With all the stress and hustle of the Christmas season, I want to lighten things up.
Below are nine “diseases” many church facilities suffer. Gary Nicholson, one of Visioneering’s studio directors and lead architects, developed this list. He thought you would enjoy “playing doctor” to diagnose your own facilities. Enjoy! (And thanks goes to Gary. Good stuff.)
Diseases of the church facility
Just as our bodies contract diseases that can lead to problems and cause pain and discomfort, many diseases can infect church facilities. Rarely are these merely cosmetic; often, they’re outward signs of much more deep-seeded problems. Examples include:
1) Growing pains. Consistently filling of a space(s) in the church to beyond 80 percent is often a positive sign of growing numbers. If not addressed, it can become a limitation and lead to stunted growth. The remedy isn’t always to build new space, but to examine the possibilities of: a) redistributing people into underused areas; b) using the space in an additional session at a different hour or time slot; or c) considering adding space that allows for future growth.
2) Bumpus maximus. This phenomenon occurs when there are too many people in your church foyer or lobby, primarily between services and Bible study sessions. It’s made worse when the pastor doesn’t stop preaching on time, and people are waiting in the foyer to get into the next service when the previous service is not yet over. So, people are exiting the worship center at the same time as others are trying to enter. (This can be much worse when the entire congregation ate nothing but beans the night before at the annual world hunger banquet.)
3) Circulatory disease. This is when hallways and corridors are clogged or jammed full of people so that movement becomes difficult. It’s worst in cases wherein multiple services are occurring so traffic is coming and going in the halls at the same time. It’s easily “remedied” by a good church squabble to thin the flock and reduce the numbers, leaving only the few who won’t leave —regardless of the dysfunction in the fellowship.
4) Architectural senility. This is a rather sad state whereby antiquated facilities relate to the past much more than to the present. It can take on many forms. An often-cited example is extremely small rooms designed for adult Bible study groups of six to eight people instead of today’s larger groups. Or, it could be a space built for activities that never materialize — a recreation facility no one uses, for instance. Another example is a very small platform with room for piano and organ, but no other instruments, because that was the way church was done in the 1950’s.
5) Flashback syndrome. This refers to the visual state of a room — one which induces instant flashbacks in a person who enters. Usually, it’s the 1970’s or some other era, as evident by the color scheme and patterns — shag carpet with harvest gold or avocado-green, for example. Other symptoms include floral wallpaper, or garish plaids and mauve color schemes from the 1980’s.
All these symptoms communicate that the church members are out of touch with the present, or simply don’t think church is important enough to bother updating its environment.
6) Architectural vertigo. This occurs when a church facility has been designed with no sense of balance. For example, a church might build a huge worship center that’s completely out of balance with the children’s program space, or that lacks adequate parking. In this case, the result is a few unintended messages: 1) that Bible study isn’t important, and 2) that the church doesn’t care about kids.
7) “Scatter-brain” syndrome (scatterus incognito). This common ailment occurs when the various age groups and programs aren’t arranged in any logical order, and finding the appropriate room becomes extremely difficult for a new or infrequent attendee.
8) Religious edifice confusionitis. This is when a congregation builds using architectural styles or trappings from a different religion while declaring it to be “the way a church ought to look.” Greek and Roman temple forms used in 19th– and 20th-century church buildings are often confused as “Christian,” when they were actually created as tributes to ancient gods such as Aphrodite and Zeus. It makes people wonder if you know why the church even exists.
9) Pave-it-all landscapeosis. This affliction is often seen in churches that have taken the desire for a low-maintenance landscape plan to the ultimate level: Everything (except the cemetery) is paved. Asphalt has replaced grass all the way up the building, with no room for landscaping because — well, that’s the point: They don’t want to have to maintain a landscape. It has an unattractive appearance, but it’s decidedly low-maintenance.
Is your church infected with one or more of these ailments? The cure can be a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth the effort to be free of such maladies and able to function as a church should. I recommend diagnosis by an expert in church architectural diseases — and a possible design intervention by Visioneering Studios — to prescribe a cure.
Tim Cool is project executive at Visioneering Studios in Charlotte, NC, and founder of Cool Solutions Group. Since 1986, Cool has served the church community in the areas of construction, facility planning and facility management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog originally appeared on his blog, “Cool Conversations Live.”