4 Reasons Why Connecting Spaces Trump Cattle Chutes

When I started my career in church facility development in 19XX (you venture a guess), the foyer/lobby/narthex (for my liturgical friends) was generally sized to be 1-2 square feet per seat in the main worship space. In those days, this space was intended to be used as a place to funnel people from the worship space to the outside or down a series of narrow corridors that led to the education, administration or fellowship areas. There was often a small table for giving/tithing envelopes or general information along with 1-2 uncomfortable high-back chairs…usually not ones you would enjoy sitting in for any length of time, nor were they arranged in a manner to encourage conversation or community.

For all practicality, the foyer was nothing more than a well appointed cattle chute (MOO).
Not anymore.

That line of thinking has fortunately gone the way of the dodo-bird. Why? Because people want to connect. People want to do life together. We want to linger. We want to hangout. We want to do more than just pass through a space to merely get to the other side.

Let’s look at 4 reasons why this is a major shift in church space:

  1. People Want Connection– In “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Professor Nicolas Epley from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and co-author Juliana Schroder found that participants in their experiments not only underestimated others’ interest in connecting, but also reported positive experiences by both being spoken to and to speaking with a stranger.

“Connecting with strangers on a train may not bring the same long-term benefits as connecting with friends,” Epley states. “But commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude.”

Deep down, we want to connect with others.

“People want to connect. People want to do life together. We want to linger. We want to hangout. We want to do more than just pass through a space to merely get to the other side.”

  1. Community– Over the past half decade or more,  the term “doing life together” has become a mainstay in modern vernacular. We are seeking the opportunity to connect with people. For the past 30-50 years the American population has become experts at separatism, isolationism and back yard living…fences and all. If we are ever invaded by extra terrestrial beings, they will report back to the mother ship that Earthlings vacate their domiciles early in the morning…then return late evening and are not see again until the next morning. However, the trend is the opposite. Ask the people of Celebration, Florida. Talk to masses of people moving back into urban and walk-able settings. People are seeking community…why not let the church lead the way in this cultural shift instead of being the typical laggards.
  2. Death of the Fellowship Hall– Several years ago, Dr. Thom Rainer conducted a research project that identified the least effective and “inspirational” type of construction/development project was the “fellowship hall”. While community is desirable, the idea of a contrived or forced “community” setting is not working. Frankly, the dedicated fellowship hall is a very poor utilization of space and tends to become the dreaded multi-useless building. Properly sized lobby spaces can more than suffice for these “fellowship” functions…so why do we need to pay for the space twice?
  3. Third Place and the “Well”– In the early to mid 1990’s the term “Third Place” (thanks to the book  The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg) came in vogue referencing the third place in a person’s life that they would engage them with others (the first place is where you live…the second is where you go to pay for where you live…and the third place was that comfortable place where you could unwind, get away, hang, connect, etc.) The most popular example of a Third Place was from the TV sitcom, “Cheers”…where “everyone knows your name”. In the majority of instances where churches talked about a third place, it referred to a coffee shop or cafe. While that is “an” option, it is not the only option. In fact, I would prefer to talk about “wells” (vs. Temples) as the draw. Think about the women at the well. She did not wake up and decide to go to the temple or “church”.  No. She had to do a 7-day a week event…get water. Part of her culture and daily routine. But she met God in the form of Jesus at the well. After her encounter, she ran home…but did not load up the family station wagon and drive her family to the temple. Nope…she took them to the WELL. Think about that…how can we develop more wells on our campus?

Given the above as well as many other cultural and practical influences, we are seeing these gathering/connecting spaces…what might be called the “commons”…be at least 50% the size of the worship seating with a preferred factor of 75-100% of the worship seating space. If we use 8-10 SF per person for worship seating, that means we need to allocate 4-10 SF per person in the common space vs. 1-2 SF.  In fact, one of the industry partners we collaborate with is trending their designs and concepts closer to 150%. That is a ton of space…and there are times that not all of it needs to be included in the “built environment” but can be captured in adjacent spaces outside the building and create an inside/outside commons that can be equally as effective and in many cases, be even more inviting. If you design your commons to be 75%  of your worship seating, but also an additional 75% in natural environments, you could potentially save enormous amounts of money as the conditioned space might cost you, say, $150/SF or even more while the exterior space would be in the $30-40/SF range. That is a 75% savings.

Bottom line is we need to provide common connecting spaces and not just a cattle chute. You need to determine what is contextual for your church, culture, DNA and other such factors.


The Established Church

I have worked in the church facility arena for over 32 years.  I have seen all sorts of trends, initiatives, flash-in-the-pan ideas and those that last through the ages.  I have seen shifts in music as well as what version of the Bible to preach from as well as the “how” we do church. I am a firm believer that the Word of God never changes…but our means, methods, systems, organizational structures, etc. MUST change.

In the design and construction segment of the church facility world, there is a huge clamoring to be on the cutting edge…to find the next Saddleback or Willow Creek or Elevation Church or Life Church. Most people in the space I work in want to be with the “cool” people. The trend setters. The hottest new thing.

I get it.

There is something very exciting to be part of a movement that is changing the landscape of church and impacting the world in incredible ways. There is great notoriety for those firms that can help design, manage and build facilities for these organizations. I have been blessed to serve such ministries and continue to serve many to this day. Again…I understand the allure.

But let’s step back…there are over 375,000 churches in America. Of those, there are less than 2,000 that would be considered Mega Churches (over 2,000 weekly attendance)…that is only .5%…less than one percent. And of that group, many have been around for more than 20 years…so they are not really the “newest gig” in town.

In addition, there are about 5,000 new churches planted every year (which helps to offset the closures). And of those, most are smaller than 200 people so they are not [yet] the new model for church in America.

Then it hit me (I am a slow learner at times)…the majority of all ministry that occurs in the USA is done from/within/based out of an ESTABLISHED CHURCH. In fact, I would surmise that 95-99% of ministry is generated by an established church. Let’s be clear…”established” does not necessarily mean “old” or “dying” or “stuck in a rut” or even “traditional” in their music style. I have churches we are serving that are 50-75 years old that have started their 6th campus or are reaching their communities in very new and fresh ways.

So what? Who cares?

Well…I do, and you should too.

The leaders of these established churches need encouragement. They need training on how to navigate the issues and opportunities related to leading an established church. They need to know how to honor the past and yet move toward the future. How do you love and respect an aging congregation and yet attract and foster relationships with the next 1-2 generations? How do you lead a church with deferred maintenance or “tired” facilities that may be dated and incongruent with your vision?

Well…I am so excited to have been asked to participate in the first ever EST Conference this fall in Dallas, Texas. The list of conference speakers includes Dr. Thom Rainer, Sam Rainer, Micah Fries, Josh King and John Myzuka…and me.

This one day event will be held on October 4, 2018. Registration has just opened, so make plans to gather your team and spend the day with this great line up of church leaders.


4 Reasons Why Every Church Budget Should Include a Capital Reserve Line Item

I am a big fan of the men in the Rainer Family…you know…Thom, Sam, Jess and Art. These men have been a great encouragement to me and their support of our work has been incredible. We have posted blogs in the past from Thom and Sam…but not Art…until now. We are excited to have a blog by Art Rainer. Art’s passion for Biblical Financial Stewardship is infectious and it so mirrors our passion for Facility Stewardship (aren’t they really one in the same???).

Thanks Art for sharing your wisdom, passion and heart!


In personal finances, we all know how important it is to have an emergency fund. Unforeseen, costly events happen. Sometimes they are relatively small—a tire goes flat or a washing machine stops working. Sometimes they are big—a job is lost. Having money set aside for these purposes is key to financial health.

But what about churches?

Churches face a similar predicament. The inevitable unforeseen cost is just around the corner.

Capital reserves are funds set aside, specifically for facility improvements or repairs. And sufficient funds set aside for these improvements or repairs are the result of very intentional planning.

“To start setting aside funds for future capital needs, church budgets must include a line item dedicated to accomplishing this goal.”

To start setting aside funds for future capital needs, church budgets must include a line item dedicated to accomplishing this goal.

Here are a few reasons why every church budget should include a capital reserve line item:

  1. Church facilities tend to get older, not younger. This may surprise you, but your church facilities will not improve on their own. Unfortunately, many churches budget as if their facilities will never deteriorate, that the air conditioning unit will work forever. Having a capital reserve line item acknowledges reality—facilities get worse over time, not better.
  2. You never know when a major capital expense will hit. Our best plans fail, even for capital repairs. Many church facility problems come as a complete surprise. You didn’t anticipate the roof leaking that day. You thought you had, at least, another year on your air conditioning unit. But here you sit, in a hot, leaking church building. A capital reserve line item helps ensure you have money set aside for unfortunate surprises.
  3. Capital reserves will increase confidence and decrease stress. Capital reserves increase you and your church members’ confidence that the budget will not be derailed by a major facility expense. Capital reserves also decrease the stress that comes from knowing you are not prepared to withstand an unforeseen capital expense.
  4. The absence of capital reserves will cannibalize ministry funds. When expenses must be reduced because of an  unforeseen capital expense, it is the ministry budgets that typically take the largest hit. This happens because ministry budgets are typically not seen as a fixed cost. Variable expenses, like ministry dollars, are almost always reduced before a church’s fixed costs.

Churches need funds set aside for capital expenses. Some of these expenses are anticipated, while others come as a complete surprise. To start saving money for inevitable repairs and improvements, make sure to include a capital reserve line item in your budget.

Envelope3.com is a website dedicated to helping churches better understand their budget. A church budget is a vital, but often overlooked, tool for church leaders. A church budget is a blueprint for mission. Church leaders can get their church budget analysis and comparison for only $19.97! Be sure to check it out.


Living in Wake Forest, NC, Art’s curiosities center on faith-infused leadership, marketing, and life observations. Such interests fueled his authoring of several articles and two books, Simple Life and Raising Dad.

Art earned his Master of Business Administration at the University of Kentucky and is currently a doctoral candidate in business administration. Art serves as the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is co-owner of Rainer Publishing.

Don’t Miss Out!

Did you by chance miss our HUGE announcement last week?  Say it isn’t so!

Last week we released  Church Facility Management Solutions…the ONLY online membership community designed and intended to provided best-in-class facility management information for EVERY church, regardless of size, shape, denomination, city, state, staffing structure…ANY one!

As a reminder, your CFMS membership (an incredible value at only $20/mo.) provides you with:

  1. Weekly Information sent directly to you to help you be proactive and intentional with the care of your facility
  2. Online Community so that you can get input and feedback from hundreds of other church and facility leaders
  3. Monthly Webinars by industry professionals to provide relevant information and resources for your church facility management
  4. Vetted Vendors will put a list of qualified vendors at your fingertips with the assurance that they have been pre-qualified by our team…and they do not pay to be on this list
  5. Free Resources will be developed and made available to members including worksheet, forms, policy docs, job descriptions, etc. This alone will be worth the cost of membership
  6. Availability to Consulting and Training Services

If you are serious about the stewarding of the ministry facilities God has entrusted to you, sign up TODAY!

Don’t just take our word for it…here is what Dr. Thom Rainer has to say:

Regardless of your church size, you need to be thinking about the best use and management of your facilities. There is no better place than this community. It offers the best of church facility expertise along with peer learning. You should not be without this resource!

Thom S. Rainer, President and CEO

LifeWay Christian Resources

Church Answers


Church Facility Management Solutions IS LIVE!

Cool Solutions Group is so excited to announce the release of CHURCH FACILITY MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS.  That’s right…we are LIVE!

If you are one of the 250+ early birds, then you have already received your notification, but if you have been waiting…the wait is over.

Don’t just take our word for it…here is what Dr. Thom Rainer has to say:

Regardless of your church size, you need to be thinking about the best use and management of your facilities. There is no better place than this community. It offers the best of church facility expertise along with peer learning. You should not be without this resource!

Thom S. Rainer, President and CEO

LifeWay Christian Resources

Church Answers

As a reminder, Church Facility Management Solutions is the ONLY online membership community designed and intended to provided best-in-class facility management information for EVERY church, regardless of size, shape, denomination, city, state, staffing structure…ANY one! You also do not have to be a “facility manager” to benefit greatly from the information provided.

As a reminder,  your CFMS membership provides you:

  1. Weekly Information sent directly to you to help you be proactive and intentional with the care of your facility.
  2. Online Community so that you can get input and feedback from hundreds of other church and facility leaders.
  3. Monthly Webinars by industry professionals to provide relevant information and resources for your church facility management.
  4. Vetted Vendors will put a list of qualified vendors at your fingertips with the assurance that they have been pre-qualified by our team…and they do not pay to be on this list.
  5. Free Resources will be developed and made available to members including worksheet, forms, policy docs, job descriptions, etc. This alone will be worth the cost of membership.
  6. Availability to Consulting and Training Services.

If you are serious about the stewarding of the ministry facilities God has entrusted to you, sign up TODAY!


10 Keys to Maximizing Your Church Facility – Interview with Thom Rainer

Do you know what you need to focus on related to your church facility in 2018? If not, you will want to hear this podcast with Dr. Thom Rainer.

Some highlights from this podcast include:

  • Your church is more inclined to experience a parent in a divorce case trying to abduct a child than it is to experience an active shooter.
  • Presence is the #1 thing your church can do to increase security.
  • Is your church facility congruent with your mission?
  • In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have deferred maintenance; you’d have enough money to handle facility issues as they arise.
  • Your facility team is an important part of your church’s ministry.

Is your church facility congruent with your mission?

The ten keys to maximizing your church facility are:

  1. Safety and security
  2. Flow of the space
  3. Contextualization of facilities
  4. Capital reserve – facing the inevitable
  5. Addressing the 4 buckets of budgeting
  6. Staffing
  7. Defining CLEAN and how that impacts staffing and budget
  8. Spatial utilization
  9. Integrating the facility and facility staff in your ministry
  10. Empowering the membership to be active in facility stewardship

Listen to the entire interview with Dr. Rainer HERE


The Church of “Generica”

I travel a lot and I am in many cities across the county.  One thing that has really struck me is how similar one city is to the next…especially in the “burbs”. Almost every Outback, Chili’s or Applebee’s  has the same basic design.  I can be taken blindfolded into almost any Home Depot or Lowe’s, remove the covering and not know what city I am in. In most cases I can be plunked down in a community with developments that are less than 10 years old and much of the architecture of the  shopping centers, the so called “urban” housing, and office buildings look very similar.

I am conflicted when I see this.  A part of me feels comfortable and “safe”…but a deeper emotion wonders if we have settled for a generic, industrial, revolution mindset and formations. What happened to unique? What happened to original and innovative? Have we commoditized everything to the point that we press them into existence like we were running a Ford assembly line? Have we accepted that we live in “Generica” (A term not learned from Jon Crosby)? If so, are we also content with worshiping at The Church of “Generica”?

Recently, I read a blog by Sam Rainer III in Church Executive Magazine entitled “Hurdles to Established Church Innovation”.   I have a lot of respect for Sam and his dad Thom.  They are passionate about the local church and live it out in their personal and professional lives.

Sam starts the article by asking 2 questions:

“Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation?”

“Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes?”

These may seem obvious or possibly rhetorical, but I think they are far more thought provoking than they may appear on the surface.  He drills down on what is “innovation” and “established”.  According to Sam, innovation is “the process of successfully establishing something new” while establish means “to create firm stability.”  Sam goes on to poke a couple holes in both by writing:

“Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability.”

As I read further in to the article, I believe that Sam is communicating that it is a both/and scenario. We need to have innovation in all of our ministries.  We need to be exploring new and fresh ways to “be the church” instead of getting comfortable with our holy huddles.  It may require serious paradigm shifts, and yes…you may very well lose people because of it.  If that happens, and you believe that the innovation you have implemented is going to further the Kingdom and the mission of the church, then wish them well and let them go because they may very well have been the limiting factor to you reaching your God given vision.  I like what Joyce Meyers say…”Rejection is Protection”. When we are rejected, many times it is the Lord protecting us from a potentially bad situation or relationship.

At the same time, church plants and new works can not stay in a mode of only innovating and primarily focusing on being “cool”. At some point you need to establish systems, processes and core values. There needs to be a sense of stability and permanence.

“Generica” can be just as prevalent in a contemporary setting as a 100 year old traditional church. When I go to a conference of church planters or “cutting edge” churches, it strikes me as odd to see many pastors/leaders with the same hair style, same untucked shirts and pointy shoes. Or I will visit a contemporary church to witness the  same haze machines, 3 video screens, drum cage and mono-sloped roof lines.  What we think is cool, relevant  and cutting edge can be just as generic as the coat & tie, 4 white columns, red brick and steeple. This “condition” is an equal opportunity malady that can infect any church, any movement or any ministry organization.

Sam wraps up his article with 4 hurdles that may be hindering a church from innovating.  They are:

  1. Lack of intentionality –When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. The practice of spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos.
  2. Lack of originality –  Innovation is introducing something new, not introducing something with the façade of newness or a new logo.
  3. The wrong metrics -What gets measured gets done, and what you measure is typically an indicator of what you value. A mature church will measure different things than a new church. However, an overemphasis on the metrics sustaining the establishment will inevitably de-emphasize innovation and dissuade team members from attempting innovation.
  4. The ease of appeasement – In an established church, some leaders prefer the ease of appeasing members rather than innovating to reach new people. Appeasing existing members is much easier than challenging a church to innovate and reach new people.

Avoid becoming the Church of “Generica”…Innovate! This applies to how you “do” church, how you reach the community…and yes…how your facilities are designed.

Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

5 Consequences of Too Much Building – Part 1

In the past few weeks, I have been exposed to a couple of interactions that have really impacted me. The first was two days of workshops that I was asked to lead for the Center for Congregations in Indiana. Many of these churches are dealing with aging buildings and a declining attendance/membership. The second was a Podcast by Dr. Thom Rainer (What to Do When You Build too Big). Both of these shone a light on many issues churches are facing when they find themselves in a situation with more building than they need.

This issue is generally caused by a couple of factors:

1. The church has declined in attendance and facility use, and as such, the previous facilities are too large for the remaining membership and programming.

2. The church is built too big to start with, mainly because of:

  • Miscalculation of projected growth
  • Improper planning
  • A “build it and they will come” mindset

Regardless of the “cause”, the “effect” is serious business. In light of that, I want to address the 5 consequences for “too much building” and provide some possible considerations:

#1: – The Money Pit

1. Higher Utility Costs – An often over looked consequence of too much building is the cost of utilities to heat, cool and light a facility that is larger than needed. Many churches just keep paying the bills…because…well…”we have always done it that way”. But it does not have to be that way. If you do not need all of the space, then shut some of it down and stop paying for unneeded utilities. Other options may include:

  • Selling the facility and obtaining a “right sized” facility
  • Leasing, renting or sharing a portion of the facility, even it only covers the cost of utilities, maintenance and repairs
  • Merging your congregation with another. This trend has saved many congregations and provided facilities for others that may have only been renting (for more information read “Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work” by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird).

2. Deferred Maintenance – This is very sad to me, but due to poor planning for the inevitable costs of natural physical deterioration (1-4% annually of the current replacement value), many congregations with aging facilities (over 25 years old) find themselves in a precarious situation. Many, if not most of the churches we serve that are 25 years or older have millions and millions of dollars of deferred maintenance with no capital reserve fund or a plan as to how it can/must be addressed. In many instances this causes a catch 22…you have deferred maintenance…but the congregation is shrinking…so the income is depleted…now what? Steps that are needed here include:

  • Understanding the situation – meaning you need a Facility Assessment to understand your deferred maintenance and capital reserve needs
  • Implement a proactive plan to address the above

3. Deferred Maintenance SQUARED The above issue of deferred maintenance is compounded when adequate attention is not given, thus more than doubling the impact of the natural rate of physical deterioration. This situation will force many, if not most, churches to face other considerations such as whether to close the doors altogether or just continue to let the congregation (and the deteriorating facility) die a slow death. I have worked with one church recently that was spending 70% of their operating budget to pay for the operations, maintenance and repairs of their 80+ year old building. In my opinion, they are no longer a ministry/church but rather a group of people donating to a property management organization. Sad!

There are four more, and we will hit them next time. In the meantime, make sure to get your free copy of the eBook on Capital Reserve Planning.

Thom Rainer Interviews Tim Cool

It was such an honor to sit down with Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe to talk “shop”…at least “shop” from my perspective and paradigm. But even more than the honor of doing the interview is the fact that top level church leaders are seeing how critical it is to steward the ministry facilities God has entrusted to them.  I have been beating this drum for over 9 years and it thrills me to see the attention churches are now giving to the life cycle and capital reserve initiatives needed to properly steward their ministry tools.

Take a few minutes and check our this interview.  It covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time…such as:

  • Everything on earth has been entrusted by God to us to care for.
  • Stewardship in the church isn’t just about money.
  • The expenses needed to take care of a facility are not an optional thing, they are an inevitable thing.
  • We know facility issues will come up in the church, it’s prudent for us to plan for them.
  • Facilities won’t save souls. They are tools for us to use to see people saved and to disciple the saints.
  • Churches need four master plans—ones for ministry, finance, facility, and sustainability.
  • Church utility costs should average between $1 and $1.50 per square foot annually.
  • Effective facility usage can lead to more effective ministry because you’re able to put more resources into ministry.

Click the image below to listen…and then apply what you hear!

 

Why Church Buildings Matter – RE-RELEASED

I am so excited to announce the RE-RELEASE of – Why Church Buildings Matter: The Story of Your Space

I want to thank Sam Rainer and the team at Rainer Publishing for their support, diligence, editing and re-releasing this book with its updated content.

As we have discussed prior, the church campus tells a story. Stories are all around us, in virtually every aspect of our daily experiences, which means that our church and ministry facilities also tell a story. This book offers a unique perspective on the importance of church buildings. These buildings are vastly more important than most understand. The church campus and the story of the people in the church go hand-in-hand and are interwoven into each other. We cannot neglect the power of story and how our church facilities communicate a story. In this book, several key questions about church facilities are answered: How does church space support the story of the people? How does the church space prime the heart, minds, and emotions of your guests? How does your facility bring people into the story of the church and the story of your vision and mission?

Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. “Why Church Buildings Matter will reveal how to maximize your church facility enabling you to share the greatest story ever told…the gospel.

Get your copy today.