Two Ways Design Can Impact Emotional Wellbeing
This post is part one of a two part series in which we explore how design can shape our culture and result in emotionally and mentally supportive environments.
Can you imagine that the design of your lobby, sanctuary, and gathering spaces in your church could actually help address the emotional and mental health needs of our culture today? Recent data from Barna underscores a need for churches to bring real solutions to bear on our culture's growing mental health crisis—and the spaces we provide to our congregations and communities can be a powerful tool to help people navigate their anxiety, grief, and depression in order to more deeply connect with others.Removing Barriers with Design Solutions
According to Mark Matlock at Barna, recent research indicates that 58% of U.S. adults have relationships with people who struggle with mental health issues. Younger adults are especially in tune with this reality.
“As we look at the next generation, their emerging understanding of mental health issues is more nuanced than any other generation before,” shares Mark. “They understand these issues on a much deeper level and will intentionally avoid environments where they are not able to be supported or to operate optimally. If they do not feel safety, security and calm in a place, it could be a barrier to their participation, even if they want to participate.”
The goal of emotional wellbeing is wired into good design. As you help people facing emotional and mental needs, here are two ways design can help shape your culture positively and significantly:
1. Design for Respite and Presence
In this chaotic and busy world, respite is critical to emotional health. Solitude and silence have always been spiritual practices, but we used to think of this kind of rest as a destination, someplace off the grid. However, it can be created as part of the journey within your spaces. Think about characteristics of places that inspire you to behave differently—to take a moment for prayer and reflection, to focus on God, or even to leave your device behind for a while.
We’re often emotionally disconnected, drawn to multitasking and managing competing priorities. It’s hard to be fully present. But environments can reshape that dynamic.
Here, we see a simple structure integrated with outdoor elements.
These types of features are natural and soothing, inviting people to relax in the moment. Studies show that blood pressure can even decrease in spaces like this.
2. Design with Purpose and Story
Facilities can provide for specific functions, like a food pantry designed with dignity or spaces that support counseling and benevolence. But, they can have an even more significant role than function, and it starts with making space that is clear in its purpose and story.
Chapelstreet Church's Shepherd's Heart Food Pantry
Not long ago, we did a study with Barna called Making Space for Millennials. We discussed how our new expansive world shaped a desire for a modular life—something we piece together from infinite options to make life whatever we want it to be. Only few years later it has changed into a fast-paced life full of high expectations and demands on our time and attention. Instead of putting the individual in the driver’s seat, it has become a contributing factor to our heightened anxiety and mental health crisis.
Churches should be places where distinct stories intersect in meaningful ways.
As you look around at what we’ve built in the last twenty years, this prioritization of choice is everywhere. We even designed churches that play with the idea of options: we had the church in a coffee shop, bar, theater, school, neighborhood community center, etc.
However, by creating so many choices, we erased the church's timeless building language to the point where it's unfamiliar to the community. From a snapshot, we can't tell whether a space is a mall, a church, or a coffee shop. As it turns out, unlimited options can be confusing and stressful.
Churches should be places where distinct stories intersect in meaningful ways. We can gravitate toward a recognizable structure and boundaries yet also engage people with an opportunity for choice and personal expression. Designing for your specific mission and purpose should produce curated, customized spaces and paths that feature familiar language for your community along with visuals cues for how to engage.
Chapelpointe in Hudsonville, Michigan, customized their space with abundant window views that overlook the surrounding natural landscape.
When you create places with intention, and as an expression of your local story, you provide meaningful experiences, recognizing the needs of users and inviting them into intuitive and personal next steps.
Good design is a tool for solving problems, shaping culture, inspiring relationship, while supporting the discipleship journey. Our physical world and how we arrange our spaces have a significant influence on behaviors and emotions. This means there is no problem the church has that is too big for intentional design to help address.
What more could your space be doing? Ready to dream together? Let’s chat!
About Derek DeGroot
Derek DeGroot is Vice President of Design and Integrated Services for 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.