By Carol Pipes
Traditional or contemporary? Small, formal foyer or large, casual lobby? New construction or renovation? Those are just a few of the decisions churches face when entering a building or remodeling project.
Form, function and economics have influenced significant shifts in church architecture the past two decades.
As church practices changed and churches approached ministry differently, the facilities themselves began to reflect those changes, according to Gary Nicholson, director of Lifeway Architecture.
“Churches also are trying to get more ministry out of their dollars,” says Nicholson. “That applies to facilities as well.” But Nicholson says church building trends are more than a reflection of the financial times, since many of today’s trends began before the recession of the 2000s.
“It’s more a matter of stewardship,” says Nicholson. “Churches have a responsibility to make the best use of the dollars they spend, whether it’s in construction, or any other area of ministry.”
If your church is considering new construction or renovating an existing facility, here are five trends to consider.
Designing for context
You wouldn’t build the same church building in Portland, Ore., you would build in Portland, Maine, advises Nicholson. “Facilities need to fit the context of the community around the church as well as align with where you are going as a church.”
Lifeway helped design a space for Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tenn. The exterior of the facility has a meetinghouse look with barn-like features that reflect the popular horse country surrounding the church.
“The look of your facility depends on your community and the people you are trying to reach,” says Nicholson.
Multi-use worship center
Churches today have a greater awareness of how and when their facilities are being used. Churches looking for ways to engage their communities throughout the week might consider how to repurpose the space in their current facility or in a new building. A worship center can be a fellowship hall as well as a community venue for concerts, town meetings, after-school programs, and more. Designing multi-use space is essential for churches that want less square footage but want to get the most amount of ministry out of it as possible.
Larger gathering spaces
As churches begin to emphasize community, lobby areas are growing larger. Church lobbies today often accommodate a welcome center, bookstore, coffee bar and space for informal interactions between church members and guests. Some lobbies even double as a fellowship hall. Lifeway Architecture recently created a large gathering space for Nineteen: Ten Church in Boerne, Texas, as a part of their new construction. They combined modern furniture with natural materials to give the lobby a clean, contemporary feel. With the café at one end of the rectangular space, intentional groupings of furniture throughout the lobby help define more intimate conversation spots.
As Sunday morning adult Bible study moves to weeknight small groups, new church facilities are being built without adult classrooms. “Most churches we design for allocate space for babies through elementary school children and some students. But many are forgoing adult classroom space,” says Nicholson. “For some this is a financial decision, for others it’s more intentional.”
Remodeling an existing facility
In cities across the nation, older churches and cathedrals are finding new life as younger churches renovate them for modern use. That goes for empty warehouses and big box retail stores. “Not only is it a greener practice, but you can remodel for half or three-quarters of what you would spend on new construction,” says Nicholson. That leaves many church leaders asking, “Why build a new building when we can upcycle an old one?”
A few years ago, Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., renovated a gothic cathedral built in 1884. The 20,000-square-foot sanctuary and rectory had sat empty 10 years and needed quite a bit of work. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we take a 19th century building and make it usable for the 21st century?’” says Jenny Holzer, director of operations for Sojourn. “We didn’t want to compromise the architectural features, so we let the space design itself.”
Structural issues, crumbling plaster walls and acoustics were just a few of the challenges they faced during the year-long renovation. But bringing new life to an old building resonated with church members and the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s been a great place to worship,” she says of the 700-seat sanctuary, with its 30-foot, vaulted ceilings. “The curves move upwards and bring your attention up. The whole idea of worship is to turn attention from yourself to God, and the architecture helps accomplish that.”
The future of church buildings
Small is the new big in the future. Fewer megachurches will have large facilities as they opt for smaller worship centers and multiple venues, many with multiple gathering times and days, according to Lifeway President Thom Rainer.
“Churches of all sizes will downsize,” says Rainer. Or at least delay building larger “the first moment the capacity feels challenged in their worship services.”
Rainer says the perspective of the pastor plays a huge role. “A Boomer church leader looks at a small building and limited acreage and sees challenges. He sees the limitations of size and space. A Millennial leader looks at the same building and acreage and sees opportunity. He immediately thinks multiple venues, multiple services, and multiple days.”
Church trends today are a function of the way churches see their buildings.
“Church leaders view church buildings as tools for ministry, more than as houses for God,” says Nicholson. “They are still sacred, in the sense that they are set apart for God’s work, but they can at the same time be set apart for many types of ministry, not just worship. The foyer is just as sacred as the sanctuary, because you can meet God there, too.”
Carol Pipes is editor of Facts & Trends.