What “Story” Does the Condition of Your Facility Tell?

Have you ever walk into a restaurant that you read about online or someone recommended…full of anticipation and excitement…only to be turned off by the lack of care of the facility? I have been disappointed more times than I can list when I was in a mid to upper priced establishment, to then visit their restroom and be totally repulsed by the lack of care and cleanliness, or to look up at their ceilings (that is a habit for me…so if you invite me to your facility, know I am looking at your ceilings…you have been warned.) to see stained ceiling tiles…or worse…dirty HVAC grills and cobwebs. What does that say about you and your church? What does it say about what you value? Obviously not the health and well being of your guests and occupants if you are okay allowing dirt and dust to blow down on their heads or have them breathe dirty air.

What story is that telling?

To me it indicates that either you do not care about your facilities…or are not intentional about their care…or are in bad financial condition to where you cannot maintain them. Now that is just me…but could that message also be the one conveyed to your guests?

Not a great witness in my opinion.

In his book “First Impressions: Creating WOW Experiences”, Mark Waltz, pastor of connection at Granger Community Church in Granger, IN., addresses what it may be like to be a guest in our churches and how the first impression may not always convey the story we desire. In addition, the first impression may be the only chance we have to impact their lives. He writes;

“When your guests are distracted from the real purpose of their visit to your church, you’ll have a difficult time re-engaging them. In order for people to see Jesus, potential distractions must be identified and eliminated.”

Have you ever considered that the condition of your buildings could affect your ability to engage and minister to people? Most of our previous blogs have focused on the physical attributes related to the built environment. We have looked at the design, the way-finding, weenies and other attributes of the campus and structures. But what about the condition?

“The first impression may be the only chance we have to impact their lives.”

Over my 28-year career of planning and building church facilities, I have witnessed firsthand the use, abuse and misuse of ministry facilities. I have seen churches spend millions of dollars on new facilities and then neglect to change the HVAC filters, repair leaks, change light bulbs, caulk annually as required and so on. In my opinion, this is similar to collecting the offering during our worship services and taking 10%-20% of the monies out of the offering plate or basket and setting it on fire. We would all agree that that kind of action would be ridiculous and obscene.

“We would never do that … that is God’s money.”

I ask, who provided the funds to build your facilities? We all know the answer: God provided the resources. It was and is His money. And they are His buildings. Yet, we too often act irresponsibly with these assets.

I find that many church members take better care of their homes, boats, cars, motorcycles and even their pets than they do their ministry facilities. Is this acceptable to you? It is not to me, and I suggest that the church (big “C”) wake up, take notice and do something about it. I believe that God holds each of us responsible and accountable for what we do and how we handle every resource entrusted to us.


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.

Story, Duct Tape, and Facility Condition

I love duct tape as much as the next guy.  In fact, I believe that I can repair just about anything in our house with duct tape. When I was in my early years of college I took a 2-year sabbatical to travel with a musical group out of Nashville called “Bridge”. We did over 350 concerts a year, traveling from town to town and church to church. Every night we did a concert in a new location and so we set up and tore down our sound system each night. We had wires going everywhere. In order to “dress up” the stage and to make it safe to navigate the performance area, we used duct tape to secure the wires.  We would buy a case of it at a time, burning through a case every few weeks. I even had to repair a pair of pants, due to an attire malfunction, with duct tape until we could locate a seamstress.

It is the dream product for repairing and securing just about anything. However, after our concerts each night, we pulled up the duct tape and threw it away. It did not stay as a permanent part of the décor of the church we were at. It was installed and removed the same day…because it was never intended to be a permanent fixture in the facility. Interestingly enough, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I visit a church that has elected to use duct tape as a permanent component of their interior design scheme. The congregation steps over the duct tape week in and week out totally oblivious to the grey stripe on the worn-out carpet.

The longer you live in a space, the less you see the obvious. For your regular attenders, they become immune to the condition of the facility. It is kind of like putting a frog in a pot of cool water then turning up the temp to bring it to a boil. We stop seeing the trees for the forest. We walk past the grass growing in the cracks of the parking lot. We step over the torn carpet. We know exactly how to avoid the potholes in the parking lot. We no longer notice the stained ceiling and overlook the odor and condition of our public restroom. But I assure you, your guests do not. These inconsistencies in the story can be just as distracting and repulsive as poor design and the lack of signage and poor interactions.

In recent years our team attended 2 conferences at large influential churches. The first was a church in Southern California with a campus that is the best keep facility I have ever visited. It has 5-6 buildings uniquely located on a 50-acre site with an attention to detail second to none. When you first pull on the property, you are greeted by signage at nearly every intersection of the parking lot to guide you to your destination. The grounds were immaculately manicured and all the hedges trimmed and neat. The buildings were clean and organized, lacking disruptive clutter in the common areas. The restrooms were neat, clean and odor free. Not opulent, but comfortable. The windows and glass was clean and I did not see any duct tape on the floors. I had to look really had to find a handful of things to complain about…and trust me, I was looking. But even the handful of items I found were not deal killers…just me being meticulous.

“Will the condition of our facilities leaving a lasting negative impression on new believers and our guests?”

 

The other conference was in central Florida at a very large church. This is a church with an impactful TV ministry in central Florida and dynamic pastor. The conference had over 5,000 people in attendance, so this was no small campus. But I was very disappointed with the condition of the facility. The signage once on the campus was lacking and a significant amount of the parking was gravel. As I approached the buildings, after parking in the gravel lot, I was immediately taken back by the lack of care of the grounds. The yards were in desperate need of care and the trees and shrubs needed a good trim. The buildings felt old and tired, lacking any visual appeal. Then as I ventured deeper into the campus, the pathways lead me to the sea of modular classrooms…all looking like a bad public school. In fact, the speaker’s lounge was in one of these spaces, which gave the impression that “OK” was good enough for them. There was no sense of excellence or intentionality to the space. Touring the actual worship center revealed aged and worn pews, carpet that was wrinkled in lieu of laying flat and restrooms that really could have used some TLC.

Now, I am sure there maybe good reasons for this lack of care and as a believer and potentially a highly sensitive observer of spaces, I can still worship and enjoy my time with other believers. But what about our guests, especially those who are not believers. Will they be as forgiving? Will the condition of our facilities leaving a lasting negative impression on them? Will these roadblocks keep them from coming back or sharing their experience with others that may not darken the doors of your church because of  what they hear about your facility?

It would be a shame to have been intentional about the design of your facility, parking ministry, themed spaces and script writing, to then be neglectful with the care and condition of the facility. Don’t let the care and upkeep become the forgotten chapter of your story.


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.

Parables (Stories) Are For Outsiders

What is a parable? To most of us who have been raised in the church or have spend much time on our spiritual journey, we have read, re-read and heard teachings on all of the parables of Jesus. If you use YouVersion for your Bible reading, they have a plan that will walk you through all of the parables of Jesus.

Let’s look at how a par·a·ble [par-uh-buhl] is defined:

Online Etymology Dictionary“saying or story in which something is expressed in terms of something else”

World English Dictionary: “a short story that uses familiar events to illustrate a religious or ethical point”

Dictionary.com: “a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like”

OK…now with that as our backdrop, let’s look at why Jesus told his disciples He used parables. Take a minute and read a couple translations of Mark 4:10-11:

NLT: Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders.

MSG: When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight.

Is it really that much of a stretch to want our facilities, campuses, commons and the like to communicate with stories?”

There are 2 words (or concepts) that jump out at me. Do you see them and how they apply to our blog series on “story”?

  1. Parables = Stories. I know that most of you are saying “DUH, Tim…do you think we are that stupid?” No I don’t…but I want make sure we do not gloss over the fact that Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all time. He used word pictures and mental images to convey the truths of life, love, evangelism, generosity, salvation, forgiveness, mercy, grace and virtually all of the spiritual gifts. He used culturally relevant stories to communicate His truths so that the listeners/observers could understand it. In fact, while all of the parables in scripture are relevant today to our lives, many reveal an even deeper meaning when we understand the contextualization Jesus was communicating to the specific audience. It is that little nuance that makes a story and storyteller great. Understand your audience (i.e. target market) and then communicate your story in such a way that will suck them in and deepen their understanding.
  2. Parables were for “outsiders”…people not already followers of Christ…people who did not speak “church” or religion. I would recommend that the word outsider is synonymous with what we would call guests in our church world. An outsider can best be defined as “a person or thing excluded from or not a member of a set, group, etc.”

In Christ’s day, this may have been devout Jews or the ultra “religious” or  just curious passer-by. In any of these cases, they were not yet devoted followers of Christ in a personal way. They may have been religious or criminal. They may have been circumcised at birth or Gentiles. They may have observed all of the rituals and feasts growing up or they may have worshiped pagan gods…or no gods. They may have been rich or poor, dark or light skin, young or old, male or female. Regardless, they were an outsider regarding a personal relationship with Jesus.

So, who are the “outsiders” in your community? Do parables (i.e. stories) still apply in our approach to reach those people…especially if words are not spoken? If so, then is it really that much of a stretch to want our facilities, campuses, commons and the like to communicate with stories?


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.

The Magic of Place…Even When It Is Not Your “Place”

Does the theology of “storytelling” with a church’s facility apply to multi-site campuses and church plants, especially if it is not your “place”? Does it matter that we don’t create a sense of place? Is it worth the mental, emotional, physical and financial investment to communicate your unique story?

Answer: Yes

Why does it matter? Because people matter, and your multi-site or church plant is there to reach your community and people.

I believe it is obvious, that if you have an owned  facility or a long term lease the options that avail themselves to you for communicating your story are vast. You can impact the exterior elevation (in most cases) and the interior environments. You can theme the rooms, change colors, add lighting and all the elements to communicate your story that these kinds of facilities present.

But what if you are in a school, community center, performing arts center, YMCA or any other facility that you rent and only have access to one day a week…and only for a few hours? Are you stuck with what they give you? Do you have to settle with the decor, features, and storytelling of that facility? Are you relegated to compromising on every aspect of the environment and sense of place?

Answer: No

Let’s think about all of the different ways that you can impact the first impression of your guest as you tell your story. These are going to look very familiar to the components we have been exploring for owned facilities:

  1. Website – As we have discussed, your website is the new Front Porch. Work it. Make it relevant and contextual to your target market.
  2. Street-Scape – Just because you cannot change the facade of the high school you are renting, does not mean that you should neglect the sense of arrival. If you owned the facility you could greatly impact the 7 day-a-week view for passer-bys. But just because you only have the facility 1 day of the week does not mean that you should just settle for what the existing built environment communicates. Add banners. Install temporary signs. Add bright colors that catch people’s attention. Use digital effects. Line the street with people in matching t-shirts. Make a visual statement. Don’t squander this opportunity to catch the attention of the community and suck them in. They may not pull in the parking lot the first time they drive by…but if you are consistent and relevant to them, they are more likely to become your guest.
  3. Parking ministry Do Parking Right: It does not matter if you own the parking lot or are just renting, you can impact guests by how their first impression, once on the parking lot, is handled. The interaction, prayer and safety elements can make or break the experience of every guest. Remember, you only have 7 seconds to make that first impression.
  4. Which way do I go?  Make it obvious.  Use all of the senses to lead your guests to the entrances you want them to use.  There should be visual clues at a minimum, but why not use auditory and interpersonal clues?
  5. Write your scripts – Develop and use scripts that depict the experience you want every guest to realize. This is a great way to set expectations for your volunteers/ambassadors and to train them as you continue to grow and expand your teams.
  6. Environmental Experience– This is where intentionality and creativity may be required the most. How do we make a school entrance feel like a warm, cool and inviting lobby where people want to hangout and share life together? How do we make the kids spaces feel fun and secure? How do we downplay the institutional feel of the typical school facility? As you develop your plan, think about the mediums that communicate your culture and vision, then figure out how to make them portable. Maybe it is TV monitors that are mounted to truss material that can be stored in a travel case and pulled out on Sunday? It may be banners, a portable espresso machine, comfy couches, area rugs, banners, static applied graphics, etc, etc, etc. It may also mean being a “partner” with your landlord and offering to invest in their facility to improve the environment…like re-carpeting, painting, adding a killer sound system that they benefit from and so many other ways.  I am not trying to give you an exhaustive list, but rather trying to stretch your thinking.  Don’t just think outside the box…ask WHAT BOX?
  7. Personal Interactions – Nothing overcomes a less than perfect built environment like engaging personal interactions. There are many obvious human touch points that will impact your guests. We talked about some when we discussed the parking lot ministry and how incredibly important it is with establishing that first impression. The greeters are the next obvious touch point. Are they warm, welcoming, engaging, not too overbearing, informative, etc. Are they there only to hand out the “bulletin” or worship guide, or are they to impact people? Don’t forget to write a script for this area of your ministry just like we did for the first time guest with kids or the parking lot team. Determine what defines a WIN for that group of ambassadors of your story. They are not just greeters or the only people you could find to do that “job”…they are the initial face of your story…they are ambassadors and ministers in their own right.

Don’t succumb to the trap of mediocrity just because you rent a school or other facility.  Expend the same intentionality (if not more) that you would if you owned a facility or were getting ready to build from the ground up.

Don’t settle…your guest are counting on you.


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.

Write a Script to Tell Your Story

In the world of film, a script is a written work by screenwriters for a movie or television program. In a script, the movement, actions, expression, and dialogues of the characters are narrated. It is the compilation of the components of the end product. A well written script reveals the authors intentions of the story and identifies the elements that will be required to accomplish the engagement of the observer/reader.

I have done some research and found that a script has many components that maintain the story and organize the thoughts so that it does not become boring, ineffective or disjointed. Here are the common elements of a script:

  1. TIME and PLACE: What time and/or place is the script set? What is significant about the time or place regarding the plot? How does it impact upon the characters and the plot?
  2. CHARACTERS: Establish the main characters. What gender are they? What do we need to know about them? How do they contribute to the story? Are we supposed to engage with them?
  3. ACTION: Who is doing what and why? Does that action move the story forward?
  4. DIALOGUE: What is to be literally said and figuratively communicated?
  5. PLOT: What is the primary reason for the story?
  6. SCENESScenes are the events of your story. The plot is divided into three components/scenes—a beginning, middle and end…so what do each look like?

Not being a skilled film screenwriter, I am sure that I have missed some key elements, have them out of order, or have overly simplified their roles. Regardless, the point is that an intentional film starts with a script. Can you imagine if George Lucas showed up on the set of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and told Harrison Ford that he wanted to tell a story that is engaging and draws people in but that they were going to let the cast develop their own plot, scenes, dialogues, costumes, etc. as long as it all ended up with the Ark being put in storage? Can you imagine how chaotic that would be? Do you think anyone would have paid to go see the final release (assuming it could ever have been completed)? Without the script to focus the entire team, there is chaos, inconsistencies, missed opportunities and frustrated patrons (guests).

The same applies to our church experience for guests.  If you tell your parking lot team and greeting ambassadors to just be “friendly”, how many interpretations of that do you think you would get?  If there is not a script that helps your team know what their role is (character), the reason for the story (plot), what they should be doing and saying (action and dialogue), when it should occur and where (time and place), and in what order (scenes) you will get an inconsistent and incongruent group of individuals…working as individuals…instead of living out a well intended story.

As part of our development process with churches, we ask the leaders to write a script (and  multiple scripts per ministry area) of the preferred story for a first time guest. This exercise will do at least 3 things:

  1. Clarify what you want accomplished and confirm it is consistent with your vision, mission and culture
  2. Reveal your current blind spots in relationship to the preferred results
  3. Provide a training tool for your teams…both current and future

This can be revolutionary for your church. I have seen it transform hospitality teams, parking lot teams, greeters and overall interaction with guests.


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.

3 Reasons To Do Parking Right

Last week we were exposed to just what little time we have to make a first impression on a guest – 7 seconds. Not much time to impact the thought and emotional reaction of these guests. Every “touch” point during a guest experience has the opportunity to build on the previous interaction…or to destroy it. Every encounter and milestone of this first experience is critical…like building blocks. Without a strong foundation, the rest of the blocks find themselves less stable and tentative.

Assuming your first time guest has made the conscious decision to pull onto your site, their first 7 second encounter will be in your parking lot. Their first impression starts at the entrance of the parking lot and may continue until they reach your front door. Too often, church leaders think the parking lot is irrelevant and  just a place to store the means of transportation used by the congregation. They see it as just common place instead of a touch point and a place to impact people (thus souls). Big mistake!

As you think about your parking experience, here are 3 things that are foundational in making this the best 7 seconds possible:

1. Have a Parking Ministry – This is a great way to accomplish two significant ministry initiatives for 2 very different groups. The first group this impacts is obvious…the guest. A vibrant, proactive, enthusiastic and welcoming group of people can lift your spirits and defuse some of the anxiety that a guest may be experiencing. Seeing happy people waving, smiling (yes, Christians should smile), even acting crazy has more impact on others than you realize. The second group that this impacts is your team. Many of the churches we serve have met in schools or other temporary facilities for years…and now they have a facility to meet in. During those years of being a “church-in-the-box”, they had set up teams that would show up on Saturday night or Sunday morning at the crack of dawn to set up for the worship that day. These people have developed a bond and a kinship that is infectious. The setup team has actually become their “small group” and they love doing life together. But what happens when you do not need to setup every week? What do these people do? And let’s face it, most of the set team is made of men…and they are NOT going to serve in the nursery (nor would we want them to). I have been on set up teams with guys that were not yet Christ-followers, others that were new followers, and others that were more comfortable doing physical labor. To not provide a similar ministry opportunity once you occupy space that does not require setup robs them of a ministry opportunity that they are comfortable performing…which can drive them away or have them feel unnecessary. By starting or expanding a Parking Ministry, you open up a new opportunity for many of these people to serve.

2. See it as a ministry and not a mundane task – Do not see the “Parking Ministry” as just a functional activity, but rather an opportunity to impact people’s lives. Not only are the above functions important for the reasons given, but if you believe that  prayer is impactful, then your parking team should be praying for each of the cars entering the lot. Maybe it’s for their first experience. Maybe for an issue they are confronting at that moment. Maybe for peace that they did not experience on the way to church when the family got in a fight in the car. The parking lot should be blanketed with praying people…it should be the largest prayer chapel on your campus. Help set the tone for the rest of their experience and see what happens.

3. Function and safety – Church parking lots are not like a retail center, even though many designers and civil engineers lay them out as if they were. In a retail or other commercial application, most of the vehicular traffic is spread out over the entire day. Cars pull off and pull on at different times during the day. But a church parking lot is much more similar to an event venue…more like a concert venue or theme park or sports complex. You have a lot of cars trying to enter and/or exit the site at the same time. And if you have back-to-back worship experiences with 15 minutes or less between services, you have a real issue. Having a succinct plan for how to best get cars on and off your site will reduce the amount of stress for the drivers, but will also provide a safer environment. If drivers are not attempting to navigate the parking lot on their own, the likelihood of mishaps is greatly reduced. And not just for vehicular traffic, but for pedestrian.

Please do not see your sea of asphalt as just a place to park vehicles…but be intentional (we have talked about this before) and make it a safe environment that is bathed in prayer and enhances the experience of your guests. Sounds like a winner to me!


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.

7 Seconds: Make the Most of It – 1…2…3…4…5…6…7

7 seconds….that is how much time you have to make a first impression. Some experts say more, some say less…but most pundits would agree that seven seconds is the average time you have to make a first impression. Think about that. That is not much time.

There are dozens of posts on the internet that will give you hints to best utilize these 7 seconds when going to a job interview or making a sales call. But the same principle applies to the guests at our churches. Have you ever thought that your guests are looking at their experience in much the same way they might evaluate a “buying” decision? They are the “buyer” and they are interviewing/investigating you…your church…your ability to meet their needs…your ability to fill a role in their life. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, these first time guests are most likely approaching this guest experience from a consumeristic perspective. Don’t get defensive when I say that…it is a reality.

So what can you do in those first 7 seconds to influence their experience? I actually believe that a guest to your church will have multiple “7 second” encounters, unless the first 7 seconds is too painful or unfulfilling to lead them to the next interaction.

So what can you do in those first 7 seconds to influence their experience?”

 Here are the areas that I believe we should be cognitive of:

  1. The parking lot experience – We will address this more next week, but we need to be aware that if this is a challenge and their first 7 seconds on your site are frustrating, they may not stay…or if they do…you will already have one strike against you and their experience will be veiled by this first encounter.
  2. Where do I go now? – Way-finding and signage are too often under-whelming which can add to the anxiety of our guests.
  3. What door do I go in? – Guests do not want to ask questions and do not respond well to ambiguousness…they like obvious.
  4. Hey! Hi! Welcome to ____. – The first person to visually, verbally, and physically interact with them can definitely have the greatest impact on the experience.
  5. We have been preparing our house for your visit – As they step into your facility, will a guest see that you have been intentional about their arrival? Are things clean, neat, inviting, engaging, well maintained with a sense pride (in a good way)?
  6. Now what? – So, I am here…now what?  Where do I go?  Where do my kids go?  Where can I go hang?

We are going to look at many of these aspects in the weeks to come…but I challenge you to visit some other churches in your area and feel what it is like to be the guest. Then ask a non-believer to be a visitor at your church and then report back to you about each of their 7 second experience at all of these connection points. Seeing these interaction opportunities with fresh eyes can be telling. Don’t squander those 7 seconds. Be intentional. Be deliberate. And, be consistent.


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.

Environmental Graphics and Story Telling

For some of you, the term “environmental graphics” may be foreign or one that you have not heard used in a church context.  I hate to admit it, but I was not aware of its meaning, use and significance until a few years ago.

In short, Environmental Graphics address the visual aspects of wayfinding, communicating identity & brands, information descriptors, and shaping a sense of place. The word environmental refers to graphic design as part of creating the built environment, not to the natural environment. So this has little or nothing to do with “environmentalism” or being a tree-hugger…unless that is the story your environmental graphics intend to convey.

To many churches, when they hear this term, immediately think “kids theming”. You have all seen the planes hung in kids spaces or half a fire truck that looks like it is driving through the wall or Noah’s Ark with animal heads peering through portholes.  And while those are definitely a component of this subset of story telling, it is not the only area of your campus where environmental graphics convey story.  In fact, I believe that it is a little disingenuous to have a kids facility/building/wing/etc. that is pimped out with the balance of the campus being passé?  I understand that your target market may be families with young kids, so having your kids space scream KIDS is congruent with your vision.  But don’t forget their parents…again…or your guests.

Environmental Graphics are not just for church.  Take a look at the collage below and tell me if you recognize the location by these images (HINT:  If you are a traveler, you may have an advantage).

Do you see a theme?  Is there something that jumps out at you…a story that these images are communicating?   Any guesses as to where these images are from?  If you are an HHonors member, it should be pretty simple…HILTON GARDEN INN.  They are communicating a story about a garden…their tag line is “Welcome to the GARDEN”. The story starts as you approach the front door…enter the lobby…even the carpet in the corridors has the same story telling theme. In keeping with this story,  their logo on their website has a vine growing.  All of the visual elements above, and so many more, are examples of environmental graphics that communicate a story.  I can assure you, that as a weary traveler, when I see the images of vines growing on the the front door, or the park like setting off the lobby, I begin to relax and become transformed mentally and emotionally.  These kinds of customer/guest-centric businesses know that the environment and the sense of place is an asset to their guests.

“The environment and the sense of place is an asset to their guests.”

 They have been intentional about setting an environment that is welcoming, warm and “familiar” all while communicating a story that guests relate to and regulars are comforted by.

Our guests see these kind of environments in many of the places they hang out and visit.  It is part of their every day life and culture.  The church does not have be the “world”, but lets not be so different in our built environments that guests are put off before they ever have a chance to hear the good news of Christ. Being intentional with creating an environment is as critical as determining how many seats you need in the worship center. Don’t miss this opportunity to impact people.


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.

Which Way Do I Go?…Which Way Do I Go?

Have you ever been a first time guest at a large complex? Maybe a hospital, corporate office building, university, major league sports venue, airport or some other similar destination. Have you ever felt like the hound from Of Fox And Hounds – (Warner Bros, 1940) …“which way did he go George, which way did he go?

As I have said several times in this series, I spend a fair amount of time on the road. I am in and out of airports, rental cars, and hotels on a weekly basis. I may be in 2-3 different airports in a single week. On top of that, I am a guy (DUH). So as a member of the male species, it is ingrained that I do not ask directions. I am a man, and by golly, I can figure this out on my own. I am so thrilled that smart phones have GPS…that is a man’s best friend when you are on the road. But I have learned that the GPS does not work very well inside the airport when I am trying to navigate my way to destinations within the terminal. However, most airports (except for Newark…the blithe of all airports) use the same, or very similar, iconic signs that allow me to find my way to key landmarks without  damaging my much protected masculinity. They are:

These 3 signs put me at ease and make me feel like “I can do this”, even if I have never been to that airport. I can follow these signs and not look like a neophyte or an “occasional traveler” (you know who I am referring too). I can proceed with confidence that I will be able to locate the restroom, rental cars, and baggage claim (which I rarely use, but is nice to know where it is on those occasions or when I am assisting someone else find their way). These are all examples of Wayfinding.

Here is what Wikipedia says about wayfinding:

Urban planner Kevin A. Lynch borrowed the term for his 1960 book The Image of the City, where he defined wayfinding as “a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment”. In 1984 environmental psychologist Romedi Passini published the full-length “Wayfinding in Architecture” and expanded the concept to include signage and other graphic communication, clues inherent in the building’s spatial grammar, logical space planning, audible communication, tactile elements, and provision for special-needs users.

In laymen’s terms, wayfinding are elements that help lead a guest through the maze of a facility.

Wayfinding are elements that help lead a guest through the maze of a facility.”

This can take the form of signage, “weenies”, floor markings, pathways, visual graphics and even sound and smell. Any element that provides a sensory clue to a desired location can be considered wayfinding.

Let me say this again…these elements are NOT for your current members/attendees, although they will enjoy it as well (and in the same way I may not need to know where the baggage claim is, if I am trying to help someone else, it is nice to have obvious clues to be of assistance). Rather, wayfinding is for those not yet at your church…your guests. By providing wayfinding…starting at the entrance of your parking lot and continuing throughout the campus experience…you reduce a portion of the walls that a first time guest may have erected and you ease their mind.  They are able to navigate the parking lot, the pedestrian access points, and circulation spaces without feeling and looking like “the dumb new guy”.

In addition, wayfinding done right, can be the landmarks for connection. “Hey Sam, I will meet you outside the double door with the large orange KID CITY sign”.  These wayfinding elements become part of the fabric of your campus, your culture, and your guests’ experience.  Don’t see them as just signs or directional components. See them as part of how your facility tells the unique story of who you are and what you value.


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.

Your Church Needs More Weenies

Just to disarm you, I am not referring to wimpy people.  I am not suggesting that you have hot dog carts in the lobby (although it would be a neat twist on your pre and post service experience).  What we are talking about are icons.  Let me explain.

When Walt Disney was designing his world class theme parks, he used the analogy of how you can lead a dog to illustrate his concept of using attractional elements.  He said that you can get a dog to do what you want in one of 2 ways;  you can take a stick and beat the dog…or you can take that same stick, place a weenie on the end of it and lead the dog.  One requires brute force and is not pleasant for the recipient (or the enforcer) while the other creates a sense of anticipation of a treat…a reward…something special at the end of the journey.  Which would you prefer?

How many of you have been to a Disney theme park?  If you have, then you will be able to take this mental journey with me.  Close your eyes and image you have just arrived at the park.  You have paid the admission and walked through the turnstiles to be greeted by the train station which is encompassed by the most incredible array of landscaping and the image of Mickey Mouse…but you cannot see anything else except the entrances to either side of the depot. They draw you in with a giddiness childlike sense of anticipation. “What could be on the other side?” is a common thought that rushes through the minds of even the eldest of guests.

The vine covered train trestle creates a gateway that identifies the start of a truly magical journey.  With its magnetism you are sucked into the park and thrust into Town Square.  At first glance of your new surroundings, you are faced with so many choices.  The fire station with musicians…or maybe Goofy and Minnie to give hugs…or possible see Mickey Mouse himself at the theater.  Regardless of which venue, personality, or feature you gravitate to first…or second…or 10th, all roads in Town Square lead to one place…MAIN STREET USA.

As you round the corner from either side of Town Square, you are transformed into Marceline, Missouri, the home town of Walt Disney. You have stepped back in time to the early 1900’s…a time of simplicity and a era almost forgotten by many.  MAIN STREET is where turn-of-the-century architecture and transportation bring the small-town Middle America of the early 1900’s to life.  There are shops, a dentist office (listen for the drilling in the open window), Walt’s apartment and so much more. But if you stand anywhere on MAIN STREET and look in the direction of the park, what is the thing that will always catch your eye?

Cinderella’s Castle!!!!!

It is a “weenie”.  It leads all of the park guests in that direction. You do not need a tour guide (although they are available) to tell you where you are heading.  You do not need a big flashing neon say that says, “Go to the castle.”  It is iconic and it sucks you in.  It is almost like a force field that gets stronger and stronger the closer you get.  It is magical. It is intentional. It communicates a story.  It WORKS!

So…go ahead and open your eyes and let’s apply this to our churches.  Our campuses and facilities need weenies.  We need these elements that draw people in and shout a message…a story.  What if the entrance to your kids environments was designed in such a way that it would be so obvious to a guest that they would immediately venture to that area…without a sign or someone telling them where to go, the entrance would shout KIDS COME HERE.  Now, I am not suggesting you do not have signs or greeters.  What I am suggesting is that the experience for the guests will be enhanced by providing other visual clues to communicate the story.  It is not an either/or…but a both/and.

Make it attractional (what ever that means in your DNA and culture…don’t get hung up on the above example of Disney.  If you do, you will have missed the point).

Be creative.

Be intentional.

Provide the environment for life change to occur for your guests.  Disney is selling the “Happiest Place on Earth”…we are selling the greatest gift this world will ever know.


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.