Entry & Wayfinding
By Allison Parrott with Paul Lodholz, AIA, LEED AP
Visiting a church for the first time can be quite daunting. Often, long-time church members take for granted that visitors “just know” which areas to park in, where the easiest entrance is located, and how to navigate the church campus.
But, for a first-time visitor, a church campus without clear wayfinding elements can be difficult to navigate — and make it less likely they’ll return.
Imagine it’s your first visit to your church, and try to navigate the campus.
- What do you see when you first drive up? Is the vehicular entrance clearly marked and easy to find?
- How do you know where to park? Is the correct entry easily visible?
- Once you’re inside the church, where do you go? Is it clear where the sanctuary is located? What about classrooms? The nursery?
For many church leaders, this can be a difficult exercise. To make it easier, there are several common items that can be addressed simply.
Sometimes, entering the campus parking lot can be difficult. Here, large, easy-to-read signage which denotes entrances and exits — as well as building locations — is essential.
Also think about how your building physically indicates (or doesn’t) where the main entrance is located and how this relates to the visual a visitor has as he or she enters the parking lot.
Consider traffic flow, as well. Some churches find it necessary to hire a traffic consultant to analyze their parking lot flow and make recommendations on restriping. This can speed up drop-off and parking times and also makes the entire lot easier to navigate and more intuitive for visitors.
Once a visitor has found a parking spot, it’s imperative that the walking path to the front entrance be clear and safe.
Many churches we work with have older entrances that are highly visible from the street, but not easily accessible from the parking lot. Over time, as church members stopped walking to church and began driving, these original entrances become less and less used by regular attendees. Sometimes, they’re even locked on Sunday mornings because regular attenders all use side doors. If you have older, large entry doors that aren’t used much, consider replacing them with glass or stained glass that allows for a visual, decorative element but won’t confuse first-time visitors trying to find their way into your church.
Taking advantage of smaller wayfinding signs along sidewalks is also helpful. And, ensure your sidewalks are well-maintained and well-lit. If a visitor needs to cross traffic lanes from the parking lot, provide crosswalk areas for safety.
Inside the facility
Once visitors have made it into the correct entrance, it’s vital that they can quickly find where they’re going. There are many visual cues that can help with this — using different colors or textures on the walls to indicate different types of spaces, for example. Additionally, floor patterns can be used to guide people through a space.
Welcome desks are a great addition to any large lobby; just make sure there are greeters stationed there to welcome guests and answer questions.
Interior signage is also helpful, here. Many graphics companies specialize in interior wayfinding signage. They tour your facility and work with your leadership team to develop an overall strategy for signage and wayfinding throughout your campus that will reinforce your church’s values and identity.
Allison Parrott is the Project Manager for the Worship and Education Studio at Ziegler Cooper Architects in Houston. She is married to a church-planter and pastor and is blessed to be able to serve other churches through her professional work.
Paul Lodholz, AIA, LEED AP is the Principal-in-Charge of the Worship and Education Studio at Ziegler Cooper Architects. He has lectured around the country on the changing nature of the church lobby and has been working with churches for more than 35 years.