Should Your Church Build a Gym?
Anyone who considers adding a gymnasium to a church construction project or upgrading an existing gym space knows how large of a project it is to tackle. For some churches, building a gymnasium is a massive undertaking that reaps significant ministry rewards. For other churches, however, building a gym is a diversion from God’s plan and a waste of precious resources.
If your church is considering adding a gym to your floor plan, the first question you should be asking is, “If a gymnasium becomes a part of our ministry space, how will we utilize this space for ministry purposes?” If your church leadership team cannot answer this relatively simple question, you should not consider constructing, adding onto, or renovating your church gymnasium.
Chapel Pointe, a thriving church in Hudsonville, MI, is driven by a mission to build committed disciples to impact their community. Sensing that the time was right to expand their facilities so that they could better fulfill their calling as a church, Chapel Pointe embarked on a 37,000 sq. ft. expansion of their facility with Aspen Group.
One of the primary objectives of the building project was to create a larger main worship center to accommodate growing attendance. This space was also designed to include a regulation-ready basketball court to serve the church’s thriving sports ministry. The new 1,025-seat worship center doubles as a full-size basketball court gymnasium with tiered seating—a first-class worship space with a regulation-ready court. Basketball is part of Chapel Pointe's DNA, so investing in top-quality gym space was good stewardship for Chapel Pointe.
Accommodating worship and basketball brought special challenges, according to Mark Swingler, lead architect on the Chapel Pointe project for Aspen Group. "We have a full worship platform, a new baptistry, all of the instruments and tech equipment, and projection screens," says Swingler.
"With the sports function, we needed to protect this equipment. We installed large drop-down nets to protect the stage. It’s transparent material, so when folks come in for basketball, they can still see the worship platform, but it's protected from damage."
Another design challenge—how to make a gymnasium feel like sacred space. "The court lines are strategically muted so they're not obvious when the gym is being used for worship," says Swingler. The retractable hoops visually dissolve into the ceiling when they're not in use.
From Gym to Sportsplex
Another church—Community Christian Church Plainfield—recognized the need for an innovative space where people could connect and the community could embrace its love for athletics. They embarked on a complete renovation of a former manufacturing plant with the help of Aspen Group, an adaptive reuse project that included adding a state-of-the-art Sportsplex and Event Center. This unique two-story, 45,000-square-foot indoor sports center includes six volleyball courts, four basketball courts, and a multipurpose flex sports area. The main floor courts are flanked on one side by upper-level studios for yoga, dance, music lessons, and performances.
“We built the Sportsplex with the community in mind," says John Ciesniewski, campus pastor for Community Plainfield. "We’re doing community meetings, we have a performing arts center in the building six days a week using dance studios and classrooms."
The new Plainfield Sportplex is much more than an event-hosting facility. It’s a place where people can explore the arts and faith, take lessons, have moments of respite, or connect with friends. Truly, people of all ages can find a place to be involved.
Learn the Three Key Questions to Ask Before Embarking on a Church Building Journey
Many times, churches choose to add a gym as a bandaid strategy to reach a younger audience. Gymnasiums can be a wonderful tool (see Food Courts, Rock Climbing and Jesus) to help reach younger generations, but it is imperative that your church leadership team has specific ministries in place or plans ready to be immediately implemented before the shovel ever touches the dirt.
If your church has a gymnasium and you’re looking to add onto it, assess its current usage. Is it a growth engine for your church? If it sits dormant 99 percent of the time, consider creating plans to use it or ways to convert it into effective ministry space that reaches your congregation and your community at large.
Yes, We Have Ministry Ideas. Now What?
The next question your church team should be asking is one of scope: “We are building/renovating our gymnasium space, but how big should it be and what should it include?”
According to Porter Athletic Inc., churches typically build a single, basketball-court-sized gymnasium to serve as multipurpose space for all of their needs. Any number of activities can occur in space this size at any given time, such as one full-court basketball game, two half-court basketball games (provided there are six hoops in the gymnasium), one or two games of dodgeball, one game of volleyball, or four to five small circle games for younger children.
Some churches decide on the indoor recreational spaces complete with divider curtains, indoor soccer fields, and a basketball court. The advantages to a larger space like this include the ability to coordinate multiple programs at one time or to host major events within a single ministry space. The downside is that it can be expensive to build a space like this, and the number of design decisions increases exponentially with the square footage.
Regardless of whether your church desires to add a small gymnasium space or a larger one, the next section includes detailed information about specific considerations to make when adding volleyball, basketball, or partitioned gymnasium space to your church building. This information is largely provided by Porter Athletic and Haldeman Homme Inc., both specialists in athletic facilities and equipment.
Is It Legal?
If your church desires to host non-church events in the gymnasium space, such as NCAA or high school regulated volleyball or basketball games, know that there are restrictions on the building and court that should be considered when constructing the gymnasium.
NCAA Volleyball requires a 25’ clearance from the court to the first obstruction on the ceiling—however 41’ is recommended—and 6’6” of clearance around the court to the nearest obstruction.
NCAA Basketball requires 25’ above the court to the nearest obstruction and 3’ around the court to the nearest obstruction.
The National Federation of High School Association (NFHS) Volleyball requires 23’ above the court to the nearest obstruction and 6’ around the court to the nearest obstruction.
NFHS Basketball requires 25’ above the court to the nearest obstruction and 3’ around the court to the nearest obstruction.
Basketball hoops that raise out of the way, volleyball nets, HVAC units, ceiling fans, and other obstacles that hang down from the ceiling are all considered obstructions. If you're building new, make sure your church gym is designed in compliance with athletic governing bodies' requirements. And if you have an existing gym, measure and see if it meets the requirements.
While many churches may choose to opt out of using their ministry space as a location for nationally sanctioned games and matches, some churches feel called to leverage the missional potential of bringing people into the church by hosting sporting events. For the unchurched, coming for a basketball game can lower the threshold for entering the church.
An estimated 1,400 people visited Community Christian Church-Plainfield's Sportsplex for its grand opening in 2017. Five hundred kids participated in training camps, and only two days after opening, a 32-team tournament drew nearly 1,000 people. Many of these people aren't affiliated with any church.
If your church decides to build big with your next gymnasium project, a dividing curtain may be paramount in order to partition multiple courts and allow for simultaneous activities.
When it comes to dividing curtains, there are myriad styles, colors, and movement mechanisms to choose from. This quick guide will help your church team wade through the options.
First, the easiest decision: choosing a color. Divider curtains have two parts—a solid canvas-type material and a strong mesh to allow light to pass through. Most meshes come in a standard gray or white with other custom colors and designs available from the manufacturers at a premium.
If your church has no need for a custom design, Porter Athletics says gray is always the way to go. Gray hides dirt, dust, and grime better. Gray is counter-intuitively easier to see through since the white mesh reflects more light. Gray mesh is typically the same price as white mesh. With more visibility, the same price, and a lower maintenance cost to keep your gymnasium looking fresh, gray is the best option.
(For more information about colors and materials for divider curtains, read 5 Things to Consider when Specifying a Divider Curtain.)
Every dividing curtain has a different way of raising out of the way when the gym needs to be transformed into one cohesive space: the fold up, the roll up, and the centerfold. Each rising mechanism has its own set of benefits.
The Fold Up
Starting with the economical option, the fold up curtain typically costs the least of any raising mechanism available on the market. The curtain is hoisted by cables that pass through cable guides within the curtain. The curtain accordion folds together as it is raised up and is pulled upwards by a line shaft-type device. While it is the most economical electrically operated curtain, it also hangs 3’ from the ceiling when fully raised. Potential downsides to this curtain are the hanging height—for churches interested in hosting sanctioned events—and the visible/graspable cables that work as the raising mechanism.
The Roll Up
The roll up curtain typically lands in the middle of the road on cost. This curtain has a large, lightweight metal tube that hangs on the bottom of the curtain around which the curtain rolls as it is raised by self-guiding straps. Similar to the fold up curtain, these straps can be a negative for some owners because it creates a graspable object that children can play with. The roll up curtain rolls to a height of 24” from the ceiling. For many, the roll up curtain will be a solid option with the major downside being the metal tube hanging near the floor when lowered and the straps that can be played with throughout the curtain’s life.
The Centerfold/Center Roll
The center roll is the Cadillac of gym-dividing curtains. There are no external, graspable straps or cables, the metal tube is halfway between the ceiling and the floor where people can’t play with or get hurt running into, the top mesh and bottom divider can be replaced independently, and this curtain only hangs 18” from the ceiling when in the “up” position. Depending on the size of the curtain, some center roll curtains require two separate motors to raise and lower the curtain. The obvious downside to this style is paying to run two separate motors for one curtain. The upside to having multiple motors is that this curtain is designed to raise and lower twice as fast as any of the other traditional style curtains on the market. The center roll curtain may cost a bit more than other traditional curtain styles, but it may also be the least expensive to install and maintain, and it has no external pieces for children to play with.
While many churches have flat roofs for easy installation, there are options for churches with gymnasiums in peaked-roof buildings. The slope fold model exists for churches with oddly shaped roofs over their gyms.
In the case of an extremely large space or to surround an indoor field or court, a perimeter curtain can be set up in any shape including rounded corners, boxes, or ovals.
Finally, manual draw curtains are an extreme budget option for churches with massive cost-saving needs. These curtains do not raise up to the ceiling, do not require a motor, and are simply divided in the center, walked to the edge of the gym, and tied to the walls. While these are extremely economical, they can be fussy and require varying amounts of wall storage space on either end of the gymnasium for gathering the curtain. Typically, a manual draw curtain will require 1” of space for every 1’ of the curtain’s length. For example, if your curtain is 60’ your church will need to reserve 60” (5’) of space.
When deciding on a curtain, the solutions are as unique as the building itself. The only way to discover what type of curtain will best fit your church is to make the call, get opinions from professionals trained on implementing divider curtains in large gymnasium spaces, and decide which style will best fit your church’s needs and budget.
(To learn more about dividing curtains, read Curtain Oragami, Roll it or Fold it?)
There are multiple types of basketball hoops to choose from, ranging from fold-down models to permanent installations with many different sub-categories within each type. While there are pros and cons to both the fold-up options and permanent installations, the major concerns when selecting between the two options comes down to cost.
Fold-up hoops are the most expensive option for most churches building a gymnasium. Each hoop requires its own suspension system, a motor with cabling to raise and lower the hoop, and the added installation cost/weight of hanging the hoop from the roof. These hoops can be designed to fold in any direction, can be mounted on nearly any type of roof, and are extremely stable and rugged during “Shaqrific” slam-dunks or other rough play. These fold-up hoops may also be installed without a folding mechanism for a more economical suspended stationary hoop.
Potential negatives to consider come into play when installing folding hoops in larger areas. The higher the roof is, the more tubing will be required to suspend the hoop from the ceiling to regulation height. Longer supports denote weaker suspension strength and a more costly project in the long run. Motorized hoops will also require electric power to raise and lower, increasing the operation cost in the long run.
Many gymnasium spaces have covered sleeves or holes in the floor for volleyball net posts, or two volleyball posts on heavy-wheeled bases. However, a third option that not many churches even know about is the drop down volleyball net. Similar to the fold-up basketball hoops, these nets are suspended from the ceiling and are lowered to playing-height by a motor on the ceiling and cables. These nets are able to be dropped down in two minutes or less and can run off the same lowering system as the gymnasium basketball hoops.
The major advantage to having drop-down volleyball nets is in the reduction to damage done to the gymnasium floor. There is always potential for scratches and other damage if members of the men’s/women’s volleyball league, youth group, or community are constantly lugging heavy net posts around the gym between set-up and tear-down.
Drop-down nets—unlike heavy post options—are easily height adjustable for younger players. Drop-down nets are also time saving when setting up and tearing down because there is no need to fold up the net after play, move the posts back to the storage closet, or coordinate a team effort to make set-up and tear-down happen.
The cost of operating a motor for the lifetime of the nets is a factor to consider, purchasing a judge's stand that is compatible with these types of nets may not be an expense many churches are willing to make, and the fact that many churches already own a volleyball system makes upgrading to a state-of-the-art volleyball net system a pointless expenditure.
Regardless of your church’s gymnasium needs, Aspen is well versed on the requirements for regulation gymnasiums and the ministry benefits and downsides to creating church gyms and recreation centers. Contact us if you'd like to discuss the possibilities of gym space at your church.