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.

 

Simple Steps to A Fantastic Guest Experience

Offering those who visit your church a great guest experience really is as easy as 1 2 3.

Years ago I was the opening manager for the first location of a brand new movie theatre chain.  One of our mottos was “Being #1 is as easy as 1-2-3

1. Welcomes, pleases and thank you’s
2. Next in line service
3. Suggestive selling at the concession stand.

We wanted our cast members (employees) to have something simple, tangible to grab on to that expressed what we felt was important.

We posted signs in the back hallways, the locker rooms, the employee room (basically everywhere we called “backstage” yes, including the restrooms).

Another thing that we did in training was to talk about the “Zone of Influence”.

The Zone of Influence was a designated area around each employee, that when a guest entered into that zone, the employee either needed to engage them in conversation or at least offer them a greeting.

To help put this policy into action we took an 8’ piece of PVC conduit, painted it orange and put a rope that would go around the cast member’s neck so the PVC would hang at about knee level and extended 4’ on either side of the guest.  In training the cast member would walk around (back stage) wearing this contraption and teaching each employee where their “Zone of Influence” was.

I am sharing this as I recently had a flash back to that experience.

It happened while I was attending a business/ministry seminar.  The experience started when I walked up to enter the building and someone was there to open the door, welcome me and give me directions as to where I should go for registration.  As I hit the registration table I was greeted with a hearty “Welcome, we are glad you are here”.  After receiving a name tag, the person at the table told me where the complimentary snacks were located and where I could purchase a book that the presenter had written, if I was interested.

Leaving the registration table and heading towards the snacks I walked into the “zone of influence” of someone else that was working the seminar.  As I entered their “zone” I was again greeted and was asked if I had ever been at this place before.  What transpired was a couple of minutes of great conversation with this “ambassador” of the church.

Turns out we knew some of the same people and he ended the conversation with a welcome to come back and visit on a Sunday.

It was a no pressure, kind invitation.

It was as I sat down for the seminar that the flashback from my movie theater days came back. I thought it really IS as easy as 1-2-3!

1) I was politely greeted, everyone was polite and engaging
2) It was well staffed (there were about 1000 people attending the event) I never had to wait at registration, snacks or when purchasing of the book.
3) I was appropriately “sold to” by suggestion.  The person at the registration table sent me in the direction of the book table.  Also, the ambassador from the church softly sold me on attending on a Sunday morning.

To top off the great experience I had getting into the room for the seminar, the presenter was outstanding.

So the challenge is for you and your church to do this on a Sunday morning.
How?  It’s as easy as 1-2-3

1,2,3

1) Great people at the door, tell, show and take them to the places that they need to go. For example, if they have children take them to a special express lane for visitors where they can check their children.  Show them where the coffee is.  Tell them about unique things.

Remember they do not know your culture.  Tell them if they can take coffee into the sanctuary, tell them that is normal for people to be talking in the lobby until 1 minute before the service.  Explain to them that your pastor or members of the pastoral staff would like to meet them after the service, and point out the location. Very important, show them where the bathrooms are.

2) Make sure you are well staffed in the greeting area, coffee area, children’s area etc. Set up special lanes or stations that you can take the visitors thru –  and remember they do not know the culture or routines that are so comfortable to you.

3) As your guests return, tell them about special events and opportunities that might be interesting to them.  Best of all invite them to lunch, get to know them.

This is not just the job of staff, but it really is the job of everyone in the congregation.

Go and do it! It really is as easy as 1-2-3

Biggest Facilities Failures

Often in life it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

Often in life it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

As related to a facility this can be so true!  Listed below are somethings that I have experienced that have made my visit somewhere less than pleasant.

While none of the items are cardinal sins they did make an impression, not a good one on me.

Dirty bathrooms

Okay I said that none of these were cardinal sins.  Yes, that is true but in my opinion dirty bathrooms come awful close.

I have written about and often talk about the need for bathroom ambassadors. It really is not that difficult to keep bathrooms clean and presentable.  Someone just has to care enough to make sure it gets done!

Strange odor/aroma

I am sure Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Febreze could do well if they marketed to churches.  I have run into or should I say experienced the strangest odors at some of the churches I have visited.  The scents have ranged from enticing but poorly timed to just plain disgusting.

The enticing, the smell of a chicken dinner being prepared in the kitchen during the message had me so hungry that I couldn’t wait for the service to be over as I was literally drooling.  The bad, the smell of raw sewage in a bathroom where the floor looked like the drain had been backed up for weeks and the crusty state of the floor was giving evidence that it had just dried up.

Now if the sermon had been on the satisfying taste of good food and how God provides and blesses us with good things, the chicken dinner smell could have been a great illustration! Provided that we would get to partake of it after the service.

Inappropriate or outdated décor.

Through the years I have seen my share of well shall we say it, bizarre décor or too old to be retro finishing’s.  I know that interior design is a form of art and also very subjective.

So yes our tastes can differ, but I will say that when done well and appropriate there is a wide range of acceptable interior designs.  One strange case that I experienced recently was not even church related.

A new restaurant that opened in our town I am sure took its decorating and design cues from the Apple Store. Yes, white, clean, really clinical looking works great for the Apple Store, I will attest to the fact that it does not work that well for a restaurant.  There is something unsettling eating food in a place that is lit up and feels like a surgical room.

Crappy coffee…area

Like the bathroom, this example really bothers me.  Why can’t someone be the coffee ambassador and simply make sure the counters are wiped clean of coffee drips and spills? It’s also important to make sure the cream and sugar containers are filled. Also, while they are at it, could the outside of the coffee pot and handle be clean and dry?

One more thing, not facility related, why does church coffee also have to taste so crappy? There are plenty of hearty coffee roasts to choose from. Why not make your morning cup-of-joe one that’s eagerly anticipated?

Bad signage

Why is signage so difficult?  Just put it in a visible area, keep it simple and use common names for things.

When we use names like narthex, gathering area, the commons… how is someone not familiar with church supposed to know what that is?  Why not just call it the Lobby?  The Sanctuary? The Gym?

KEEP IT SIMPLE…I suppose one good thing about bad signage is I may not be able to locate the bathrooms, which could save me from a potentially stomach-turning experience.

As I said at the start, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

Plus, in this case the little things come with a little price tag. It doesn’t cost anything additional to keep the bathroom tidy, keep the coffee area clean or freshen up the smell.  Additionally, décor updates and signage can be done well on a very modest budget.

As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

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.

 

Discerning The Reasons for A Building Project

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

EMBARKING ON a building project should be an exciting time in the life of a church.

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

Understand the Why

Growth may seem like it’s “the why” to a building project, but it’s possible it might just be “the why” for something else. For example, a crowded worship space could be “the why” for adding an additional service; a bursting youth ministry could be “the why” for repurposing and renovating some existing space; and a full parking lot could be “the why” for adjusting service times and programs so crunch-time does not come all at once.

When consulting with church leadership who are looking at a building project one of the first questions I always ask is, “What is the unique thing that God has for this church, at this time, in this location to accomplish?” You would be surprised at how many times I get blank stares or awkward silence from the group who I’m meeting with. Sometimes I will get a quick reply that is something like, “To reach the lost, of course! “ I follow up by asking them to define “the lost” in more concrete terms to get them to state who they are trying to reach. Again, often I get vague answers like, “Everyone!”

My goal in asking these questions is to try to understand the DNA of the church. What is their unique calling that God has placed on their fellowship? To me that is “the real why.” From that conversation and answer, we can then start to put a framework around what type of building would support their calling.

For example, for a church who is called to feed and care for the homeless, hungry and hurting in their neighborhood, a commercial kitchen might be one of the most important things that they need. Whereas a workout area and gym, probably would not make it to the top of the list. Another question I like to ask is, “Are these needs being met elsewhere by someone in the community?”

Again, if your calling is to help the homeless and there is a soup kitchen a few blocks away, does it make sense to build so that you can start another one? Find a unique need that you can specifically meet, and partner with the other ministries that are serving the same population. I’m familiar with a church that embarked on a building project to install a commercial kitchen.

Why? So that members could hold wedding and other receptions at the church. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. However, this church had recently funded and launched a ministry — just down the road — that housed a hospital grade kitchen that could be used for events. My question to them is why not get a “shuttle vehicle” with racks for the food to be brought from the ministry center, one block away, to cater events that are taking place in the churches existing conference space?

The shuttle vehicle, while a bit of an inconvenience, would cost $20,000 -$30,000 vs the $2,000,000-plus to build the kitchen facility. Again, I am not saying that what the church was doing was wrong. I just want them to fully understand the purpose for taking on a building project. An additional question that I will usually ask is, “Will the building you are proposing meet the needs of the community? “ I know a church that put in a beautiful park — with ball fields and a playground — because the nearest park was miles away, and their calling was to reach those within walking distance of their facility.

They used prime (read expensive) real estate to better their community, rather than building something for direct use by their church members. The bottom line for me is always fully understand “the why” of a building project and how it fits into the unique DNA and purpose of a church. Who are the Players Often in the rush to get a building project going, key players are left out. This might be staff or ministry leaders who are kept out of the project. It could be local city officials and authorities who could be of valuable help as the church tries to get the proper zoning and permits to take on a project. The members of the church themselves sometimes are left out.

The senior pastor has a vision, so he just plows forward figuring people will get on board. Members that have specific knowledge and could be very helpful in the building process are overlooked. Many times, the bank or another financing agency is not consulted until the process is too far down the road. The church leadership can then be put in the embarrassing situation of not counting the costs before getting started, bringing the process to a halt. Too often, key contractors are not brought on board early enough. Things like budgets for acoustics, and audio visual and lighting are either left out, or are woefully inadequate to meet the needs. It seems like the neighbors, those who live around the church building, are always forgotten.

Rather than consult and get valuable input and buy-in from those around the building, many churches plow ahead without giving consideration to what impact an addition or new building will on those who live right there. Getting the right people onboard right away — and building consensus — is one of the most important aspects of a building project.

How Do We Start?

I always recommend that the church partner with an architect or design/build firm to do what I call a, “phase 1 project overview.”

The phase one process should involve: 
1. A needs assessment
2. A programming/discovery meeting with ministry teams.
3. A feasibility study and code review (a quick look at the site and local zoning and construction laws) Can we build at this location?
4. Floorplan layout and site plan showing where the building fits into the site and a general layout of the building.
5. Rendering, 3D sketches or model that show the exterior elevation of the building.
6. Budget estimate for the entire project.
7. Proposed building schedule With this information, a church has an idea of cost, timeframe and scope of the project, along with some rendering perspectives of the proposed building for people to see what is being proposed.

A phase 1 is an investment (usually $10,000 to $30,000), but well worth it. Additionally, this needs to be done if the project moves forward. So, by doing phase 1 upfront you are not spending additional dollars. You are, however, potentially saving yourself from getting pretty far down the road and discovering something that could stop or delay your project. It’s painful to find out after you have construction documents underway that the site is not buildable, or that the project is going to cost way more than you anticipated. Invest up front and save yourself the grief. In Short Understand why you want to build.

Get the right people involved in your process. Take the time, resources and money to do the upfront work of ensuring you can accomplish what you believe God has called you to build.

How Often Should You Renovate a Church Facility?

Practical guidelines to help you determine when it’s really necessary for you to update or renovate your space.

Is it really an absolute necessity to update or renovate my 15-year-old building?

The working life of a building can and should extend well beyond 50 years, and I’ve personally seen buildings hundreds of years old still in use and functioning quite well.

The question deserves considerable thought, and begs a slew of additional questions:

1. Has your programming changed (are you doing more youth or children events, etc.….)

One of the biggest pressure a growing church faces is space.  As the ministry grows there needs to be a place where people can congregate, infants can be cared for, children trained and youth challenged.  Sunday is the crunch day.  As a culture, we have been conditioned that Sunday is the day where we as Christians head to church for a worship service and education.  Also, as a culture Sunday morning has become our social connection time.

When we come to church we often find ourselves getting a cup of coffee and connecting with friends that we just do not have the time or do not make the opportunity to connect with during the week.  The church has used many names to refer to this connection space.  Whether you call it a narthex, lobby or gather place, this space has become a very important part of a church. Traditionally this space was not given the importance that it is today, so you may find the need to expand, re-arrange or renovate to accommodate the social time that takes place before and after services.

Has your ministry experienced growth in a specific area of ministry?  Do you have far more infants in the nursery than in years past?  Is your youth ministry rapidly growing? What about the food pantry?  I believe that a growing church is almost always in the reuse, renovation or expansion process. A church that is growing is most likely engaging in culture and as culture changes, ministry changes and therefore facility needs change.

2. Are you filling up the sanctuary to more than 80% of its capacity?

The “80% rule” is commonly thrown around.  The “rule” is that if you are more than 80% full seating wise you are full.

The logic behind the “rule” is that if the space feels to full, guests and visitors might feel like there is not a place for them.  So, what happens when you hit 80% do you add another service?

Do you set up a satellite overflow room?  I have mixed feelings about the 80% rule.  Millennials will more quickly spend money for an experience and thus I believe they are attending church for an experience.  Does a full sanctuary give them the rich experience they are looking for?

Millennials also long for intimacy and connection so would a smaller venue serve them better?  What about the rest of the congregation, what are their preferences?  There is not a right over arching answer here, However, there is a right answer for your congregation.  My suggestion is to be aware of the 80% rule and make decisions with that knowledge in hand.

3. Does your building look dated?

By dated we are not talking about a neo-classical or some other look that is time-less.  What I am referring to is the purple, mauve other dated colors from the previous few decades.  I also want to differentiate from dated vs not kept up.

Dated means it is out of style.  It doesn’t mean that there are tears in the carpet, chips in the walls or dust covering the kickplate on the walls.  Those things are things that are not kept up or cared for.  Something that is not kept up is not acceptable in any style décor.

When I visit with churches that have that dated look, I think to myself why do they not just refresh the paint and change out a little bit of furniture?  The cost would be minimal and the impact would be great.  What I have come to realize is that people who attend the church on a steady basis do not even notice it.  It is just like your home you become accustom to it and do not even notice what it looks like.

I suggest that you find the person in the church that has “the eye” for design and have them take a fresh look at your space and give some ideas.  If there is not someone in the congregation, hire an interior designer and give them clear direction as to what you are wanting to accomplish and the budget that you plan to spend on improvements.

4. Has the expectation of your congregation changed?

If you say no to this question you are most likely not in a church that has engaged modern culture.  Expectation are always changing.  Just think how technology has change our expectations.  We expect immediate response and answers.

Thanks to amazon prime we expect it in 2 days without shipping charges.  As culture changes expectations definitely change.  Let’s go back to the discussion above on the Lobby.

In previous generations people were regularly engaged and connected to their neighbors and surrounding community.

Church was just one of the many places that people would see each other and have meaningful conversation and connection with each other.  Today church is often the only spot where we connect with people and stop and talk rather than just saying a quick “hi” as we pass each other.

5. What is the expectation of people who come and visit your church?

A big red flag here if you do not know at least something about the expectations of the people that visit your church.  Unfortunately, most people who visit have low or wrong expectations based on their history or exposure to church.  In this case I believe it is the churches responsibility to blow up and change the expectations.

Shouldn’t people have an expectation when they come to visit your church of finding a warm, well cared for functional building filled with warm welcoming people?

Is it necessary to update or renovate a building every 15 years?  My take as I stated above is that you should always be renovating, updating, changing and/or expanding.  Doing this on a consistent basis keeps your facility looking fresh and helps to support the ministry areas that are experiencing the most growth.

3 Important Things To Consider Before You Build

The excitement of embarking on a building project can lead to rushing the process, thus not taking the time to ensure these three important things are covered.

Embarking on a building project should be an exciting time in the life of a church.  Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry.

That excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process.

Make sure that you take the time to cover three important things.

Understand the Why

Growth may seem like it is the why to a building project, however it might just be the why for something else.  For example, a crowded worship space could be the why for adding an additional service, a bursting youth ministry could be the why for repurposing and renovating some existing space. A full parking lot could be the why for adjusting service times and programs so that the crunch does not come at one time.

When consulting with a church that is looking at a building project one of the first questions I always ask is what is the unique thing that God has put this church at this time in this location to accomplish.

You would be surprised at how many times I get a blank stare or awkward silence from the group I am meeting with.  Sometimes I will get a quick reply that is something like.

To reach the lost, of course!

I follow up by asking them to define “the lost” in more concrete terms to try to get them to state who they are trying to reach. Again, often I get vague answers like, Everyone! My goal in asking the question is to try to understand the DNA of the church.  What is their unique calling that God has placed on their fellowship.

To me that is the real why.

From that conversation and answer we can then start to put a frame work around what type of building would support their calling.

For example, for a church who is called to feed and care for the homeless, hungry and hurting in their neighborhood a commercial kitchen might be one of the most important things that they need.  Whereas a workout area and gym probably would not make it to the top of the list.

Another question I like to ask is, are these needs being met elsewhere by someone in the community.  Again, if your calling is to help the homeless and there is a soup kitchen a few blocks away does it make sense to build so that you can start another one?  Find a unique need that you can specifically meet and partner with the other ministries that are serving the same population.

I am familiar with a church who embarked on a building project to put in a commercial kitchen.  Why? so that members could hold wedding and other receptions at the church.  I do not think there is anything wrong with that.

However, this church had recently funded and launched a ministry just down the road that housed a hospital grade kitchen that could be used for events.

My question to them is why not get a “shuttle vehicle” with racks for the food to be brought from the ministry center one block away to cater events that are taking place in the churches existing conference space?

The shuttle vehicle, well a bit of an inconvenience would cost $20,000 -$30,000 vs the $2,000,000 to build the kitchen facility.

Again, I am not saying that what the church was doing was wrong.  I just want them to fully understand the purpose for taking on a building project.

An additional question that I will usually ask is, will the building you are proposing meet the needs of the community?

I know a church that put in a beautiful park with ball fields and a playground because the nearest park was miles away and their calling was to reach those within walking distance of their facility.  They used prime (read expensive) real estate to better their community rather than building something for direct use by their church members.

The bottom line for me is always fully understand the why of a building project and how it fits into the unique DNA and purpose of a church.

Who are the players

Often in the rush to get a building project going key players are left out.

This might be staff or ministry leaders who are kept out of the project.  It could be local city officials and authorities who could be of valuable help as the church tries to get the proper zoning and permits to take on a project.

The members of the church themselves sometimes are left out.  The senior pastor has a vision, so he just plows forward figuring people will get on board.  Members that have specific knowledge and could be very helpful in the building process are overlooked.

Many times, the bank or another financing agency is not consulted until the process is so far down the road.  The church leadership can then be put in the embarrassing situation of not counting the costs before getting started, bring the process to a halt.

Too often, key contractors are not brought on board early enough in the process.  Things like budgets for acoustics and audio visual and lighting are either left out or are woefully inadequate to meet the needs.

It seems like the neighbors, those who live around the church building are always forgotten.

Rather than consult with them and get valuable input and buy-in from those around the building, many churches plow ahead not even giving consideration to what impact an addition or new building will on those who live right there.

Getting the right people onboard right away and building consensus is one of the most important aspects of a building project.

How do we start

I always recommend that the church partner with an architect or design/build firm to do what I call a phase 1 project overview.  The phase one process should involve:

  1. A needs assessment
  2. A programming/discovery meeting with ministry teams.
  3. A feasibility study and code review (a quick look at the site and local zoning and construction laws) Can we build at this location?
  4. Floor plan layout and site plan showing where the building fits into the site and a general layout of the building.
  5. Rendering, 3D sketches or model that show the exterior elevation of the building.
  6. Budget estimate for the entire project.
  7. Proposed building schedule

With this information, a church has an idea of cost, timeframe and scope of the project along with some rendering perspectives of the proposed building for people to see what is being proposed.

A phase 1 is an investment (usually $10,000 to $30,000) but well worth it.  Additionally, this work will need to be done if the project moves forward.

So, by doing the phase 1 upfront you are not spending additional dollars.  You are however potentially saving yourself from getting pretty far down the road and finding out about something that could stop or delay your project.  It is painful to find out after you have construction documents underway that the site is not buildable, or that the project is going to cost way more than you anticipated.  Invest up front and save yourself the grief.

To recap, understand why you want to build what you have in mind.  Get the right people involved in the process and take time, resources and money to do the upfront work of making sure you can build what you believe God has called you to build.

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.