Congregations are formed by their buildings, to some extent. If your sanctuary is formal, the congregation typically begins to lean that way. If the sanctuary is more informal, the congregation typically begins to live out that style. If your building is too small, you have trouble growing. If your building is too large for the size of your worshiping congregation, it can also be a hindrance. If there isn’t a gathering space, people don’t tend to connect or linger.
Church members will often be able to look past cluttered, older, interesting-smelling, tight buildings, but guests will notice and be turned off by things immediately.
Building constraints must be dealt with constantly. Assuming you aren’t in a position to just go build a new building right now, here are a few things you can do to overcome the constraints of your current situation.
Vision and Dream
Just having a dream, vision or plan will help people through the issues of space. What is next for your church? What will you do as your congregation grows? A vision is a preferred snapshot of the future. Pray for this vision, write it down and begin to help your people catch on. Getting this in front of people helps them put up with building constraints today. Vision and dreams can be for large projects or just renewing the spaces you have. Is there a place that can be repurposed? An area that can be cleaned up and reclaimed? Some creative ways to use space in the community not connected to your church building?
Multiply Your Options
In what ways can you accomplish more ministry even in your existing situation? It’s typically the problems you face that truly help you grow in creativity and innovation. Maybe it’s time to begin another campus someplace. Maybe it’s time to add another worship service option or double up the hours for Sunday School and small groups. Churches in big cities, due to the high price of land, have to figure out ways to make this happen on a regular basis. It’s not unusual to have church service times into the afternoon. There is a trend across the nation for smaller worship venues being utilized by multiple services. It’s more functional and efficient.
Host Large Ministry Events Elsewhere
Use other spaces for larger ministry events and outreaches. This requires some serious planning, but you can host larger events in other places around your community. Use the middle school or high school for Easter. Host a concert or other large event in another place. Have a student ministry event at the park. I was helping to lead a VBS once where half the age groups met at City Hall, which was near their church building. It’s a witness and an opportunity to invite people who may not go to a “church” building.
Maximize People Hospitality
In our church, the gathering spaces are small. In some hallways, it’s almost single file as people pick up kids to try to visit together. It’s important to overcome these constraints by personalizing it. Recruit, train and employ greeters at every turn. If you have stairs, you can station greeters to make sure people can get up and down with no trouble. If you have two entrances, staff both. Make sure your signs are visible and informative but make sure you station people around to help. Friendliness and personal connections will overcome lots of building issues.
Maximize Other Spaces
Someone once said, “The church has all the space it needs to meet in small groups – it’s called the living rooms of church members.” I once lead a Sunday school class at McDonald’s. Other buildings around your church you could rent on Sunday mornings? Is there an adjacent parking lot you could borrow or rent? Sometimes just doing something like this encourages the church and helps them to regain a focus on mission, growth, and reaching out.
Make Your Building as Functional as Possible
The church is people, the building is there to support the mission. If your mission becomes to support the building, you’re in or heading towards serious decline. I was recently in a church that took out a wall between two rooms because their youth ministry had grown too large. I was in another church that took out a room to extend their sanctuary platform back. If something like this needs to be done in your building, talk a bit, plan a lot and get it going. If a space has become too cluttered, find out what it is and move it. If you’re part of a church that is full of tradition and furniture is part of that tradition, then just move it for a special occasion such as a wedding or Easter or something like that – then forget to move it back and see if people ask you about it. Too often, we’re so attached to the buildings that we aren’t nimble enough to allow them to serve in the mission. The building works for you. It’s a tool.
Even the process of growing through these times forms a congregation. Use building constraints to teach and encourage your people to sit closer together, to sit up front, to take the unusual parking spaces that aren’t in the prime areas. Keep the idea of growth and serving mindset front and center for the regulars. Add or delete chairs as you need space. Budget for some small remodels to keep people moving forward together – update/enlarge bathrooms, open up a gathering space, improve the nursery (a must for any church serious about reaching kids), add large outdoor canopies for connecting outdoors, or some other small project. Just doing something will keep people moving forward, enthusiastic about the mission.
Our identity is in Christ. Our building is a tool for the mission of the church.
The building is a witness. When people driving by see people sprucing it up, adding on or making improvements, it gives witness to God’s power and strength. (Psalm 48:10)
Many building problems will be solved as you reach out to people. Invest your time connecting with and inviting people to your church, then lead the way as the church grows, to make the right amount of space needed. Focus on sending your people out into ministry.