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.

What is Good Design and How Does It Impact Your Church Facility?

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building.

 

What is good design and how does it impact your church facility?

We live in what I have heard Daniel Pink describe as the dawn of the conceptual age.

As we moved long ago from an agrarian society to an industrial society to an information society, we are now making the transition to a conceptual society.

Pink in his decade old book A whole new mind talks about this transition subtitling it Why right-brainers will rule the future.

As most know the brain is dived in to two hemispheres and in generalities the left side is our logical side with the right side being our creative side.  Breaking this down a bit more, the left side thinking grasps details. Things like logic, sequence and analysis take place there. The right side takes care of our thinking related to the big picture it synthesis information, controls our emotions and gives us the big picture.

Pink outlines reasons for the rise of the right brain and its importance in the “conceptual age”. Part of what he argues is for the importance of design.

Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

Paola Antionelli design curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art in her TED talk, Treat Design As Artstates that her view of heaven as satisfied curiosity.  She has also been quoted regarding design, “good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something that the world did not know it was missing” I would add that good designers have the ability to synthesize current needs, issues and culture.

Good design will create something that never existed or it will have people interact and have a new behavior with it.  BMW’s Chris Bangle states: “we don’t make cars, we make moving works of art that express drivers love of quality”.  A car is not new, but Bangle sees design as providing a new way for people to interact and experience a car.  Design dives into our emotional response to an object or what is around us.

The Tabernacle was a good example of God’s design and laid out in detail in the book of exodus. It provides us with some insight into design:

1) The tabernacle was first and foremost a very functional facility.  
The tabernacle was designed to be used, each of the Tabernacle had materials used based on function and purpose. It also solved the problem of a holy God dwelling in the midst of a sinful people.

2) It displayed wealth and beauty.  
The Tabernacle was a work of art.

It was inspiring and directed people’s thoughts and emotions to connect with God.

3) The building of it involved all of the people.
Designed for use by all people. It was also build by the very skilled craftsman who would worship there.

4) It reveals the character of God. 
The excellence of the tabernacle, both in its materials and its workmanship, is a reflection of God.

5) While composed of various elements, it displays the unity of all, in design, function, and purpose.
The design was complete, it was a sum of parts that all came together to produce a hole that was greater than the sum.

Through the Tabernacle God reveals that design is not just about objects, art, function or beauty.  It is about all of them with an emphasis on the behavior that these elements produced.

In today’s contemporary church I see a lot of emphasis on stage design.

Stage design being band layout, sets, projection or video elements and lighting.  A large number of new churches that have been built in the last decade or are under construction are what I would call the black box sanctuary.

If you have been to a production at a black box theater you know exactly what I am referring to.

Black stage walls black ceiling black covering on the stage floor. Black box is great because you can create an infinite number of “looks” by using set pieces. A good set designer can take this “blank canvas” and turn it into whatever scene or look the designer desires.

For some churches stage design is visited every week and different elements are used to give a new or different look every Sunday.

Others do thematic stage design that is built around the current message series that is going on. Some do 4 sets a year, generally built around the four seasons in nature.

Not all churches are black boxes and thus have elements that already exist and need to either be covered or designed into the new look.  www.churchstagedesignideas.com is a great place to get ideas and to learn about design techniques.

Design not only applies to the stage in the sanctuary it applies to the entire facility.  From traffic flow in the parking lot, the signage that directs you into the building to the artwork on the walls.  Design applies to almost every element.

The late Steve Jobs said “Design is not just what is looks like and feels like, design is how it works” I believe that good design also grabs our emotions and drives our behavior in how we interact with it.

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building. After all, Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

 

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 5 Step Framework To Building

 
Five key points are involved when a church is ready to embark on a building program.

Often I find myself consulting or giving advice as to what steps a church should take when they are ready to embark on a building program. In general, there are five key points involved in a building project.  Each of those points could be an article, or book unto themselves.

My goal is to introduce to the steps and give you a basic overview of what each step entails.

Each congregation is unique however by following these steps you can head down the road of building with confidence.

Vision

This obvious step is often over looked. As American’s we love to jump to the what.  What are we going to build?

We really need to spend much more time at the Why?  The why is not just because our ministry is growing and needs space. The why is, what is our DNA, what has God purposed us, this fellowship to do at this moment in time.

Additionally, what vision has God given us as it relates to what our future ministry will look like.

Brushing over this initial step has led many churches to build something they either didn’t need or ends up not meeting the true needs of their ministry.  I currently am working with a church that is building small.  They average around 800 and are building a 450 seat auditorium.  That means that immediately as they move into the new facility they will be doing multiple services and in essence be packed out with 2 or 3 services.

This church knows its DNA, they don’t feel called to be a mega church, they believe God has called them to impact they neighborhood he has placed them in.

So they are referring to this first building as an incubator.

They Plan to grow a vibrant congregation and in 18-24 months spin off 75% of that congregation to a new location just across town.  The 25% that remain at the incubator location will then start fresh, new staff and everything and seek to grow a vibrant church that can be spun off in 18-24 months again leaving 25% at the incubator to do it again and again.

This church gets who they are called to be, a local church that makes a difference in the neighborhood where they are planted. So their plan is to have multiple fully functioning, self-supporting locations that infiltrate the town in which God has place them. This determined the size and location of the facilities they are building.

Feasibility

At the firm I work for we do a significant amount of what we call Phase 1 work.  A phase one is really a feasibility and needs study that is done to provide budgeting for the project.  This process where we come in and sit down with your leadership and ministry teams gives direction to what is going to be built and how much it will cost.

This second step should be done only after they vision part is complete.  It is vital that you know who you are before you embark on what to build.

The Phase 1 process allows the vision of the building to take shape and form.  After sitting down will all the stake holders in the project a conceptual drawing is completed as well as a floor plan.

From this a budget for the project is determined.  What is great about this process is that the church now knows how much money they need to raise and they also have tools, the 3D renderings, to share with the congregation.

The nominal cost of a Phase 1 keeps churches from embarking and spending a lot of time and energy on something they can’t afford to build.  It also protects them for wasting a lot of money on design work as they go thru the process.

Financing/Fund raising

Now that budgets have been determined and hopefully also with the renderings, the congregation is ready to move forward.  Now the question becomes how.  Do you take on debt, do an extended fund raising campaign, break the project into phases and build as money is available?

Fundraising is also an area where you have to know your DNA and what direction your congregation would like to pursue in raising funds.  I suggest at this point that churches contract with a professional fund raising frim.  Yes, just like the Phase 1 study, it will cost money.  In this case it is really costing you money to in the end raise significantly more money.

A well run capital campaign can greatly shorten the building process by securing funds quicker.  A good professional fund raising firm will use the 3D renderings done in the feasibility study to help communicate, inspire and call to action your congregation.

Kick off/Full design

Somewhere during the capital campaign, it will be time to give the project the go ahead.

At this point, an architectural firm, or a design/build firm takes a really deep dive into programming. They will get into the nitty gritty of what is the precise square footage that each ministry needs, what the fit and finishes are going to look like (this is likely to be determined by how successful the capital campaign is).

Depending on the delivery method you choose, construction may also begin at the same time you are finalizing the design.

The key in this phase is to revisit the phase 1 process with all of the stakeholders to ensure everyone is still on the same page and has agreed on the same priorities.

Construction

This can be the most exciting time of the entire project. it can also be the most painful.  Likely it will be both.  There is nothing more exciting than to see your dream and vision literally come up from the ground. There is also nothing more painful that having to put a project on hold because the funds are not available.

One of the most important aspects of a construction project is cash flow.  I have seen churches that have had to put a hold on their project because they did not plan the important element of cash flow well.  Yes, they have the money committed but the bank may temporarily cap a construction loan until a certain percentage of that pledged amount is in the bank.

Construction overruns can also bring a project to a halt.  There are many infamous stories of projects that were delayed or never were completed because the change orders during the project emptied the bank account.  This can happen because the owner keeps changing his mind, or finding out as you are building that some major element has to change because the design was faulty. Rarely if ever does it happen because of extenuating circumstance, like material increases.

To ensure that your construction project is more exciting and painful it is important to be sure of your design before you break ground, or be sure that your design and construction team are in sync to bring your project in on time and budget.

Following the framework above, in particular understanding the why, and what your DNA as a church is will lead you to a successful building project.

 

Church DNA: Who are you? Who?

Along the way it has become an idea, that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

 

A good friend of mine Jeff Abbott, service programming director at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan recently opined about the copycat syndrome in today’s churches.

He talked about how a couple of years ago everyone had to have pallets on their stage to look cool.

He also bemoaned the current use of LED tape.

Jeff has nothing against pallets or LED tape, however he is discouraged by what he refers to the cookie cutter look of today’s contemporary churches.

Jeff continued on talking about the idea that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

Jeff asked the question “Does God really want the church to be a bunch of clones, stamping a couple clones out in towns across the country?”

Both Jeff and I agree that we do not believe that is what God intended for the church.

It really comes down to a church understanding their own DNA and culture and living that out.

I was at a training session where the main topic was diversity.  Point blank I expected the typical talk on culture differences and the understanding that we need to develop between cultures.  The speaker asked the simple question of how many different cultures that we thought existed.

I began trying to estimate the number of countries and then thinking I could probably add a 5 to 10x factor to that number.

I figured each country had a main culture with a few additional sub cultures that permeated each country.  His answer rocked me on my heals and shocked me.  He proclaimed with authority that there are around 7 billion cultures in the world!

Wait 7 billion, how can that be?  That is about how many people are on earth.  Exactly!

So am I saying that we need to have 7 billion different churches?  I believe there should be 7 billion different temples as our bodies are the temple of the Lord, I do not believe each person is a church.
A church is a collection of cultures (people). I liken to America, there is the distinct American culture but in that culture there are a lot of subcultures.

On the lateral plane there are culture separations based on race, socioeconomic class and the like.  On the vertical plane there is the age difference, the Boomer, GenX and Millennials.  All of the different cultures make up the overall American culture.

The church is really the same way.

As people we bring our own diverse culture under the umbrella of the church to collectively create its own distinct culture.  This could be a culture based around evangelism, missions, doctrine etc.  Whatever that culture is, a wise church will base its ministry around the culture, thus creating the DNA of the church.

Once discovered, each church must do and create things that fit into its own unique DNA.

This does not mean that a church cannot learn and adapt ideas from another church or other institution.  It means that the church has to meld it into their unique DNA.

A great example that I experienced of this taking place was at the WFX conference.

Jeff and I were walking downtown Louisville, enjoying the downtown when Jeff suddenly stopped and pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of a window display.  The display was a cool wood design that filled the front window of an architectural firm.  It really resonated with Jeff (and myself), it also was a perfect window display for an architectural firm that showed off their design creativity.  Jeff turned to me and said, “I just got a great idea for a set design”.

Will the set look exactly like the window display?  I doubt it. When Jeff builds the set it will be inspired by the window display, in fact it will most likely bear a strong resemblance to it.  More importantly the DNA of Ada Bible Church will be woven into the set and it will become part of who Ada Bible is.

If you don’t know or understand the DNA at your church, discover it!

Also do things that fit your DNA.

This includes taking things that you see and weaving them into your DNA.

Does a Great Facility Equal Great Growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected. Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must…

 

Does a great facility = great growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected.  Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must.

Over the years that I’ve been involved in ministry, I have noticed that there can be what I call the “want to be” syndrome.

The statements – I am sure you have also heard – go something like this, “If only we had the technology that XYZ church has, we would grow as fast as they are”.  Or “If our building looked that nice we too could have rapid growth.”

Mentally most of know that the above statement is not true for the church, in business or in general.

I am currently listening to one of the many biographies on the life of Steve Jobs.  Many of you know that that when Steve left apple, only to come back a decade later, he started a company call NeXT.  Steve had it all: he recruited the best engineers and built the most advanced factory and well-equipped offices.

Steve himself was a visionary, a charismatic (if not sometimes frightening) leader.  NeXT however basically tanked being acquired by Apple (some say that NeXT was only purchased by Apple to get Steve back) for a fraction of the investment that went into the company.

How could a company that had the best of support and wind at its back fail?  I contend that it was Steve’s journey in the wilderness, he had lost direction and purpose.

Churches too can fall into this trap.  I have seen church plants that seem to have everything, a great place to meet, plenty of financing and yet not succeeded.  Success is not guaranteed by the amount of resources that we possess.

Another way to look at this is to realize that the reason your ministry may be stagnant or dying is not because you don’t have the cool technology, or a fancy facility.  Most likely the stagnation come from the fact that the church is not connecting with people or living out and fulfilling its calling and mission.

A change in venue or and upgrade often just moves the problem, it the proverbial lipstick on the pig.  Sure it looks a little nicer, but it’s still a pig.  In fact, I believe that new technology may only magnify your current irrelevance. It’s like putting new siding on a building with a bad foundation or a new paint on a car with a bad or blown engine.  It may look better but it’s still going to crumble or stop running.

The false hope and belief that something new can spark growth or change the current reality leads many churches to get out the lipstick, somehow hoping against hope that nobody will notice the stench that is still there.

Reality check.  Buildings and technology are a means to an end.  They can help facilitate growth but in no way are they the secret cause.

I think the biggest proof of this is the fact that you can have a growing church in a centuries old building and you can kill or have a dead or dying church in a brand new multi-million-dollar facility.

If you are counting on facilities or technology to somehow be the thing alone that brings growth to your ministry, you better get ready for a major disappointment.

Church Construction: Should You Build Your Field of Dreams?

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”  This thinking is in stark contrast to the reality that a building does not equal building the church.

It’s also easy to get caught in the trap that a new building or building project will solve problems, help unify the congregation, increase giving, or attract new people.

Let’s debunk some of that wrong thinking surrounding church facility construction


There are some really good questions to ask yourself and your congregation before you embark on a building campaign.


1. Do you have a large debt on your current facility?

If you are already deep in debt it would not be wise to saddle additional debt and thus strain on your ministry.  This may seem like common sense, but it is amazing how uncommon common sense is. The added debt payments will only take away from investing into areas that can help the ministry grow.

2. Do you expect a new building to make a “statement” in your community?

This really smacks of egotism. If you think that having the coolest or newest building in town is going to help your church grow, you are unfortunately in line for a serious let down.  I have seen wonderful growing churches meeting in the humblest of places.  I have also seen soaring beautiful churches with 90% of the seats empty on a Sunday.

3. Do you need to increase membership to pay for the increased debt of a new facility?
This is really putting your faith into the “if you build it they will come philosophy.”  What happens if they don’t come? Do you default on the loan?  To me putting your faith in increased membership to pay for a building project is putting your faith in the wrong place.

4. Do you expect a new building to cause your congregation to be more evangelical and outreach driven?

Yes, a new building is a great talking point and it can be a start in getting people to ask others to visit your church. However, without a culture of evangelism this will be very short lived.  Once the building has been open for a little while your congregation will fall back in the old habits and will not continue to invite people.

5. Do you need a building to allow your whole church to meet at one time?

This is a great question that is not asked enough.  A church I am familiar with was about to embark on a multi-million-dollar expansion to the children’s area because of crowded conditions.  At the same time, they happened to send out a survey to the congregation. One of the questions on the survey was “what service time do you prefer?”

The church found out on the survey that parents with children were about evenly split on wanting an earlier service versus a later one.  At that point the decision became why don’t we offer two service times and thus split the children’s attendance and negate the need to build.  As a side note.  Two years later they ended up building because both services had grown so much that they now needed the space to accommodate the number of children in both services.

6. Do you expect a new building will entice your congregation to give more generously?

You might get a spike in additional giving towards a building project.  However, if you had another area like missions that was highlighted, you could also get the same spike in giving.

The real danger here is again putting faith into “if you will build it they will come, or in this case give”

Some final thoughts, owning a building does not make you a church, or even a better one.  What makes a church are the people in whatever setting God has placed them.  Also, don’t fall into the trap thinking that if you would build that problems will go away.  If anything the added financial and organizational stress is only going to exacerbate problems that already exist.

So before embarking on building your field of dreams, make sure that you are grounded in truth and are truly following God’s will for your congregation and not just man’s dreams.

 

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.