I love duct tape as much as the next guy. In fact, I believe that I can repair just about anything in our house with duct tape.
When I was in my early years of college, I took a two-year sabbatical to travel with a musical group out of Nashville called “Bridge.” We did more than 350 concerts a year, traveling from town to town and church to church. Every night, we did a concert in a new location, and so we set up and tore down our sound system each night. We had wires going everywhere. So, to “dress up” the stage and to make it safe to navigate the performance area, we used duct tape to secure the wires. We would buy a case of it at a time, burning through a case every few weeks. I even had to repair a pair of pants, due to an attire malfunction, with duct tape until we could locate a seamstress.
It is the dream product for repairing and securing just about anything. But, after our concerts each night, we pulled up the duct tape and threw it away. It did not stay as a permanent part of the décor of the church we were at. It was installed and removed the same day — because it was never intended to be a permanent fixture in the facility. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I visit a church that has elected to use duct tape as a permanent component of their interior design scheme. The congregation steps over the duct tape week in and week out, totally oblivious to the grey stripe on the worn-out carpet.
The longer you live in a space, the less you see the obvious. For your regular attenders, they become immune to the condition of the facility. It is kind of like putting a frog in a pot of cool water, and then turning up the temp to bring it to a boil. We stop seeing the trees for the forest. We walk past the grass growing in the cracks of the parking lot. We step over the torn carpet. We know exactly how to avoid the potholes in the parking lot. We do not notice the stained ceiling times and overlook the odor and condition of our public restroom. But I assure you, your guests do not. These inconsistencies in the story can be just as distracting and repulsive as poor design and the lack of signage and poor interactions.
This past year, our team attended two conferences at large influential churches. The first was a church in Southern California with a campus that is the best-keep facility I have ever visited. It has five or six buildings uniquely located on a 50-acre site with an attention to detail second to none. When you first pull on the property, you are greeted by signage at nearly every intersection of the parking lot to guide you to your destination. The grounds were immaculately manicured and all the hedges trimmed and neat. The buildings were clean and organized, lacking disruptive clutter in the common areas. The restrooms were neat, clean and odor-free. Not opulent, but comfortable. The windows and glass was clean, and I did not see any duct tape on the floors. I had to look really had to find a handful of things to complain about — and trust me, I was looking. But even the handful of items I found were not deal-killers, just me being anal.
The other conference was in central Florida at a very large church. This is a church with an impactful TV ministry in central Florida and dynamic pastor. The conference had more than 5,000 people in attendance, so this was no small campus. But I was very disappointed with the condition of the facility. The signage once on the campus was lacking, and a significant amount of the parking was gravel. As I approached the buildings, after parking in the gravel lot, I was immediately taken aback by the lack of care of the grounds. The yards were in desperate need of care, and the trees and shrubs needed a good trim. The buildings felt old and tired, lacking any visual appeal. Then, as I ventured deeper into the campus, the pathways lead me to the sea of modular classrooms — all looking like a bad public school. In fact, the speaker’s lounge was in one of these spaces, which gave the impression that “OK” was good enough for them. There was no sense of excellence or intentionality to the space. Touring the actual worship center revealed aged and worn pews, carpet that was wrinkled in lieu of lying flat, and restrooms that really could have used some TLC.
Now, I am sure there may be good reasons for this lack of care. And, as a believer — and potentially a highly sensitive observer of spaces — I can still worship and enjoy my time with other believers. But, what about our guests, especially those who are not believers? Will they be as forgiving? Will the condition of our facilities leave a lasting negative impression on them? Will these roadblocks keep them from coming back or sharing their experience with others that may not darken the doors of your church because of what they hear about your facility?
It would be a shame to have been intentional about the design of your facility, parking ministry, themed spaces and script writing, but then be neglectful with the care and condition of the facility. Don’t let the care and upkeep become the forgotten chapter of your story.
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 email@example.com. This blog originally appeared on his blog, “Cool Conversations Live.”