Design Week Recap: How Good Church Design Shapes Culture and Solves Problems Blog Feature
Evan McBroom

By: Evan McBroom on December 10, 2020

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Design Week Recap: How Good Church Design Shapes Culture and Solves Problems

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Last week our team at Aspen Group hosted Design Week—a five-day focus on some of today’s most pressing challenges for churches and how design can provide solutions.

It was an inspiring week!

We discussed and provided resources about how the design of your church’s building and spaces (interior and exterior) can create culture and address—even solve—some of the most pressing issues facing churches today.

So what are the most pressing issues facing the church?


We asked Barna to give us three of the top challenges in the church and in the U.S. based on their research and the unfolding crises that occurred this year. Here are the top three challenges they shared with us:

  1. The mental and emotional well being of people
  2. How to disciple the next generation—Gen Z, specifically
  3. How to help people connect with and navigate the physical and digital (hybrid) church of today.

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Throughout Design Week, we looked deeper into these issues and asked: How can we think creatively and innovate through design to address these issues? How can design provide solutions?

We explored and learned so much. Here’s a summary:

Design Week Kickoff

Day 1 (Nov. 30): Elena Forsythe, Aspen Integrated Services Specialist, and I kicked off Design Week. We previewed the full week of topics and discussion!

Emotional Well-being

design-week-andrea-quoteDay 2 (Dec. 1): Recognizing that mental health issues are affecting more Americans than ever before, churches are striving to care for people’s mental and emotional needs. Aspen Architect Andrea Burks showed us ways that churches can build a place that fosters emotional and mental well-being.

Andrea shared about the importance of nature—how bringing the outdoors inside can impact a person’s well-being and remind people of the glory of God. We also know creating spaces that connect people relationally and emotionally is important. People want to be connected to others at church, and they want to be their full, authentic self at church.


Designs for the #myuglychurch Contest Winner

design-week-craig-quoteDay 3 (Dec. 2): We celebrated the winner of Aspen’s #MyUglyChurch contest—Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago—a landmark, multicultural Gothic Revival church.
We connected with Pastor David Neff to provide recommendations and design concepts to help them freshen up one key area of their church—the fellowship hall. Job one for the church, according to our design team: declutter the space. “When you declutter, you start to see space in a different way and you can see all the opportunities,” said Aspen Architect, Craig Dobyns.

Craig and our design team offered other simple design concepts to make the space more functional and relational. We’re excited for what’s ahead for Second Presbyterian Church!

Building for a Better Future Webinar

Day 3 (Dec. 2): Our main event for the week was a webinar featuring Mark Matlock, Insights Lead with Barna Group, and Derek DeGroot, Vice President of Design and Integrated Services at Aspen. We unpacked data around the most pressing challenges facing the church and design solutions for these important issues.

Here is a quick look at some data and design solutions:

1. Addressing mental and emotional health

According to Barna’s data, Mark shared that across demographics, people are sad, lonely, and 3 in 10 say they are depressed. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. adults indicate a relationship in their life that is affected by mental health. People are in desperate need of an emotionally connected church.

Derek believes emotional well-being is inherent in good design and can be accomplished by the interplay of art and architecture, of indoors and outdoors. “Let’s create spaces with a clear purpose that allow people to engage intuitively,” he said.

2. Engaging Gen Z

As we think about increasing connections with Gen Z, studies show that college-age students are more likely to return to their home church when they have intergenerational relationships.

Instead of creating spaces in our buildings that separate generations, Derek stressed the importance of creating spaces where various generations are comfortable and excited about coming together for shared experiences. This might be similar to what we experience in everyday settings like restaurants or sports venues.


3. Building physical and digital (hybrid) church

Leaders are wrestling with church engagement, having been forced to adapt quickly to a digital world while also managing the physical space in the midst of a pandemic.

Moving ahead, imagine being so intentional about crafting the interplay between digital and physical that someone could still experience the ethos of your church, whether they're live on Sunday or saw 10 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon.

“We can design for beauty, behavior and liturgy without divorcing from technology. We can do that with our physical spaces. We don't want to abandon our physical engagement, but we want to augment it with technology,” said Derek.

Outdoor Spaces

design-week-mark-quoteDay 4 (Dec. 3): Outdoor space is one of the most overlooked areas of churches’ facilities. Aspen’s Senior Landscape Architect Mark Underwood gave practical ideas and inspiration for how to use your church’s exterior for added ministry space. We learned that there is a direct positive connection between our interaction with nature and our health— both our physical and physiological health.

While Mark tells churches to aim to have a master plan that supports their church’s overall mission when it comes to their outdoor space, there are so many options churches can consider to engage with and serve others. From outdoor cafes to porch swings, sports to playgrounds, gardens to phygital prayer walks (where you access prayers, verses while interacting with a phone or other technology provided), Mark shared a range of creative ideas and examples for maximizing outdoor spaces.

Gen Z & Phygital Churchdesign-week-rob-quote

Day 5 (Dec. 4): Gen Z is a generation craving connection. What can churches do to draw them in for both in-person and online discipleship? Aspen Architect Rob Gordon shared design concepts to address the needs of this generation and discussed how both physical and digital (phygital) church may be the key to ministering effectively to Gen Z and all generations.


In the weeks ahead, we'll share more content from each of our designers and the topics they covered during Design Week. Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don't miss a thing!



About Evan McBroom

Evan McBroom is former Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Aspen Group. He lives with his wife, Debbie, in Lebanon, Tennessee.