By Tim Cool
When I started my career in church facility development in 19XX (you venture a guess), the foyer/lobby/narthex (for my liturgical friends) was generally sized to be 1- to 2-square-feet per seat in the main worship space.
In those days, this space was intended to be used as a place to funnel people from the worship space to the outside or down a series of narrow corridors that led to the education, administration or fellowship areas. There was often a small table for giving / tithing envelopes or general information, along with one or two uncomfortable high-back chairs … usually not ones you would enjoy sitting in for any length of time, nor were they arranged in a manner to encourage conversation or community.
For all practicality, the foyer was nothing more than a well-appointed cattle chute. (MOO)
Not any more.
That line of thinking has, fortunately, gone the way of the dodo-bird. Why? Because people want to connect. People want to do life together. We want to linger. We want to hang out. We want to do more than just pass through a space to merely get to the other side.
Let’s look at four reasons why this is a major shift in church space:
1) People want connection. In “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” published recently in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Professor Nicolas Epley from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and co-author Juliana Schroder found that participants in their experiments not only underestimated others’ interest in connecting, but also reported positive experiences by both being spoken to and to speaking with a stranger.
“Connecting with strangers on a train may not bring the same long-term benefits as connecting with friends,” Epley states. “But commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude.”
Deep down, we want to connect with others.
2) Community. Over the past half-decade or more, the term “doing life together” has become a mainstay in modern vernacular. We are seeking the opportunity to connect with people. For the past 30 to 50 years, the American population has become experts at separatism, isolationism and back yard living … fences and all. If we are ever invaded my extra terrestrial beings, they will report back to the mother ship that Earthlings vacate their domiciles early in the morning … then return late evening and are not see again until the next morning.
However, the trend is the opposite. Ask the people of Celebration, Florida. Talk to masses of people moving back into urban and walk-able settings. People are seeking community — why not let the church lead the way in this cultural shift instead of being the typical laggards.
3) Death of the fellowship hall. Several years ago, Dr. Thom Rainer conducted a research project that identified the least effective and “inspirational” type of construction / development project was the “fellowship hall.” While community is desirable, the idea of a contrived or forced “community” setting is not working. Frankly, the dedicated fellowship hall is a very poor utilization of space and tends to become the dreaded multi-useless building. Properly sized lobby spaces can more than suffice for these “fellowship” functions … so, why do we need to pay for the space twice?
4) Third Place and the “well.” In the early to mid 1990’s, the term “Third Place” (thanks to the book The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg) came in vogue, referencing the third place in a person’s life that they would engage them with others. (The first place is where you live. The second is where you go to pay for where you live. The third place is that comfortable place where you can unwind, get away, hang, connect, etc.) The most popular example of a Third Place was from the TV sitcom, “Cheers” … where “everyone knows your name.” In the majority of instances where churches talked about a third place, it referred to a coffee shop or cafe. While that is an option, it is not the only option.
In fact, I would prefer to talk about “wells” (vs. Temples) as the draw. Think about the women at the well. She did not wake up and decide to go to the temple or “church.” No. She had to do a seven-day-a-week event: get water. Part of her culture and daily routine. But she met God in the form of Jesus at the well. After her encounter, she ran home — but did not load up the family station wagon and drive her family to the temple. Nope; she took them to the WELL. Think about that; how can we develop more wells on our campuses?
Given the above — as well as many other cultural and practical influences — we are seeing these gathering / connecting spaces … what might be called the “commons” … be at least 50% the size of the worship seating with a preferred factor of 75% to 100% of the worship seating space. If we use eight to 10 square feet per person for worship seating, that means we need to allocate four to 10 square feet per person in the common space versus one to two square feet. In fact, one of the industry partners we collaborate with is trending their designs and concepts closer to 150%. That is a ton of space … and there are times that not all of it needs to be included in the “built environment” but can be captured in adjacent spaces outside the building and create an inside/outside commons that can be equally as effective and in many cases, be even more inviting. If you design your commons to be 75% of your worship seating, but also an additional 75% in natural environments, you could potentially save enormous amounts of money as the conditioned space might cost you, say, $150 per square foot, or even more while the exterior space would be in the $30 to $40-per-square-foot range. That is a 75% savings.
The bottom line is that we need to provide common connecting spaces, not just a cattle chute. You need to determine what is contextual for your church, culture, DNA and other such factors.
You have to be INTENTIONAL!
Tim Cool is founder of Cool solutions Group, and has assisted nearly 400 U.S. churches (equating to more than 4 million square feet) with their facility needs. He has collaborated with churches in the areas of facility needs analysis, design coordination, pre construction and construction management, as well as life cycle planning / facility management. Cool solutions Group is also the developer of eSPACE software products, including Event Scheduler, Work Order Management and HVAC integration.
Cool has written three books: Successful Master Planning: More Than Pretty Pictures; Why Church Buildings Matter: The Story of Your Space; and Church Locality, which is co-written by Jim Tomberlin, as well as a manual series entitled “Intentional Church.”