Is Your Gymnasium Serving Your Ministry?
In a church facility, each component of the building is either going to support the ministry and growth of that church (be a growth engine), or be something that inhibits the ministry or growth of the church (a growth barrier).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a trend developed to build a gymnasium as part of a church’s campus to attract the community to the church through a sports ministry program. The theory was that a variety of sports programming would be offered, intended to bring unchurched people into the facility, and enable the building of relationships with the church members as part of an outreach strategy. When not in use for sports, the gym would serve as the meeting space for other ministries and events.
That was the theory. What many churches have found, however, is the gym aspects of the space were used by few, and for just a few hours per week — perhaps as little as a couple hours one evening a week. And the restrictions placed on the space because of its sports orientation — windows caged over (or no windows at all) to prevent breakage; no permanent Audio-Visual-Lighting configuration; sports court lines painted on sports flooring — make the space impractical for other ministry use. What group of senior citizens wants to learn how to set up a sound system just to get a handheld microphone working for their meeting?
The point is this: when a sports program isn’t a growth engine for your church, your gymnasium is likely a growth barrier.
But what about those 20 guys that play basketball every Monday night?
What if they went into the community where the unchurched, sports-oriented people spend their time, and built relationships there? Secular sports venues are plentiful, and provide ample opportunity for church members to reach out to the unchurched in their community.
We’ve recently seen a number of churches convert their gym into true multi-ministry space. Some are “chapel-esque”, to better support weddings, funerals and smaller services but with movable seating to allow for other activities. Some take on the form of a banquet facility to better handle large dinners, but can easily be subdivided into smaller teaching/meeting spaces. Others serve as an extension of the main lobby, providing additional space for connection and small gathering spaces — an extension of the third-space lobby concept. And last but not least, this new multi-ministry space may be designed to be overflow space from the main auditorium and serve as a second worship venue.
The good news is renovating a gymnasium in this fashion is a cost-effective way to create ministry space in your facility. The work needed isn’t structural — the structure is already there. It’s finish work: taking that space, subdividing it and applying finished and furnishings.
What types of ministry within your church could be unleashed if that space was repurposed into something more generally useful? Perhaps the time has come to start that discussion with your ministry leaders.
About Greg Snider
Greg Snider joined Aspen Group, a design/build/furnish firm for churches, in 1999. Since that time, he has worked with a wide range of churches throughout the past two decades, including many large, innovative, multisite congregations. His mission is to help churches discover how to maximize their facilities and create space for ministry impact. He has written and presented on the power of connecting space, growth engines and barriers, and how to build churches for community impact.