By: Derek DeGroot on September 02, 2014
Sit, Stay: 3 Ways to Get People to Hang Out at Church
When people speak of connection, they often reference the “Third Place,” a term credited to sociologist Ray Oldenberg to describe a non-domestic, non-productive space in which a third realm of experience occurs. Think Starbucks and Panera, two businesses that have mastered the concept of cultivating community by providing inviting physical spaces for people to sit and stay a while, away from work or home.
Third Places help foster social connections that bring us into a world beyond the borders of our home and office. Churches are uniquely suited to serve as a Third Place. Worship on Sunday mornings is an excellent vehicle for gathering people and providing a venue for learning and conversations after Sunday services. To become an effective Third Place, however, there are some key principles to understand and adhere to.
On a practical level, Third Places feature areas to sit and are generally designed for interaction. They’re created with people in mind. They’re designed in the micro, not in the macro, and they’re designed to facilitate social interaction, not people movement. (Think coffee shop, not airport).
Unfortunately, most spaces are designed to facilitate the quickest route from point A to point B. Recall church lobbies you’ve been in. How many of them were designed to move people quickly through, instead of slowing people down and inviting them to stay for a while?
Fortunately, there are some simple design principles to help create Third Place space at church. Here are three that invite people to sit and stay a while:
Every place of fellowship, especially those designed for large group gatherings, needs nooks and clusters to help foster a sense of intimate connection even in the midst of a crowd. They help provide a place to socialize and connect away from the main flow of traffic.
Clusters—groups of seating that are inserted into an open area—serve an important purpose in the design of a church. They contribute to the overall aesthetic of a space by bringing warmth and a feeling of intimacy to otherwise large, expanses of space. Although seating clusters help break up large, open spaces, nooks provide intimate spaces for people to engage in deeper conversation.
3. Hot Spots
Purposeful, intentional spots where people sporadically gather to share a few thoughts, fellowship, and move on are a must. Think of hot spots as five-minute gathering points.
West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, added several types of connecting spaces in their new building renovation—space that invites their congregation to hang out in between—and long after—church services.
Examine how people move around your space. If there are unlimited options for traversing space, what are some ways you could create a specific flow that would better foster interaction? Yes, you must give people flexibility and options. But be intentional about what the options are. Even a simple change to your floor plan can create a new flow that aids the potential for people to linger longer at church.
For more ideas on how to create connecting space, download my free resource, Creating Third Place Spaces at Church.
About Derek DeGroot
Derek DeGroot is President of Aspen Group. After graduating from University of Illinois-Chicago’s architecture program, Derek began his career in residential design. At the same time, his church was embarking on a building project. Derek quickly realized that churches needed to find a better way to build. Soon after, he discovered and joined Aspen Group in 2007.