Smart church leaders understand that buildings are tools for ministry. They know that ministry tools must be kept sharp so the church can carry out the work God has given it to do.
This knowledge has spurred some churches to complete much needed renovations, in spite of a difficult economy. Even as new construction was forestalled during the recession, churches that desired continued growth went ahead with critical facility improvements. Recent facility upgrades seem to follow many of the same design trends we have observed in new church buildings during the last decade. Here are the top five facility upgrades we have seen recently:
- TECHNOLOGY & LIGHTING – The top upgrades include new technology. Churches are improving their sound systems because high quality audio is essential. If the church is all about the “message,” then hearing the message is critical. When older churches update their sound systems, they are also adding video systems. Adding video usually mandates lighting improvements. Quality platform area lighting and controlled light levels are critical if the worship service is being video recorded, projected on screens, or broadcast to multiple locations. Churches with large windows and who are adding video are also adding remote controlled motor operated room darkening window shades, and some are even removing decorative chandeliers to improve the visibility of the video screens.
Mountain Park First Baptist Church replaced their audio system, added rear projected video, added new production lighting, enlarged the platform and choir, and added motor operated window shades.
- WORSHIP SPACE – The changing styles of worship are not only promoting technological upgrades, but other significant worship space improvements are often implemented at the same time. Congregations with older style sanctuaries have often found their platform is not well suited for contemporary worship. Some churches struggle with this problem for years before they decide to do something about it.
Churches that formerly used a piano and an organ to accompany congregational singing now need to create platform space for a band or small orchestra. A few congregations have downsized or eliminated their choir while using an ensemble group to lead congregational singing. It is becoming common for churches to use drama and other forms of performance art as part of worship. Churches with traditional sanctuaries that have introduced more contemporary style worship often decide to enlarge their platform, reconfigure their choir area, and rework their chancel. This can result in some reduction in overall worship seating capacity.
A few churches have even decided to remove pews and use chairs for congregational seating. The advantages to chairs include increased effective seating capacity and the flexibility to arrange different seating layouts or set up tables for special conferences or dinners. However, this does not work well with sloped floors. Some worship spaces with level floors have been reconfigured to allow for recreational and fellowship functions during the week. While a few older members may find these kinds of changes unsettling, most young members readily accept them.
Hartwell First Baptist Church replaced sanctuary audio, added front projected video, enlarged the platform, replaced original windows, and added room darkening window shades.
GATHERING SPACES – Churches are starting to understand the importance of gathering spaces for informal fellowship. Gathering areas are not limited to new church buildings. Small foyers and narrow corridors were the only spaces older churches had available. Churches that have added more worship services have found that bottlenecks have resulted as people move about between events. Churches with older buildings are finding ways to reduce bottlenecks and carve out the needed gathering spaces by repurposing underutilized classroom, library, and office areas.
Gathering spaces are much more than just larger foyers. They serve a vital fellowship function, providing informal places to have a cup of coffee or for friends to meet and talk. Senior adults may need a place to sit down while waiting for one service to conclude before they enter the worship space for the next service. Some of these new gathering spaces include coffee shops or book stores and are used extensively during the week. Growing congregations with older facilities have recognized the vital importance of these multi-purpose gathering areas to the life of the church body, and they are meeting this need by building expansion when adequate existing space is not available for conversion.
- WAYFINDING – Churches have discovered that good signage is a great way to make church facilities more “user friendly.” Good directional signage starts in the parking lot to help visitors find a place to park and to find their way into your building. Clearly marked guest parking is one way to help visitors feel welcome. Well done interior signage should help everyone find their way to each area of your facility. If your building is an important way to convey your “message,” then good directional signs will help tell your story by providing a positive and welcoming experience to everyone. Quality signage is one of the most cost effective improvements a church can undertake.
- ENERGY SAVINGS – There is clearly a significant trend toward renovations that create more energy efficient buildings. Improvements resulting in energy savings reflect good stewardship of the church’s resources. Older buildings, constructed before modern energy codes were implemented, are often inefficient and costly to operate. Upgrades to windows, insulation, lighting, and mechanical systems can significantly reduce power use, recovering the cost of the improvements in a relatively short time with savings in utility cost.
An experienced architect can help your church decide if it needs to make any of these upgrades. You should not conclude that your church has to keep up with every new trend. Each church should decide what is right for their particular situation. Just because other churches are doing something doesn’t mean you should. However, you should consider making whatever improvements are needed to be able to properly communicate your message and carry out your ministry. Buildings are tools for ministry. Your ministry tools need to be kept sharp so you can accomplish the work God has called you to do. Do not let your tools get dull! Smart churches keep their ministry tools sharp by completing the facility improvements needed to enable them to complete their mission.
By: Robert C. Foreman, AIA, LEED AP