Are Your Facilities Shaping You?

Have you ever heard the old adage about the 2 happiest days of boat ownership? “The day you buy it and the day you sell it.” If you are a boat owner…or owner of many other “toys”, this saying may best describe your ownership experience.

So what about our ministry tools? While most of us will never sell our church facilities, there are 2 very clear stages in the life cycle that evoke emotions similar to the boat analogy. They are Elation and Frustration…let’s explore:

Elation – The day we move in to utilize the new tool for the planned and envisioned purpose.  In most cases, there are months and years of planning that goes into the development of a ministry tool (i.e. facility for this conversation).

In most cases, the cycle generally looks like this – Church Growth > Crowded Conditions > Inability to Sustain Growth in Current Facility (Frustration) > Dreaming (of new space) > Planning (of new space) > Building (of the space…some might call this the Child Birth phase) > Elation (after move in and launching of the expanded ministries) > REPEAT

Conversely…there is the frustration component that initiated the above pattern…and will once again raise its predictable head and causes the cycle to begin again.

Frustration – This is the point in the cycle when it become painfully obvious that either the tool you have is not sized appropriately…or in many cases…is not designed to do ministry the way you want given your current context. If you go back to the cycle above, you can see about where that lands (I made it pretty obvious…just saying).

In 1943, Winston Churchill gave a speech to the House of Lords referring to the recent decimation of the House of Commons due to the war’s bombing raids. His most famous line in that address is:

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

No truer words have ever been spoken related to the built environment…and it is so apropos to our ministry facilities. We spend months and years envisioning, dreaming, planning and building our facilities. We are diligent (most of the time) of being intentional about the space needed to facilitate ministry the way we believe will have the greatest impact on our community and target. We spend tens of thousands of dollars shaping the spaces…ensuring every door and window is in the right place…planning the audio/visual and environmental graphics…selecting just the right colors for walls, flooring and furniture…etc, etc, etc.

How you address a life cycle of the utilization of your built environment allows you to once again “shape your buildings” in lieu of them shaping you.

But at some point in the growth and cultural context of your church and community, that tool starts to shape how you do ministry. You start having to develop “work-arounds” to try to conform your ministry initiatives to the space you have access to.

Here are some real world example of what I mean:

  1. 25+ years ago, the “foyer” of most churches was merely a place to funnel people from the outside into the worship space…maybe to also get a bulletin. In that context, you only needed 1-2 square feet per person for a foyer. However, in most churches today, people are seeking the opportunity to do life with other believes and to gather and hangout. Cafes, lounge areas, soft seating, kiosks and the like need to be housed in these lobbies.  They are no longer just a “cattle shoot” to egress people.  In most cases, significant interaction and ministry is done, and as such, most churches need 5-7 square feet per person for this common space…sometimes even more.
  2. Many years ago, the Southern Baptist had a division called The Sunday School Board that provided direction and guidelines for best practices for doing education on Sunday. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the common suggested space utilization for education was a medium sized central room with a series of very small rooms off that space.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been called on to consult a church that is in one of these buildings and experiencing the Frustration milestone as they tell me they do not have enough space.  Upon further examination, we find that they actually have lots of space, it is just poorly configured…thus shaping how they do ministry.
  3. Technology has become an incredible tool for providing better utilization of space.  For example, if you need more worship space, but also have some spaces on the campus that are “dark” (i.e. not used simultaneous to your worship times), then consider video venues or other ways to best utilize the space God has entrusted to you before you venture into a costly expansion program to add more seats in a worship center that may sit dark 6 days a week.

The above life cycle of the utilization of your built environment is inevitable. How you address it allows you to once again “shape your buildings” in lieu of them shaping you. In addition…how you plan today must be done in the context of what might happen down the road.  Plan wisely…plan for flexibility and change. Be Intentional!


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