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.


Church Revitalization: Boat Anchor OR Fresh Wind in the Sails?

Church Revitalization is alive and well.  This is not the “Church Growth” movement of the 1980’s or “Seeker Sensitive” or some other fad. Frankly, “CHURCH” revitalization has less to do (in my opinion) with the age or condition of a congregation as much as a revitalization of the purpose (the WHY) of the church universal.

We have seen some incredible initiatives the past 10+ years related to revitalization and church multiplication. The most obvious and most publicized are Church Planting and Multisite Church. Both are alive and well and growing in impact.

“We need to be cognizant to not burden the next generation of church leaders with facilities that will become the boat anchor around their ministry and missional impact.”

But there has been an upswell of 2 additional initiatives that need to be mentioned.  These may be subsets of the above; however, they bring an additional set of impactful elements and I believe they have significant nuances that need attention:

  1. Mergers – Our team has served several churches the past few years that have merged to not just “rescue” a declining church, but rather to form a stronger, more vibrant and impactful church. As Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird have so well stated – BETTER TOGETHER!
  2. Revitalization/Redeveloped/Adoptive Re-Use – So many terms we could use here…but we see a trend (for the good) of revitalization and adaptive use of facilities that have either aged out or are underutilized and/or a “highest and best use” that may not be exclusive of a 1-day-a-week church facility.

A deeper dive into the above is merited, but that is for another day. Instead, I want to share a concern I am seeing with both of the above when we are not intentional. Both of the above are exciting…and they are a great way to not only grow the Kingdom/Church (capital “C”) but to breathe new life into aging church facilities.

HOWEVER…there are 4 critical considerations that both the “giver” and the receiver of such facility gifts need to consider:

1. Functional Obsolescenceis a reduction in the usefulness or desirability of an object because of an outdated design feature, usually one that cannot be easily changed. Here are some prime examples:

  • Not handicap accessible
  • Inadequate HVAC system
  • Flow feels more like a maze than an intentionally community space
  • Lots of stairs
  • “Wrong-sized” spaces
  • Limited parking

2. Incongruent/Non-contextual – In many cases, the “gift” does not communicate the story of the receiver. It may be in the wrong part of town…may feel like a monastery and not a thriving community-centric facility…or it may just be old looking, feeling, and smelling.

3. Deferred Maintenance – “Here is your FREE Building.” – Oh Goodie…but what about the $3-4M in deferred maintenance. Don’t miss this. I have seen too many well intended churches and church planting organizations hand over an older facility to a church plant or even a multisite campus that appears to be “free” only to find they had been give the MONEY PIT. Free is rarely ever free.

4. Uninsurable – Directly related to the above, make sure the facility being gifted is actually insurable. Put yourself in this scenario…you are the pastor of a church plant…you are gifted a facility only to learn that the facility in not insurable or the insurance cost, due to its condition, has massive deductibles and/or unsustainable premiums. OUCH!

We need to be cognizant to not burden the next generation of church leaders with facilities that will become the boat anchor around their ministry and missional impact.


Build Your Church Before You Build Your Building

A number of years ago I did a blog series based on a book with some pretty simple and insightful ideas. That series was based, with permission, on the book Simply Strategic Stufby Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens. I strongly recommend that you pick up the book as there are 99 great insights.

As I look back on 2017, the truths that Tim and Tony wrote about have become acute to me as I have served and met with dozens of church leaders. Our team has worked with a number of churches that could not articulate their vision, mission or focus. When asked to communicate about their vision, they were quick to tell us about the WHAT they do (programs)…but when challenged to drill down further, they could not explain WHY they did those things and heard crickets when asked to define WHO they were as a church.

To me, that is tragic…and sad.

I used to do a workshop for the NC Southern Baptist entitled “Why Build When you can Grow“. That workshop was intended to challenge the traditional thinking that you needed an owned facility to grow your church. Frankly, that is as far from the truth as you can imagine. With that said…if you have explored all of your options and facilities are still the right choice, then by all means pursue that…but do it the right way.

OK…enough soap-box preaching…let’s re-visit what Tim and Tony have to say:

SIMPLY STRATEGIC STUFF #38 – Build Your Church Before You Build Your Building

Those of us who have rented space for church services have heard people say, “Tell me when you are in your own building, and I might visit then.”

But the church building isn’t the church. The church is a living organism. It is the people. It is those who have given their lives to Christ and have gathered locally to make a difference in their communities. There are churches all over the world that have no building or facilities and yet are living, thriving local churches!

Addressing the ministry vision, mission, focus and values is the first step in lasting and intentional facility stewardship.

Putting up a building before the church is ready could cause troubles down the road. Do the following before you consider breaking ground:

  • Define your mission, vision and values
  • Build broad ownership of those defined values through your entire core of believers
  • Make sure that your leadership team is strong and growing
  • Develop a culture of volunteerism
  • Develop an infrastructure of leaders and systems that can handle the demands of a facility
  • Take the spiritual temperature of your church, and make sure that the people are continuing to take spiritual steps.

Make sure that having a facility will serve the purposes of God in your community. Make sure that it will facilitate reaching more and more people for Christ. Remember, the church is a living organism made up of the people Christ died for.  A building is only beneficial if the people are thriving.

Great insights! I would add that the above truths are not only for churches that are currently in temporary space or rented facilities…but for any church that is considering an expansion or building program of any kind. Addressing the ministry vision, mission, focus and values is the first step in lasting and intentional facility stewardship.

The above steps and tenets are universal. They can be your guide to an intentional impact; or if left unaddressed, can lead to a status of a country club or wandering in the wilderness.  In the words of the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“You must choose. But choose wisely.”


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.

Lowering the Drawbridge

In Medieval society, a drawbridge was used by the people of a castle, facility or walled city to prevent outsiders from getting in. The design purpose of the drawbridge was primarily for military defense, so enemies could not even get to the gates. It basically told passer-bys – STAY OUT – . It allowed people to stay huddled in their fortresses and keep the rest of the world out. They would build a moat or place the castle on a ridge surrounded by a precipice so that it could be completely secured and impenetrable…until you lowered the drawbridge or some other means of transversing the divide could be conceived and constructed.

When the drawbridge was lowered, the edifice and its occupants were unprotected. They were vulnerable to attack as well as allowing access to those in the villages, region, community, etc. But if things ever got tenuous or uncomfortable and  “messy”, the occupants could quickly raise the drawbridge and close off access once again.

In modern society, we do not see many drawbridges at peoples homes, businesses, commercial complexes or churches. However, metaphorically, we still  have  erected them in many aspects of our lives. We have contrived theoretical drawbridges and moats around many components of our existence. We try to keep ourselves “safe” from outside influences and by doing so, shut out the harmful as well as good that could impact our lives.

Figure out how, in your context and community, to lower the drawbridge and invite the community onto your campus.

In relationship to our churches, many of us have done the exact same thing. We have built environments that feel cold and isolationist to the community or worse…blatantly tell people to STAY OUT.  “Church Parking Only”. “Members Only”. “No Trespassing”.

In other instances we have designed out campuses in such a way that all you can see is the front door and no sign of people doing life together. Or we develop exterior environments that are tucked away from plain sight of the watching community…trying to get a glimpse of what is behind the scary walls of the ominous church steeple and four white columns.

These are all kin to digging a moat and raising the proverbial drawbridge. Uninviting. Closed. Isolationist.

What might be a better approach, would be to figure out how, in your context and community, to lower the drawbridge and invite the community onto your campus. What things could you do physically, visually, pragmatically, relationally, outreach, etc. that would lower the drawbridge and invite people to do life with you.

Let’s abolish the drawbridge!


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.

What If The Story Is Never Told?

If you have read my blogs or “Why Church Buildings Matter”, you know I am a fan and proponent of “story”. I believe that story is a critical part to our lives and particularly the physical manifestation of our church’s vision, mission and culture via our facilities.

But…what happens if the story is never completed or told? What if everything always stayed in a perpetual state of “draft”? Matthews 5:15 tells us,

“No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Stories were meant to be told, shared, enjoyed, and fulfilled.  Think about these questions:

  1. Is the script enough? Will the story be told if all we do is write a script?
  2. Is the set design enough? Will the story be conveyed if we only envision, plan and select the color pallets for the stage set?
  3. Is the storyboard enough? Who actually sees the storyboard? Usually it is just a handful of people.
  4. How many tickets can you sell to a concert of an incomplete symphonic work?

I am going somewhere with this, so hang in there and appease me for a minute.

Stories were meant to be told, shared, enjoyed, and fulfilled.

I did a Google search for statistics about the number of manuscripts that never make it to published book status and how many screenplays end up in the black-hole of the “could have been” file.  The numbers are staggering…here are some of the stats I unearthed:

·         On average, there are 50 spec screenplays sold every year out of 250,000 spec screenplays circulating around Hollywood and various other film making venues.  That translates into 5000 to 1 odds.

·         Odds of fatally slipping in your bath or shower are 2,232 to 1. So you have a better chance of dying due to a shower fall than getting a screenplay published.

·         Literary Agencies typically reject 99.5 of everything they see. Out of close to 500 queries a month (electronic and surface mail) they may receive, they invite perhaps 50 proposals for review. Out of that fifty, perhaps one or sometimes two is ready to be delivered to publishers. So your odds of getting your literary baby to a publisher is 500 to 1…or a .2% chance of getting published

These odd are not great and yet authors, scriptwriters and the like, continue to produce manuscripts, drafts, and screenplays year after year.  Why?  Because there is this hope that eventually they will be noticed or that their proverbial ship will come in and their life will be altered forever. Hope upon hope. Envisioning a better, more spectacular future.

So how does this relate to the story of our church facilities?

I have been serving churches for 31 years…built my first church project in 1986 (before many of you were born) for Bethelview United Methodist Church outside Boone, NC. I have been a part of some incredibly exciting development projects and ministry initiatives. I have been privy to some remarkable stories. The concern I have is when I see a church or other ministry invests tens, and even hundreds of thousands of ministry dollars…entrusted to them by God…to only develop the manuscript or screenplay. They spend countless hours and monies, contributed by people giving sacrificially, to develop pretty pictures, concept drawings, and even complete architectural plans that are just the manuscript of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the creative process and the vision sessions I have been a part of and led. But is that enough? Is the pretty storyboard and fly-through videos of our planned spaces enough? Have we been prudent and diligent in our stewardship initiatives if that is as far as we get?

I say “Not just NO, but….” (you can fill in the rest).

If the story was worth the effort to commit the time and dollars to develop the manuscript…and it is financially feasible (which means your manuscript needs a section on financial responsibility)…and provides the right, intentional tools to fulfill the vision and mission, then the story needs to be told. It needs to come to fruition. It needs to be built…or leased…or purchased…or renovated…or converted.

Don’t allow your manuscripts and pretty pictures to windup in a closet at the church or the pastor’s trunk. We do not have the luxury to gamble with odds like the examples above, with Kingdom assets. We cannot spend dollars, given sacrificially, knowing that the likelihood of reaching the finish line has a success ratio of 500:1. That is a high-stakes venture and not very responsible as a leader. If your team has been properly lead thought a well-crafted process, and has fully vetted your ministry needs, culture, financial capabilities, congregational buy-in, team and other market conditions, then complete the work. Tell your story.

There is a world waiting to read it.

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.

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.