Our fast-paced, screen focused life styles have created a void where meaningful relationships are difficult to establish and nourish. God designed us as individuals, families and as churches to function best when we are in authentic relationship with each other. With proper research and design, churches can create spaces which foster community and engagement. Read on to discover a few ways you can utilize design ideas in your facility to create opportunities for meaningful connections.
- Know your church: The first step in any successful design process is to identify the needs of your congregation, as well as the visitors you seek to reach. A resource to start with is the Fishnet Solutions team with Brown Church Development Group, which has spent decades gathering and creating tools built specifically to uncover the reality of each client’s needs. Their Growth Positioning Study allows church leaders to evaluate their ministry focus based on the demographics of their congregation and surrounding community and identify specific areas of strength and weakness. Any solutions designed should be tailored to meet the needs of your people and your unique culture.
- Create opportunities for connection: The travel path of those who enter the church is critical. Careful analysis should be given to the path of a newcomer, a family with children, an elderly member, or someone with a physical disability. Approaching building layout through these individual lenses allows you to accurately assess how clear is it for each of these people to get where they need to go. If signage or design cues aren’t clearly leading people to their desired destinations, consider adding these elements to your design or facility.
The comfort level of an individual instantly increases when they feel like they understand how to navigate through a building or space. After you’ve made the paths clear, consider how you can create connections along those various paths. Seating niches or standing-height tables subconsciously encourage people to stop and interact with each other along their typical route (as long as it is not obstructing the path of travel or creating congestion). The key to connection lies in providing opportunities for spontaneous conversation and fellowship.
- Study the organization and flow of space: Along the path of travel, consider the sequencing of how an individual moves from place to place. For example, a first-time guest attending with her young children will naturally be looking for and travel to the nursery first. After dropping off her child at the nursery, if she’s required to walk across the entire building to get back to a coffee or “connection” space, it may be easier for her to walk straight into the sanctuary. In this case, your design will have limited her opportunity for and likelihood of connection. Think carefully about the sequence of how various individuals will move through your space and how you can organize the flow of spaces to make it easier and more natural for people to connect with others.
- Create a Welcome Center: A Welcome Center creates a hub where visitors and regular attenders can gather additional information about the church, notify the church of a need, volunteer to serve, sign up for events and Bible Studies, etc. One of the biggest inhibitors to involvement is not knowing how or where to start. A Welcome Center should be located in a highly visible and frequently trafficked area. Typically, a location near the lobby just outside the sanctuary with clearly marked signage works best. When you make it easy for people to find a way to get involved, they are significantly more likely to do so. If you make announcements about an upcoming opportunity during the service or in a bulletin, a Welcome Center provides a place where people can easily respond and ask questions. Although the rise of online access to information has transformed the way we communicate, if information is ONLY available online, it lacks the emotional connection provided by a personal interaction and can easily get lost in the shuffle of a crazy week.
Technology tip: Energetic volunteers can guide and utilize an iPad or computer at the Welcome Center to quickly sign up individuals for connection opportunities. Ministry software can streamline the process and allows you to track an individual’s involvement across multiple devices.
- Lounge or Coffee Zone: If you want people to form deeper relationships on Sunday morning, you need to give them a space where they can stop and connect. Many churches today are including a coffee ministry as a place for connection. Once again, this space should be in a visible location off the main circulation path with appropriate signage to guide individuals there. If you establish a Lounge or Coffee Zone, create a schedule that makes it culturally acceptable to use it! Some churches have a Lounge or Coffee Zone, but don’t give people the time necessary to use them. Unless your church already has a culture where people show up early and mingle before church, most people are not going to arrive 30 minutes before a service start time. If you have a coffee ministry, keep the coffee out after Sunday school and Worship Services. People are more likely to stay and mingle if they are invited and given the time to fellowship.
- Consider a variety of seating options: You should have areas in which people can have one-on-one conversations as well as group interactions. Comfortable lounge seating encourages longer conversations while harder surfaces promote faster turnover. Coffee shops with larger table configurations can also serve a dual function for Small Group and Sunday school meetings. Standing height tables are a great option because they don’t take up a lot of space and are easy to place throughout your facility as a quick touch down point.
At the end of the day, a perfect building doesn’t create meaningful relationships. Connection begins with individual members and the heart of the church, but through intentional fellowship focused design you can provide more opportunities to connect.