Churches embrace ‘third spaces’ for families

By David P. Strickland

A Georgia church responds to the needs of its congregation by providing spaces designed for youth.

Several years ago a trend began in church design, which grew from the desire to be intentional and creative in addressing the needs of young families with children. The proactive approach was to design spaces uniquely suited to the ministries of the children and youth. Since that time the bar continues to be raised to make these spaces the “third place” for children and students.

Just as the coffee/cafe has become the third place for adults, these unique spaces provide an alternative place within the church facilities for our children and youth ministries. This setting is well suited for current church leaders to nurture the next generation of leaders with surroundings that are comfortable for the children, the students and the adults. To reach a generation that is technologically savvy – one that has grown up with i-pods, Wi-Fi, streaming video and smart phones – these spaces need to be technology-rich environments.

With greater frequency we see that it is a priority for churches planning to build for their growing ministries to address the needs of children and students early in the development of their campus. When Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, GA, relocated to the growing suburban environment of Bogart, GA, they elected to adopt just such a strategy.

Starting out new
The relocation gave the church an opportunity to start fresh on a new site adjacent to the church’s school facilities. The initial phase of construction included a multi-purpose space which seats 1,400 for worship. A later phase of the master plan will include a new worship center to accommodate 2,500 worshipers. The study of the church’s demographics indicated its surrounding community had a large population of young families with children. This led to the decision that the church should focus on spaces for the children and students in its first phase of the construction.

Prince Avenue saw the need to adapt these spaces for children and students to suit them personally as the end-users. The multipurpose worship space on the ground level and is closest to the preschool and nursery children ministries. “Genesis Junction” is a themed space replicating a train depot.

The check-in station is designed as a ticket counter with security doors for limited access and video cameras to monitor entry. A large mural of an old steam locomotive extends down the hall with blinking red lights on the railroad crossing signals near the check in desk. A small theater just inside the preschooler’s space allows for the children to be engaged with a puppet show or other programs while learning.

Teaching environment
On the upper level is “Kidzopolis,” a space designated for kindergarteners to fifth graders. It includes “The Clubhouse” theater, a themed age-appropriate ministry space. Large trees and marquee style posters depicting the theme for the current lesson flank the clubhouse entry. A stage with props suitable for the lesson is all a part of the teaching environment. Carpeting was selected for the space that was sensitive to the black lights provides for another part of the sensory rich experience. Exits from the Clubhouse lead to secure corridors and provide access to the children’s ministry classrooms.

Also on the upper level are two unique ministry spaces for the high school students and for the middle school students. Providing easy access for group circulation to these spaces are large glass overhead garage doors that open on to the second floor corridor. Inside are large gathering areas that provide ample space for students to meet in small groups before entering their theater space for assembly. For these ministries the church chose to develop the spaces similar to converted warehouse lofts that use stained concrete floors and painted exposed structures overhead.

Within the gathering areas the students can relax on large comfortable furnishings or gather around small tables. Students may wish to use one of the iMac computers for access to the internet, or challenge their friends to a video game on one of the flat panel televisions that are dedicated to gaming. Within the high school ministry space the students can enter a basketball cage for relaxed games like they would have in their driveways at home.

David Strickland serves as a principal of the Religious Studio at CDH Partners, a design firm in Marietta, GA.


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