that a parking greeter or two should remain present in the parking lot the entire morning.  This will ward off any opportunistic thief that might look for the easy score of the contents of an unlocked car.  It also wards off vandalism attempts and mischief of any kind.
  • 4. I believe that the most important reason that parking greeters are there is to do just that. Smile and greet people.  What an opportunity to make a first great impression on a guest.  Immediately upon arrival they are greeted and have connected with someone who can answer some basic questions that they may have.

Some additional things on parking and traffic flow.

If you are geographically located in the north, you should provide valet parking for those who need extra help and care during those months when the parking lot is covered in snow and ice.  I know a church where the Elders and Deacons run the valet service.  They view Valet parking as a way to connect and to keep watch on the elder community.  If they do not see someone on Sunday morning an Elder will give them a call just to make sure they are doing okay.

I have been at churches that have the Disney style golf carts that pick up people at or near where they park. I have also been to churches who’s parking lot only holds a handful of cars so most parking must take place on the street.

I contend that no matter the size of your church, you need a ministry of active and vibrant parking greeters.

 

When Scents Make Sense For Church

What does your church smell like? Is it a pleasing aroma? Research shows that a visitor will be able to recall the scent from your service far longer than the look of the building.

I am headed to a local Hotel/Convention center for a business gathering in about an hour.  As I visualize what ballroom we will be meeting I also can almost smell what the room will smell like.

Now this really is reverse scent marketing.  In scent marketing you would be somewhere and a comforting or familiar scent will cause you to have an emotional response.  It’s like the friend of mine who told me that every time he smells pipe tobacco, he is carried back to great memories of sitting on his Grandpa’s front porch.

The hotel I am heading to has made a conscious effort to create a “brand” scent.  This is designed so that the minute you walk into the doors of that hotel brand, anywhere in the world, you will recognize the smell and in theory, be comforted or welcomed by it.

Believe it or not scent marketing is big business.  Retailers have discovered that to motivate customers they need to engage in multi-sensory marketing with scent being a very important ingredient.

In reality, the church has been one of the places where scent marketing has been used for years.  In a lot of traditions incense is used.  The most notable use is by the Catholic church.  On a forum I was reading the following question was asked:

“I can be ten feet away from the doors of any Catholic church and all my life they have all had the same distinctive smell. There is nothing bad about the smell at all. In fact, it is the most comforting smell that I can think of. It is so universal that I don’t think it has anything to do with certain churches using incense at certain times, although I guess I could be wrong in that. Could it have something to do with the holy water at the entrances? Seriously. I have been to many different churches, some more orthodox than others, and this is the one and only consistent thing I notice. Does anyone else notice this or have an explanation?”

The most common answer in the forum was the Eucharist (the bread and wine).  Whether it is that or the candles or the incense is not important to me.  What is intriguing is that for the Catholic church this scent is almost universal, in the old and the modern churches.

 

Have you ever come back from vacation opened the door to you house and immediately recognized the smell? I remember the smell of the church I attended as a child. Every time I eat spaghetti I think back to that small church and how it always seemed that there was always a spaghetti dinner being served there.

What does your church smell like?  Is it a pleasing aroma?

The church I currently attend grinds its own beans and brews the best smelling coffee around.  On Sunday morning when I arrive I love being invited in by such a rich aroma.  I have had the experience a couple of times where I met someone at a coffee shop and the smell of the brewing coffee brought me mentally back to church.

On one of those occasions, what also came to memory was the previous Sunday’s sermon. During the conversation with the person I wound some of what I had learned on Sunday into that conversation.  Did the aroma help bring that information to front of mind?  Personally, I believe the Holy spirit uses all sorts of clues, external (physical) and internal to trigger thoughts in us that lead to action.

I want to be very clear here, I am not advocating using scent for manipulation.  In fact, studies show that if the scent doesn’t fit the experience it leads the brain to confusion.  That study also pointed out that people can recall scents with 65 percent accuracy after a year.  Whereas people can recall visuals with a 50 percent accuracy after 3 months.

So, a visitor will be able to recall the scent from your service far longer than the look of the building – including the super cool set with LED tape that you have on stage.

My closing thought is what should church smell like?  Coffee, Spaghetti, the Eucharist?  I suggest it should smell like you as a church want it to smell.

It really should be part of your DNA.  Final note, if you church smells musty and old, or has a foul odor, find the problem and fix it.  Then you may want to look into a scent delivery system.

 

5 Ways to Instill A Call to Ownership in Your Church Facility

It really is great when people take ownership of your church, they take initiative and responsibility. They take notice and treat things better. After all isn’t that why we say, “treat it like your own” if you are using or borrowing something?

 

Who owns the church building? Maybe the better question is who paid for the church building?  A pastor that I used to work for always loved to hear people refer to the church as “my church”.  So rather than say “at Community church this is going on”, He liked to hear people say’ “at my church this is going on” For him it was affirming that people had taken ownership, it showed that a person closely identified with the church.

It really is great when people take ownership, they treat things better. After all isn’t that why we say, “treat it like your own” if you are using or borrowing something?

Ownership is great, but how can you foster it?

1.) Reminder Notes

In a classy way give people a call to action.

For example, you could put a nice looking table top in the bathroom that says, “As we all are the church, please help in keeping it clean.  After you have wiped your hands please use that same paper towel to wipe down the counter.”

You could put similar cards in the kitchen and coffee areas.  The key is to keep it a positive call to action.  Avoid the shaming, nagging signs like “your mother doesn’t work here, clean up after yourself”.

2.) Example

When I was in college I had a cool opportunity to be in a group that met with a billionaire in our town.

We were walking downtown taking a tour of some of his properties.  As we were walking, without missing a second of conversation, the billionaire bent down a picked up an empty cup sitting on the side walk.  He then carried that cup to the next stop at one of his properties and threw it in the trash.

The rest of that day –  all of us college students were picking up anything that was on the ground that even resembled trash.

He, the Billionaire – on many levels – set an example.

a) He was humble, not above the task of picking up garbage.

b) He showed he cared about what the city looked like.

c) He took ownership of keeping HIS city clean by picking up the cup and carrying it until he found a proper means of disposal..

People follow leaders.  What kind of example are you as a leader setting for your congregation?

3.) Proclamation

I am not a big fan of making a lot of announcements during a service, but occasionally it is good to give people a reminder of what, as a church, you think is important.

Again make sure you keep it positive and simple.

For example, “One of our core values is excellence unto the Lord, you can help us accomplish excellence in the presentation of our facility by making sure you pick up the cups and papers around you and dispose of them in the containers in the lobby. Doing this ensures that the next service can walk into a clean sanctuary just as you did this morning.”

4.) Stewardship

What we value we generally make happen.  If you value stewardship it would be good to remind people in your annual report about how we as a church must be a good steward of the facility that we have be given the privilege of caring for.  Following the reminder, it would be a great time to ask people to volunteer to clean the parking lot, care for the landscaping, paint or do anything that needs to be done to help beautify the facility.

5.) Call to action

Most pastors are good at putting a call to action at the end of their sermon. It would be wise to also occasionally include a call to ownership.

It might be a call for people to represent their church in a positive manner by living a God honoring life.  It might be a call to take ownership of the homeless problem in your city.  It could be a specific call like caring for the facility that we as the church are all responsible for.

Once people take ownership, they take responsibility.  Go and remind people who the church is and who the owners are.

What Does Your Church Facility Have To Do With Attendance?

The simple answer is nothing and everything.

I am sure you have seen massive churches that have very low attendance, relative to their size.  I am also sure you have seen a small church bursting at the seams with people.  As with most things in life, shall we say, the answer is also complicated.

Holy Spirit-filled ministry in any building brings growth, but I also believe that great Spirit-filled ministry results in great things that permeate throughout the entire ministry, including the facility.

So what can you do with your facility to help encourage attendance?

1.)  People come to church for an experience.

This experience is both spiritual and social.

I worked with a church who had an amazing piece of local artwork that you encountered as you walked in the front door.  It was a beautiful representation of Christ made with tiny pieces of colored glass.

It was such a thing of beauty that it caused you to pause and take it in.  It also became a great discussion starter for anyone new to the church. As they would see the art piece and stop to gaze at, a well-positioned greeter would chime in at the right time say how beautiful it was and how it was done by a local artist.

For those that attend or visit this church they have an experience that immediately points them to Christ and at the same time offers an opportunity for social engagement.  What in your facility brings a social or spiritual experience?

2.) People come to connect and fellowship.

One of my favorite things to do before a worship service starts is to hang out in the lobby and just observe what happens out there.  It’s great to watch old friends connect, to see people hug those who are hurting and to watch the joy the expressed and people connect.  ‘

Do you have a place that allows this connection to happen?  Do you encourage it by placing appropriate furniture and fixtures around to serve as anchors for people to connect?

3.) People come to find meaning.

One of the reason people come to church is to make sense out of this crazy life.  As mentioned above artwork can be a great way to for people to see things in a different way.  Sometimes art can be that catalyst that helps one find meaning.

Something as simple as having a place for people to bring goods and items to drop off to go help the needy is another way for people to connect and find meaning.

4.) People come to seek respite from a noisy world.

Today we are all bombarded with so many messages, many of them conflict with our Christian walk.  People who come on Sunday are wanting to take a deep breath, refocus and if only for a brief period of time get some separation from the noise.

In your facility are there areas where one can “escape” and get alone with God?  Do you have separate prayer areas? Seating areas that are in some out of the way places? Ultimately it is the individual’s responsibility to detach from the noise.  However, some simple things in your facility can help facilitate in that endeavor.

I really like it when there is a separate “quiet room” This could be a classroom that is converted into a prayer room.  Use soft lighting and comfortable furniture and a door that closes to create a living room type of atmosphere and separation.

5.) People come to seek comfort

One of the great comforts we have as Christians is having others pray for us. The prayer room that is mentioned above is perfect for this.  Make sure your congregation is aware of this room and encourage them to use it.
By providing appropriate space, atmosphere and experience your facility can help provide ways for people to connect and be ministered to and thus encourage people to keep coming back on a regular basis and to invite others.

 

Forget the Greeter!

Hopefully your greeters are doing more than just being an obstacle to get around.

Forget the greeter, give me an advocate

I don’t know about you, but when I visit someplace new I rarely go alone.  I usually take a guide (someone who has been to the place before) or a friend that I can share the uncomfortableness that I feel when visiting new places.

There is something about being with someone you know, experiencing something new.  I also think there is something even better that happens when someone who already knows the territory takes your around.

Now, in general churches do a good job of greeting people.  You know the couple standing at the door wearing a name tag and a glued-on smile. They are eager to shake your hand and say welcome.

I have had the question on my mind, “Why do we just have greeters and not advocates?”  An advocate is someone who is on your side. They are there to help you succeed.

So what is the difference between a greeter and an advocate?

A greeter says hi, an advocate steps in and helps.

When you walk in the door, a greeter does just what the name says, they greet you.  One of the large chain superstores has greeters at the door.  At least in my area the greeters are nothing more than an obstruction to walk around as you enter the store.

Hopefully your greeters are doing more than just being an obstacle to get around.  A good greeter will smile, be courteous and give a warm welcome.

At the same chain store I have never heard a greeter add on to the welcome statement, “how can I help you?” Right there with that question a greeter now becomes an advocate, a person that is there to help.

So have your greeters add the simple question “how can I help you?” right after the hello.  Also the greeter (now advocate) should introduce themselves. You want to know the name of the person that is advocating for you.

A greeter points, an advocate takes you there.

Another store in my town has really worked at stepping up their customer service. Recently, I asked where I could find a light bulb.  The employee smiled and said, follow me.  WOW she didn’t just point me in a direction but actually was taking me there.

On the walk there she asked what kind of bulb I was looking for, she even added that she had just switched to LED lights and was saving over $20 a month on her electric bill.  As we walked down the aisle with the light bulbs she took me right to the location of the type of bulb I was looking for.  I have to admit I was impressed.

When someone walks in the door at your church and asks where the children’s area is, I bet your greeter dutifully points them in the right direction.  Let’s get them to be an advocate and walk the visitors to the children’s area and on the way explain how the check in system works and let them know how much the teachers love kids.

A greeter smiles, an advocate engages you

A good greeter will actually give you an authentic smile and a warm hand shake.  An advocate will not only do that but they will also look you in the eye, introduce themselves, ask a little about you and then assist you with whatever you need.

A greeter makes you feel welcome; an advocate makes you feel at home.

A good greeter who is genuine will make you feel welcome.  An advocate is unequally positioned to make you feel comfortable and at home.  Often its little things, like them asking where you live only to find out that your neighbors are best friends with the advocate.

Perhaps its finding out your kids have the same teacher at school, or it could be a number of other things.  The important thing is that there was a connection made, some common ground, friends or experience.  That is exactly what makes people feel comfortable and at home.

Your assignment.
Go fire your greeters and rehire and retrain them as advocates.  Advocates of every person who walks thru the door at your church.  If you do this, I think you will be surprised at how quickly new people will feel cared for and want to keep coming back.

What Makes A Great Church Building?

In the pursuit of worthy facility, what elements must come together to create a sacred space?

There are some facets that go into what makes a church building great and they all intertwined together.

It’s really the collision of form and function in an explosive manner that brings greatness.

Form can be looked at and described in many ways.  I would prefer to call it design rather than form.  Design in our modern vocabulary congers up ideas like beauty, inspiration and engagement.

Good design actually also includes function.

If we look at the iPhone most people would give it compliments on its design.  They would say, its sleek, classy, beautiful and it works great.

Shouldn’t our church facilities be referred to in the same fashion?

In my home town is Hope College, on its campus sits Dimnent Chapel.

The beautiful Gothic structure was completed in 1929. The construction cost was $404,000 (about $5.6 million in 2016 dollars).

At the front of the 1150 seat chapel is the beautiful rose window, a gift from the Hope College Class of 1916 and constructed at a cost of $4,000, it contains three rows of petals.  When the sun shines thru this magnificent work of art it is absolutely breathtaking. The tall walls and beautiful wood work gives you a feeling of awe and wonder as you sit inside and gaze around the structure.

There are two organs in the chapel, a four-manual Skinner organ in the chancel and a Dutch classic tracker organ in the balcony, built by Pels and Van Leeuwen in the Netherlands and installed in 1971. The Skinner organ with its 2,932 pipes was installed in 1929. Both organs sound fabulous in the space.

Yearly the college does a Christmas Vespers service. The program of Christmas carols and anthems features more than 200 performers. The choir with minimal acoustic instrumentation along with the Skinner organ is a thing of sure beauty.

For me the Chapel as the locals call it is a great building.

It is engaging.

Just looking at it from the outside calls you to want to enter to see what the inside is like.  The soaring 108’ tower makes the approximately 175’ long by 60’ wide structure appears larger than life.  Once inside all of the elements I mentioned above, particularly the stained glass windows personally draw me through their beauty closer to my creator.

It is inspiring.

Just as it is engaging, drawing you in, its beauty inspires you.  The magnificence of the marble floors, the deep wood colors and colors splashed about by the sun penetrating the stained glass windows brings light and hope deep into my soul.

It’s functional.

Hosting events like a student lead chapel service that features modern music, an organ concert, a choral vespers service as well as bachelorette.  The building is well used and services multiple different types of events extremely well.  There have been modern elements and conveniences added to the building like Air conditioning, modern restrooms, a performance sound system along with production lighting and video screens.  But all of that has added to the function and comfort of the building without taking away from the beauty of its design.

Really what it boils down to is that the experience that you have attending an event there is enhanced as you walk up to the building and then as you participate in the event that takes place inside.

Today what are we doing in our worship spaces to bring design and beauty into the facility? Think of ways, like bringing in artwork or creatively using projection and lighting that you can use to bring beauty.