Building a Big Story in a Small Space
How One Church's Renovation Created Maximum Impact Without Adding More Space
The Fields Church sits on a 5-acre plot of land in rural Mattoon, Illinois. Though one of approximately 40 other churches in and near this farming community, the area remains largely unchurched. “Seventy percent of our community is not in a church on Sunday morning,” says Travis Spencer, lead pastor of The Fields. Reaching the unchurched is the central mission at The Fields. Known for being an accepting, welcoming church, their attendance has continued to increase over the years, so much so that they started to feel the diminishing return of attracting more people than their church building could effectively hold. When Aspen Group first met at The Fields to evaluate their ministry needs, it was clear that the exterior look of the building was a deterren
t to attracting new visitors.
And once visitors entered the building, the space didn’t give a positive first impression. From the parking lot, to the entranceway, to the lobby, to the children’s check-in area, every area suffered from congestion and inhibited the possibility of relational connections. The church also wanted to open their facility for community gatherings and events, but it wasn’t conducive to hosting large group events.
Meanwhile, The Fields dreamed about being a lighthouse for the community. “We dream about being a place that would have people come here, love it, and many, many souls would come to the Lord because we’re here,” said one long-time member.
To build into their dream to be a lighthouse in their community, The Fields embarked on a significant renovation project. Instead of adding a large addition onto their existing footprint, Aspen Group helped The Fields maximize their existing 15,000 square foot facility. “The Fields’ first thought when they ran out of space was to build a large addition,” says Derek DeGroot, lead architect for Aspen Group. “But often a large addition can actually damage the flow of a building. A better approach is always to first maximize efficiency in the existing footprint by eliminating poor circulation, rooms that aren’t used often, and then earmarking prime real estate that isn’t being used properly during peak Sunday morning use.”
Aspen focused on optimizing the sanctuary space by removing unused platform space and maximizing the flat floor space where seats could be added, while strategically adding new seating in areas that weren’t being used efficiently. They also replaced a minimally used kitchen, replacing it with a smaller, more functional café. They enlarged the lobby and added seating so that it functions as a connecting space in between services and during the week when parents bring their kids to play in the new children’s indoor play space.
“We don’t recommend that all churches add an indoor play area,” says DeGroot, “but there’s no place like this in Mattoon where The Fields is located. In their case, we felt an indoor play space would be a great new addition to the children’s wing, and it would provide a place for parents from the surrounding area to bring their kids to play.” It was also important to move the children’s area from the back of the church to the front to better convey the importance the church places on serving families. “We moved the church offices from the front door to the back,” says DeGroot. “This freed up space to enlarge the children’s area, relieving the bottleneck that occurred in the cramped hallway during check-in/check-out on Sundays.
“We want to serve kids from birth to age 18,” says Pastor Travis. “Now, our building reflects this. It matches our programming and vision. When people walk in, they say, ‘You must have a lot of young families here.’ We don’t have to tell people we want to serve young families; our space speaks for itself and helps tell this story.”
“We don’t have to tell people we want to serve young families; our space speaks for itself and helps tell this story.”
– Travis Spencer, lead pastor, The Fields Church
Signs of Life
While The Fields’ new space makes an impact when people enter the building, they also wanted to ensure that passers-by could see signs of life from the outside. For this reason, Aspen added plenty of exterior windows to allow people to see what happens inside the church. They also incorporated outdoor connecting space, including a fireplace and patio seating to offer yet another place for guests and members to connect at church.
Music piped through indoor and outdoor speakers also adds life to the church. “When people walk up and start hearing music, it tells them we’re expecting you to be here,” says Pastor Travis. “Instead of people being an interruption to our week, now the facility is open during the day because of the play zone. You’ll see a couple of moms sitting, having a cup of coffee while their kids play, and we’ve had a couple of high school and college kids come in and do homework. We’ve never had space like this.”