How Your Church Facility Can Help Build Disciples
Is your church designed for building disciples?
Is Design Really About Trends?
Trends do matter. Sometimes when we hear the word "trend," we think of something fleeting or superficial, like a trend in clothing style. Certainly, we can fall victim to the shiniest, new thing. But trends can also serve an important purpose, especially when it comes to understanding what's shifting in the culture.
When Aspen seeks to understand trends, especially as they relate to design, we pay close attention to two primary categories: generational change and cultural change. As we learn about relating to ever-changing generations and shifts in our society's culture, we have the opportunity to create a church culture that meets people where they are and offers them a path to discovering Jesus in a way that's relevant to their life experience.
Here are five key ways to align your facility with your church's unique calling and to leverage your ministry space as a powerful disciple-making tool:
1. Create attractive space shaped by local context
If we gathered a group of people from around the country and asked them to describe an attractive facility, they would likely have varying responses based on their local contexts. In all communities, we find unique audiences, influences, and lifestyles. Creating built space that fits within your local context communicates relevancy and understanding. Your church building is a tangible, visual way for you to fit in to your community.
Businesses like McDonald’s and Taco Bell have learned the value of incorporating cultural cues from their surroundings as they design exterior and interior spaces. The locale may impact building materials, signage, furnishings, color palettes and more.
Thoughtful design creates fresh opportunities. Aspen worked with Christ The Rock Community Church, in Northern Wisconsin, who wanted to reach people in their community who weren’t opting to attend church but instead were more likely to hang out at a Bass Pro Shop or to go snowmobiling, fishing, or hunting. The church wanted to create space that would feel relevant, familiar, and inviting for their community.
Some churches identify a disconnect between their building’s exterior and the vibrant ministry taking place inside. Simple updates with aesthetics and color can help correct the identity crisis.
Another great example comes from Mack Avenue Community Church in Detroit, Michigan, which partnered with a development company to address a unique need in their community–the need for laundry facilities.
After learning about the lack of convenient laundry, the church created space with a laundromat and coffee shop so people could hang out and connect while taking care of an everyday need.
What does attractive space look like in your unique context? In the place where God has called you to serve, what settings do people value most? As you go to places where people gather, observe what you see in the space and how people engage with its varying elements.
2. Put guests at ease with visual clarity
It’s essential to establish clarity from the moment individuals walk through your doors to help them engage in your space. A guest should be able to step into your church and make quick decisions related to the areas they are seeking. We do this primarily by providing signage and wayfinding throughout the building.
To evaluate your space, consider the locations that guests ask about most often. What seems to confuse them? As you enter your facility, can you quickly locate signage with directions to key areas? If not, plan to improve your signage to establish clear wayfinding so guests don't have uneasy feelings as they start to engage. Confusing or negative guest experiences can create distractions that hinder the worship environment and relationship building. Prioritize visual clarity for key locations like lobbies, restrooms, hospitality, worship, and the children’s area.
3. Encourage connections through intentional space design
One of the key ways people grow in their faith is by connecting with other believers. You can foster fellowship and help people cultivate deep relationships by creating space for connection.
Aspen thinks of the church lobby as the new fellowship hall. Your church lobby is typically the first space people will step into when they come through your doors, and it's a perfect place to offer different ways for people to connect with each other. Of course, COVID has disrupted the way churches use their lobbies, but this is still a key space for engaging and developing relationships.
When we design lobbies, we think in terms of proxemics, a term related to how people connect in physical space, including four types of space—intimate, personal, social, and public.
In church settings, we typically look at personal, social, and public spaces. We design spaces called nooks and clusters where people can pull away from the crowd a bit for conversation in a smaller group.
We also look at spaces called edges to allow people to step out of traffic and avoid the sense that they are in the way. In other spaces, known as hotspots, we help establish patterns, using the flooring and traffic flow to intersect people intentionally to encourage interaction with one another.
Are there ways you can regroup seating arrangements or add new furniture to create nooks, clusters, and edges in your lobby? Even simple changes can make a big difference in how people interact with each other in a space.
4. Share your story to inspire and invite
As people walk into your space, they want to have a sense of who you are and what you value. Chapelstreet Church, in Geneva, Illinois, for example, moved their food pantry from the back of the church, where it was virtually hidden, to the front, so all who enter can immediately see what they value—service to the community. This immediately signals what the church values, and it also creates a powerful invitation for others to take another step in their faith journey—serving.
Your guests, especially young adults, will quickly pick up on inauthenticity, and are repelled by it. Strive to lean into the positive values that your church already exudes.
Choose to communicate the story of your church, its people, and mission authentically. By simply displaying your values or highlighting your key ministries in creative ways within your environment, you invite newcomers into your story and illustrate your ministry’s ongoing impact to your congregation.
How can you share your church’s unique story and mission?
5. Provide next steps at action centers
Churches typically focus on first impressions—how to help people take their initial journey from "the street to their seat." It's wise to also consider an exit strategy. How will you help people take another step toward becoming disciples before they leave your building?
Many churches create an action center—a place where people can get information on ministries and service opportunities within the church. An action center can be a simple display, an information desk, or people stationed outside the sanctuary after worship services to provide details about next steps people can take to grow and serve.
Action centers that are positioned right outside the sanctuary give people an immediate way to learn about next steps related to the sermon and worship experience they just participated in.
Here is a fun example of an action center by Mercy Corps. They are not a ministry, but they do some incredible work around the world. They have created stations in their lobby and even used the floor to help communicate who they are and what they value. The church below offers people an intentional way to engage at a level of commitment that they find comfortable.
Instead of hoping they will connect at a welcome desk or with a volunteer, here are a few examples of how churches can think more intentionally about that exit time:
- Highlight interactive next steps through creative displays, visible as people exit.
- Incorporate a phygital ministry approach by using technology to direct guests to small groups, spiritual growth opportunities, and places to serve.
- Include response opportunities on iPads or via phone apps so attendees can indicate an interest before leaving the church’s space.
Team Conversations and Resources
So, what’s next? What critical questions should your team ask to drive the conversation forward? First, lean in to try and understand what makes your community unique. Next, explore what God is specifically calling you to do.
Additionally, the following resources can support your team as you explore how to take the space in your church and use it to create environments that drive engagement and support discipleship:
About Josh Gregoire
Josh Gregoire serves as Associate Director of Development at Aspen Group. Since he joined Aspen in 2004 he has had roles in design, construction, IT, marketing, project development, and currently, business development. He is often the first point of contact for churches who are considering a church facility renovation or new building project. His experiences at Aspen and in pastoral ministry have prepared him to come alongside church leaders and help them navigate the earliest conversations and stages of a facility project. Josh also serves as the Discipleship Pastor in his home church, providing vision and leadership for ministries such as Small Groups, First Impressions (hospitality), and Next Steps. He has also served as his denomination’s District Sunday School and Discipleship Ministry Chair, and he continues to provide coaching and training to leaders and volunteers in these areas as needed. He and his wife Missy are raising two kids.