Architectural Outlook: 2007
Construction and Design Experts Discuss This Year’s 7 Biggest Trends for Churches
by RaeAnn Slaybaugh
Youth Facilities Still Top the Trends List
Bill Chegwidden: First, you have to take care of the youth. When you’re in middle school, you want an activity to do when you come to church. You want to throw a basketball or something. And when you’re a high school student, you want somebody to sit down and talk to. It’s about a relationship. You want a place to hang out. I think we’re beginning to understand how to design for those ages.
Doug Akers: Families have their kids in great preschools during the week. When they bring them to church, they expect no less than that — uniforms on the workers, pagers and so on. A lot of churches we deal with give out PDA’s with Wi-Fi cards in them! Parents can literally see their children through a camera in the room they’re in.
We’re seeing a lot of children’s theaters, whether it’s for children’s worship or for mid-week events. Sometimes Awana circles are built right into the carpet. These are spaces for innovative children’s worship.
Mark Hilles: There’s a sustained movement in youth and children’s facilities. Most of the pastors we talk to see these as vehicles to get families in their churches. They feel if they don’t have that, they’ll be bare.
David Evans: There’s recognition among churches that they have to have state-of-the-art, high-quality children’s spaces. They have to say to parents, ‘We care about your kids.’ A lot of kids are bringing their parents to church, so those spaces are big.
Multifunction, Multipurpose, Multi- Venue, Multi-Site
Derik Salser: Until you’re ready to build a big worship center, a multipurpose space is a great idea. When the time comes, a lot of old multipurpose buildings are turned into the youth centers. When the church builds its big, 2,000-seat sanctuary, the youth are going to take that old building, and they’re going to love it. They’ll put their bands up there on stage!
Akers: We’re seeing more and more moveable wall panel systems installed. So, a space may be an education building on Sunday morning, but on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, it can be set up for an aerobics class or a fellowship supper.
More and more churches are doing multifunction worship spaces. Not necessarily recreation, not so much a gym — but multifunction so they can do worship services in there. They’ll set up interlocking chairs and tables and do a seminar, or they can set it up for a banquet. If there’s a smaller fellowship hall close by and a commercial kitchen, they can use that space in multiple ways.
Viviana Varnado: The answer might not always be, ‘Let’s build a new church.’ In some cases, an evaluation and space assessment may reveal a different solution. We have encountered cases where we went into a facility which had 2,000 square feet of space that they were not using. An evaluation of your existing space based on your ministry needs is very important since it will clearly indicate deficiencies and opportunities. See what you have today, and work from there.
Erwin: The satellite church revolution will become a viable option. [Pastor] Ed Young’s comments are right on the money: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on these venues, but you have to do things well. That means no handwritten signs, fresh paint, making sure things are clean.
Doug Spuler: To meet the needs of different worship styles, churches are looking at implementing and using video venues. Multiple auditoriums with 1,000 to 2,000 seats will allow a church to offer more diversity in worship while delivering the same message to each venue.
Stephen Ferrandi: Architecturally, we have a couple of church clients that don’t want to look like churches at all. One is building a 2,000-seat sanctuary, and they’ve told me from day one they want it to look like a banquet hall. They’re coming out of a warehouse that looks like a warehouse, so maybe it’s just part of their process.
Erwin: With the pressure that prices are putting on churches, I believe we’ll see more functional buildings built, which means a lot more rectangular or square buildings. Churches can put more space for less money in a rectangular building. I think you’ll see multi-use facility — with flat floors and moveable furniture — become increasingly popular, certainly for first phases.
Evans: I think the worship auditorium environment is becoming a little smaller and a little more intimate. We’re sometimes seeing three or four small auditoriums on the same campus instead of one large one.
Churches Must Act Like Good Neighbors
Ferrandi: It used to be that if you wanted to build a church — not a megachurch, just a church — people didn’t fight you. And now, if you want to build a church of any size, you can expect it. I tell my clients to budget three years from the day they put down a contract to the day they break ground — to get through the entitlement process and a couple of public hearings. That gives them time to raise the money, hire the contractor, etc., ahead of time.
Akers: When working with churches in areas where there’s been a lot of construction, there are lots of nice new homes. Well, you can’t go in and put up a pre-engineered building because people just walked out of those beautiful homes! They’ll want a building that fits in.
Remodeling, Renovation On the Rise
Brad Eisenmann: Whereas before the mindset was, ‘We have this church that can’t be expanded because we’re in a neighborhood, so we’re going to move out to the freeway and build a new church,’ now — with the multi-site movement gaining ground — people are saying, ‘Lets’ stay here!’ Rather than selling the church and building a bigger one, churches are deciding to keep it, remodel it, renovate it, and then plant a second, third or fourth site.
Greg Snider: I’m noticing a huge awareness that facilities matter. There are churches in communities of half-million-dollar homes, but the church itself hasn’t been touched in 20 years. So, existing churches that aren’t growing are changing so they can grow. They’re making their facilities more relevant. Now more than ever, a lot of facilities are irrelevant in today’s culture. People are walking in and walking out.
Traditional Design Elements Make a Comeback
Hilles: I think there’s a collision of thought about contemporary, non-discrete, commercial-looking, seeker-sensitive churches. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of traditional pursuit of steeples and those kinds of traditional elements, but I do think churches are looking for an identifying point of interest or feature that gives people a reference point about what they’re doing — almost like a corporate branding.
Varnado: Newer generations are seeking more of an intimate environment — less the stadium kind of feel — when they’re at church. They want personal relationships, they want to get to know people. There are ways to do that it in a stadium-type venue, but some people are looking for something a little more intimate and not as large.
Chegwidden: More and more churches want some elements that have traditional flavor to them. A lot feel like they’ve gone too far and given up too much of that. And the people coming back want something they remember from their childhood — the ancient and the modern. We’re trying to find a new balance.
Higher Land and Construction Costs
Ferrandi: The land cost dictates what a church can realistically build, so some churches are building sanctuaries that can hold 500 people on day one, but they have knock-out walls so they can be expanded later.
Akers: We have to be competitive with what people are seeing in their everyday lives, and that means our facilities must be competitive. That’s pushing up the cost of construction. We’re looking at about $20 more per square foot to build this year than in 2006. With technology thrown in there, it might even be 20% to 25% more.
Barron: There’s a healthy tension in the market right now because prices have gone up 25% over the last two years. You’re not buying the same amount you did two years ago. Fortunately, a lot of the giving patterns have increased along with the cost increase.
Building Community with Design
Varnado: One of the biggest design trends we’re seeing today is the sense of community people are integrating into their churches — foyers, large gathering spaces, coffee shops, cafes. Creating spaces that welcome visitors, the unchurched and members, making them feel comfortable, is a trend that we are seeing develop across denominations, for high church to very casual church groups. It is here to stay.
Snider: I’m seeing a major breakdown of the ‘institution’ — a lot fewer classrooms and four walls created for one specific ministry. It’s about creating a community area now, where we can spontaneously break into a small group in an area of the church that isn’t necessarily a classroom.
Eisenmann: A lot of churches are thinking outside their buildings. A great example of this is a church we built in a retail area and designed not to look like a church, but fit into the retail context. People come in to ask if it’s the library. When they find out it’s not, they’ll still sit down, get a cup of coffee, visit the bookstore, and interact with the personnel anyway. They connect. The ‘third place’ concept thing is becoming much more of a topic. The first place is your home, the second place is your work, and the third place is where everybody knows your name.
Evans: Connection spaces are a big trend — it’s the ‘third place’ concept of how we can connect with people, spawned from secular society. People can literally come to the church and hang out there all day. Connectivity is still really big and important, and I don’t see that changing.