How do you know when it’s time to consider a renovation or build at your church? Oxford Bible Fellowship, in Oxford, Ohio, continued to see opportunities related to their vision stacked up against facility-related challenges, both inside and out. Pastor Garrett Nates was moved by the needs of their church, the local community, and the college campus. “We were running up against so many different constraints on our ministry. Probably every single area had pinch points.”
At Aspen Group, we believe that architectural design affects behavior. Behaviors become habits. Habits form us. People instinctively move and operate in a space based on what the design is guiding them to do. As churches and schools grapple to meet the needs of a new generation, they often overlook the part their physical buildings are playing in influencing faith formation—their responses, behaviors, and habits. The following four crucial components of design address the cultural forces that are complicating the discipleship journey. How can your built space help answer a new generation’s deepest needs?
Discover the impact Millennials' values, allegiances, and assumptions will have on your church.
Proper signage and branding are critical to a positive experience at church, especially for newcomers or first-time visitors. Think about it. How could we possibly navigate a large airport or hospital without relying completely on the signs around us? It would be a terrible experience. With churches opening their doors again for in-person worship, your first-time or newer guests may need to re-learn how to navigate your building. Now is the time to look at your church's signage and wayfinding with fresh eyes! When we brought focus groups to the various churches as part of the Making Space for Millennials study, they said that when they entered each space, they instinctively wondered, Where am I? What am I supposed to do next? What’s expected of me? They were seeking visual clarity.
The prevalence of mental and emotional health issues is growing. According to Barna, people are experiencing extreme anxiety, and there is an epidemic of loneliness in our country, cutting across every age group. Nearly 60 percent of adults say at least one relational or emotional health issue affects their most important relationships. One-third indicated that loneliness impacts their closest relationships. We know people are struggling and the Church is a source of ever-present hope. At Aspen Group, we believe good design can create culture and solve problems, including providing places for respite and personal connection. Aspen Architectural Designer Andrea Burks shares creative tips on how churches can work toward creating environments that support emotional and mental wellbeing.
Discipleship is a journey. It begins with bringing people into a community, building them up, and eventually sending them out again. At Aspen Group, we believe that church facilities can shape and accelerate the disciple-making journey. Built space guides people to behave in specific ways. When churches are intentional about their building’s layout and design, they can lead people on a journey, moving them from a first-time visitor to a fully devoted Christ-follower. However, it can be hard to identify priorities or know where to start. In this article, I’ll give you some ideas and examples to help you apply the concept of designing for discipleship.
St. Timothy Community Church in Gary, Indiana, stands at the corner of 25th and Grant, a beacon of hope and light in a neighborhood that’s marred by economic hardship and gang violence. Though the church’s exterior design and location creates an inviting presence in the community, church leaders wanted the building’s interior to convey this same sense of welcome for all ages—especially for youth.
Churches are in the midst of a huge transition. They’re prioritizing both the physical experience of people gathering in person for church, as well as the digital experience of people connecting online for worship, fellowship, and learning. Welcome to the world of “phygital” church—the blending of the physical and digital to maximize how churches connect with people and help them draw closer to God and others. My Aspen colleague, Rob Gordon, and I met on Facebook Live for a conversation about phygital church. Rob and others on Aspen's design team are continually asking, How can we use principles of architecture and design to create a phygital experience at church?
Brookville Road Community Church in New Palestine, Indiana, exists to inspire people to become wholehearted followers of Jesus. They place a special emphasis on reaching men because they've found that when husbands and fathers feel more comfortable in the space, they are more likely to return to church and bring their family. The leaders at Brookville Road have cued into a reality that Barna uncovered in a recent study on men in America titled, Five Essentials to Engage Today’s Men. The study, in partnership with BetterMan, a resource for men’s ministries, was conducted to find out how both churchgoing Christians and men overall are navigating 21st-century waters.
Since COVID-19 hit and churches were forced to leave their buildings, Aspen Group has been working to help churches prepare to relaunch. "Some of the key church spaces Aspen focuses on, like worship and gathering spaces, have been empty as Americans have stayed safe at home," says Aspen Group Project Architect Craig Dobyns. "My design attention shifted from how we gather and fellowship as a church body in our buildings, to how our buildings can serve the community that is staying at home. Our buildings are still ministry tools, and churches are in a unique position to reimagine their space, even if temporarily."
Don't do it yet. But after reading this first paragraph, close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a stressful time in your recent past. If you could escape anywhere in the world to help reduce your anxiety, where would you go?