Check out the interior of national chain stores in your neighborhood (grocery, pharmacy, clothing, restaurants, etc.). On average, retail businesses remodel their facilities every 4-7 years, and with good reason. There’s something about “new.” New additives to toothpaste…new vitamin potency in cereal…new styles in cars…new versions of software. “New” attracts. By contrast, most churches renovate their facilities every 25-40 years; some go even longer without an extreme home make-over.
If your church building is over 15 years old, it is probably a growth-restricting obstacle.
When it comes to church visitors, you don’t have a second chance for a good first impression. And, one of the first impressions visitors have of your church is its building; first the outside, then the inside. Visitors don’t need to be professional architects to sense that the ceiling is too low, the halls too narrow, the windows outdated, or the color schemes from a different generation. Marshal McLuhan once said, “the medium is the message.” Your building is the medium.
The design and architecture of your church actually has a much more important influence on your visitors than it does on your regular attendees. Why? The longer a person is at your church, the less he/she is able to see the building through the eyes of a newcomer. Members don’t notice the rain marks in the ceiling, the chipped paint on the wall, the hole in the carpet. And, for long-time attendees, those things don’t really matter because they are coming for the people, the relationships, the fellowship, the spiritual growth…not the facilities. But for visitors with none of these reasons to attend, other things shape their first impressions…and your building is one of them.
Facilities also have an effect on a church’s corporate self-esteem. The effect is similar to the way your house or apartment subtly influences your own self-esteem. If you live with junk in the backyard, unwashed dishes in the sink, dirty clothes on the floor, rooms in need of paint…it affects your self-image, whether you know it or not. And, with such an appearance, do you want company dropping in unannounced? Probably not. When you are expecting guests you probably pick up your clothes, clean the kitchen, and put on your house’s best face. Why not have the same attitude about your church facility and the guests who are coming to visit God’s house?
While nice facilities won’t cause your church to grow, poor facilities can prevent it from growing.
What You Can Do About It
An outsider’s perspective is quite valuable. Invite a friend or neighbor who has never been on your church campus to walk through the facility with you. The “visit” need not be on Sunday. First, drive by and around the church. Then park and walk toward, and eventually into, the building. Ask the person(s) to “free-flow” about their impressions, sharing what catches their attention, what they like, what they don’t like, what they aren’t sure about. Either take notes or use a recorder to document their comments. Tell them not to worry about hurt feelings—you want their honest first impressions.
Conduct this exercise at least three times with three different people. That way you won’t put all your “eggs” into one person’s “basket”. See if different people notice the same things. Finally, compile your notes into categories and review them. You don’t need to make every suggested change. But you do need to know how visitors and newcomers see your facilities.
A Christian architect recently told me that the more an interior of a church looks like the facilities people are in during the week (i.e., decor, restrooms, lights, paint, doors, classrooms), the more likely the facility will present a positive first impression. Conversely, the more out-of-date that facilities appear, the more negative are their first impressions. When a visitor enters a church building that is 50+ years old—and it looks it—he/she is subconsciously wondering: Is the message of this church as outdated as its building?
Here’s a starting checklist to evaluate your facilities. Grade each item on a 1-7 scale
(1 = “poor” 7 = “excellent”). Perhaps have different people share in this exercise and then compare notes; it’s a great conversation starter!
Ease in finding the location … First impressions from the outside … First impressions of the inside upon entering … Impressions after walking around
Appearance … Adequacy of spaces … Proximity to entrance
Directions from parking area to appropriate building entrance … Where to get information … Directions to the sanctuary/worship center … Directions to the restrooms … Directions to the nursery
First impressions upon entering … Confidence in security … Confidence in nursery staff … Impressions upon leaving nursery
First impressions upon entering … Visibility of platform… Sound/acoustics … Ease in finding a seat … Seat comfort … Lighting
First impressions upon entering … Adequate number to accommodate everyone in 15 minutes … Cleanliness
First impressions upon entering … Adequate furniture for age level … Room décor
The story of the paraplegic who was brought to Jesus (see Mark 2:1-5) presents us with several pointed questions: “Are our facilities keeping people from Jesus?” And, if so, “Are we willing to tear up our roof (and, perhaps other parts of our building) in order to let them be healed?”