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Designing worship areas: expansion takes shape

3 alternative site selection options, examined

By Curtiss H. Doss, AIA

DESIGNING WORSHIP AREASWell, this series is soon to draw to a close — this is the final “Designing Worship Areas” article before our grand finale article in November / December 2015 issue!

I’m confident you’ll enjoy the final series installment; it’s a jointly written piece with a new friend, Doug Hood, president / owner of CSD Group, Inc. (Fort Wayne, IN), a nationally recognized, award-winning creative design / build AVL firm. The article will focus on technical systems and worship space design. I’m personally looking forward to it; we might have saved the best for last!

For many in the worship design arena, however, the topic of this article — alternative site selection — is equally compelling.

In this installment, we’ll focus on three types of alternative site selection:

#1: Expansion on one site (current or new)
#2: Expansion on multiple sites
#3: Expansion through church planting or new starts

SFBC Phase I 004

All three modes of expansion significantly impact worship space planning, and are driven by the overarching “church DNA” theme of this series. In every series installment, it has been stated — and occasionally, restated — that every church is different. The conversation surrounding alternative site options echoes this point.

All three expansion options referenced above typically present themselves to churches in a growth mode, not those where growth is stagnant or in decline. Often, the need for a different site, location or a multisite environment is driven by a desire to reach a different community or geographical area.

Option #1: Expansion on one site (current or new)

Some church leadership groups decide to accommodate expansion by relocating. While this can be a lengthy, daunting process, it’s also a very exciting prospect that requires a long-term focus by the leadership team to see the process through, while also supporting existing church ministries and continued growth. Expanding on one site allows the church body to remain together and see the congregation grow within the walls of the new facility.

• Maintaining fellowship with current church members
• Experiencing growth as a church family
• Seeing the exciting changes that occur with growth (which encourages members to be less tied to the status quo)
• A healthy, outward focus among church members.

• Exponential expense
• Crowded conditions during the transition
• A challenge to remain focus on the gospel / ministry.

27007 COption #2: Expansion on multiple sites

Some church leaders accommodate expansion by creating additional sites — all while maintaining the original church location. This approach has affectionately been referred to as a “mother / daughter” church configuration; it often fosters a special relationship between two or more congregations tied together for the long term.

• Smaller, more personable congregations
• Opportunities to personally know more people
• Flexibility in both land and / or building options.

• Separation from the original congregation by those starting an additional site
• Technical challenges related to preaching responsibilities with satellite / simulcast or site-specific preaching responsibilities
• Staffing challenges.

Option #3: Expansion through church planting or new starts

Finally, some church leaders accommodate expansion with a new, independent church start. This unique solution represents a decision to create a self-sustaining congregation.

• The satisfaction of recreating a successful model
• A focused process of providing for the start by selecting a core group from the original congregation
• The likelihood of a less expensive initial cost.

• Uncertainty for the new start
• A smaller start size, typically
• Limited staff
• Limited ministry offerings.

There’s no right or wrong approach to church site expansion. In fact, I know of several successful examples of all three options across the United State.  Conversely, I’m also aware of several unsuccessful models.

The bottom line is, each church’s leadership team — and each church itself — should carefully consider which expansion option is best suited to its unique DNA.

Curtiss H. Doss, AIA is principal of McGehee Nicholson Burke (MNB) Architects in Memphis, TN. Doss has consulted with church clients for more than 20 years, and his architectural practice spans more than 30 years.


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