What is your idea of the absolutely perfect worship space? Do you think metal chairs arranged skillfully on a basketball court make a great sanctuary, or are you visualizing a space with beautiful wooden pews and stained glass? The truth is that both scenarios work amazingly well. Your architect will ask to hear your general ideas, and you’ll then want him or her to provide you with as many options as possible so that you know your alternatives. Here are some things to ponder as you begin to dream about your first Sunday!
To begin, think about what your typical worship look like. If your worship service greatly resembles a Hillsong concert, you will need to approach it differently than if your congregation sings a cappella. You will need more room per person if you are encouraging more freedom of expression during worship.
A good Rule of Thumb to figure the worship space is to use about 25 square feet per person. This formula includes the sanctuary and its direct support spaces: the baptistery, a dressing room, a bank of restrooms, and a foyer/lobby.
Here are some other items to consider as you contemplate the worship space:
- If your church needs a permanent baptistery installed, a pre-fab model is the best option, and it usually comes with an option to purchase a heater (a major plus).
- If you have a choir, you’ll need to estimate a target number of participants and factor that number into your stage size.
- Enlist a person to itemize the sound and lighting equipment you currently own. Will you use all of this, move it to a new fellowship area eventually, or dedicate it for another use? Ask the person to make some general projections on each piece of equipment as to what the longer-term goals might be.
- Sound booths can be done well either as permanent or portable units, but they need a place where the person in the booth can hear very well. Most “sound people” will request a location in the dead center of the church, and some churches accommodate this by creating two aisles around the booth. Most opt to move the sound booth to the side slightly and keep a center aisle (mostly for the capability to have a center aisle during weddings), while still maintaining the ability for the sound technician to hear very well in the space.
- An acoustician is a person who specializes in determining the very specific qualities a building needs for optimal sound. He looks at the space in terms of very specific music instruments, the angle of the walls, and the properties of materials such as brick or glass. An acoustician will take an architect’s 3D model and let you know exactly how you could tweak the sanctuary to create amazing sound. Certainly in larger congregations, this person is a necessary part of the team.
Fellowship spaces differ greatly, but one thing is usually a constant: people like to eat and hang out! The fellowship area usually works to meet this need, in addition to other congregational ministry needs such as sports and other large group events. Here are some thoughts:
- Consider a location close to the kitchen for ease of serving
- You’ll want to consider this room as high – traffic, because it likely will be! Carpet tiles, stained concrete, and vinyl tile are by far the best flooring options for fellowship areas depending on your specific uses (receptions, basketball games etc.)
- If you are aiming for a truly multipurpose space, consider some dimmable lighting and a neutral color palette. With these choices, a basketball court can serve well for a wedding reception and other special occasions.
- If you are considering hosting basketball, volleyball, or other sports or games, you’ll need a taller building than if the fellowship hall is strictly for eating purposes.
- If you are planning an opening between the kitchen and the fellowship area, metal overhead doors work well as dividers. If these are too much for your budget, consider using some shutters to separate the space.
- Take time to explain to your architect (or write a summary) of how your cooking/warming/serving process actually works. If you don’t currently serve food because you don’t have the facilities, you might talk to some churches who do it well and ask if you can participate sometime to get a feel for some good systems.
- If you can afford it, having dedicated storage for tablecloths, drink pitchers, and coffee dispensers when they’re clean is a great amenity. Since they are food storage items, it’s important that they stay clean.
- Sound will be a factor in a fellowship space. If you (for various reasons) cannot use a softer floor or ceiling material, you’ll need to consider some acoustical panels.
- Plan for special presentations in this space by determining where you might place a portable stage and sound equipment, and definitely consider power and data requirements
- Most churches plan to seat at least half of their worship attendance in the fellowship center. Small churches (under 200 attendees) are very likely to seat closer to their total worship attendance. Plan for 15 square feet per person for the fellowship center if you are going to use long rectangular tables or 18-20 square feet per person if you are planning for round tables. This includes the dining/fellowship room, the kitchen, and the restrooms.
Children’s areas don’t have to be heavily decorated – they need to be clean and inviting. Many times the children’s ministry warrants its own master planning exercise because there are so many involved ministries that depend on these facilities. For instance, is a Mother’s Day Out (MDO) in your future? Do you have plans for a school one day? Are you going to allow other groups to use the children’s wing, such as a home school group or a co-op? If so, how are you going to meet these needs? Brainstorming sessions can help you define what the possibilities are. Here are some helpful hints involving children:
- You must think about the nature of children. They are easily distracted. They have a lot of energy. You want to help them focus, and you want them to get engaged, but not too excited. Aiming for “exciting with some structure” is a good goal!
- With that in mind, it’s a great idea to focus on one or two elements per space that are special about that one space, so that children begin to identify with attending. For instance, creating a simple wayfinding system for the kids by making each room’s door or entry mat a different color. It’s another way of ministering to the smallest members of your church family by making them feel safe and comfortable.
- Most churches prefer the nursery to be located fairly near the sanctuary. Near the nursery, many churches are also adding a lounge for mothers with newborns. When a woman has a newborn or any kind of special needs child, it is wonderful of a church to think of those needs. Having a small room with rocking chairs, some foot stools, a small sink, a place to change a diaper, and perhaps an under-counter fridge can often determine whether a family can make it to a service or not! These accommodations are very easy for the architect to plan for, and then the church can simply put together whatever furniture works best, as funds become available.
- Many churches offer a three to four-hour per week program to give moms and dads a little break. Keep in mind that activities such as a Mother’s Day Out programs have slightly different code requirements, such as requiring sinks in classrooms. If you do have dreams of doing a school or MDO one day, make sure you mention this to your architect so they can make sure you’re set up for that. You don’t have to build out every specific detail upfront, but planning is key here!
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