Hospitality’s role in today’s church design


By Rodney C. James

Webster defines hospitality as “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.”
But when we consider the role hospitality should play in today’s church, we must look no further than the Bible.

Paul writes in Romans, “Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality” (MSG). The church is commanded to love genuinely, abhor evil, hold to good … and practice hospitality.

Download the eBook!

Practicing and being inventive in hospitality is something that takes intentional effort and strategic planning — not only in our ministry efforts but, just as importantly, with our ministry facilities.

When we consider how a church can extend hospitality, we should consider ways our church facilities can help those who make their way to your campus and walk through our doors sense and feel they are being treated in a genuine, generous and friendly way.

The reality (either fortunately or unfortunately) is that your facilities are often your first line of communication when a new family arrives at your campus. Even before they step out of the car to be greeted by your hospitality team, they navigated onto the parking lot and have been looking for the front door.

Have you driven onto your campus recently with a newcomer’s set of eyes? 

Did you find it easy to know where to enter your campus? 

Is the main entry for your building easily identified? 

When you walk in, do you need to ask for assistance to find the children’s ministry, the sanctuary, the restrooms, or the office? 

If we are not mindful, we walk through the door week after week and fail to recognize that, for a first-time guest, the small signs, the narrow halls, the unlabeled doors, or vast space with a thousand different messages crying for attention can create an emotional response of uneasiness. Often, this is not a warm, friendly welcome.

This is why in the early to mid-1980s, churches began to expand and build larger gathering spaces.

Making an immediate impression

A single front door or multiple entries that are clearly and easily seen from the parking areas ease the anxiety of first-time guests. This front door opens into a comfortable, welcoming and inviting space that serves many purposes. 

First, it creates an atmosphere that allows people to connect, share life, and experience a ‘welcome home’ feeling. These gathering spaces have become the hub of hospitality for many churches. Often, they include casual seating areas, self-serve or full-service cafés, information areas, ministry connection points, and much more. 

Second, the gathering area typically is the connector to the various other ministry areas such as nursery, preschool, children’s ministry, and students. Of course, the main sanctuary entries are located from this space, leading individuals directly into the atmosphere of worship. Having a gathering space that is well planned and thoughtfully designed creates a comfortable flow of people at peak traffic times before and after services.

Intentionally designing this space to ensure that those who are standing in line for the café, children’s check-in, or your welcome center are not conflicting with restroom entrances, exit doors, or the lines for other ministry entrances creates a flow that works well in those transitions between services. Having the various entry points to other areas of ministry, the sanctuary, café, and restrooms well-themed, marked by large visuals, or easily identifiable signage, aids in the hospitable feeling of a space that is intentional about helping people navigate to where they can have their needs met.

Finally, the gathering space is an adaptable space that can be an intentional place of ministry, meetings, and other programed functions. These spaces are often a place of hospitality for fellowship gatherings, receptions, small groups, and even activities throughout the week for various age groups. Your gathering space is the perfect place for your church family to meet people who they might have invited to your church for the very first time or even during the week for business or a ministry-minded one-on-one connection.

The importance of a well-designed and themed gathering space is the heart of extending hospitality to first-time guests. But hospitality just beings in the gathering space; the spirit of a generous and welcoming church should extend to every part of your facility. 

The children’s spaces — from check-in to the classrooms — should provide an inviting atmosphere that offers comfort for parents and children alike. An environment that creates expectation, safety, and even fun for families is a powerful way to extend the hospitality beyond their first point of entry. 

If children can feel welcomed and comfortable in their ministry space, they can more easily focus on learning about their Savior. They become excited not only about being there, but also about inviting friends to join them.

For the parents of children who are looking for a church to call home, this space is critical to helping them feel comfortable and welcomed. If they can see their children are excited to be in a space created specifically for nurturing kids in Christ, and there are safety measures in place to keep them safe during their time of ministry, this is a win for your facility and ministry.

Reconsidering restrooms

Another area of facilities where hospitality is important is restrooms. One might not consider restrooms as spaces that can foster a sense of hospitality — but just walk into an unhospitable restroom, and you definitely won’t want to stay.

For churches, the main criteria for a well-designed restroom are capacity and cleanliness. These facilities must provide adequate capacity during peak moments before and after services. This is where a ministry-focused design team knows the delicate balance of providing enough space without overdesigning.

The materials used in restrooms are critical to maintaining cleanliness over time. The right materials will be easily cleanable and non-stainable while creating a feeling of excellence in design.

A true sense of sanctuary

Finally, we must consider the sanctuary space as a place of hospitality — not, perhaps, as focused on our guests and visitors as with the welcoming of the presence of our God.

When designing a sanctuary space, it’s easy to become overly focused on the number of seats, the size of the platform, or the quality of the sound system. The real purpose, however, is to ensure that those who are present meet and worship their Savior. Aim to create a room where individuals are not distracted by awkward lines of site to the platform, where they have the freedom to move out of their seats and respond during an opportunity for prayer or ministry, and where they can feel free expressing their worship. A hospitable sanctuary invites the worshippers and the One to be worshiped into an atmosphere of awe and wonder.

Certainly, the design of our facilities matters when it comes to expressing an atmosphere of hospitality. But they’re just buildings; they can’t do it alone. So much more depends on the attitude and actions of the church family. Your facilities can be designed to facilitate hospitality, or they can work against your best efforts to being a warm, inviting and welcoming church. 

The role of hospitality in the church has definitely influenced church design over the past three decades as we strive to be intentional, inventive and creative in helping all who come to our campuses feel at home.

Rodney C. James, a former pastor, is president and founder of Master’s Plan Church Design & Construction in Tulsa, Okla.


Leave a Reply

HTML Snippets Powered By :