What ‘story’ does your church facility tell? – A primer

Tim-Cool-bloggerBy Tim Cool

Over the past several years we’ve become acutely aware of the essence of “story.” We hear this term used in the church world and in business settings.  It has been used to prompt people to open up about their lives and life experiences…to tell their story. On a “corporate” level it’s the interwoven thread used to identify the mission, vision, direction and passion of organizations. The reality is, we all have a story.  Some of these stories are sensational, while others may seem mundane or routine, and others grip our emotions and pull on our heartstrings while transforming us into the story.

What has really grasped me lately is that everyone and everything has a story to tell and that people are “reading” those stories even when we’re not aware. We don’t have to write a “screenplay” or book to tell our story. When we walk into a room full of people, you’ll start to read certain aspects of people’s stories and they’ll start to read yours as well. They might not see the entire story, but they’ll see some pretty obvious chapters in that story. The way you enter the room will tell the chapter of your story related to your self-confidence or possibly your physical attributes or limitations. The way you shake the hands of the other guests will convey yet another part of the story as will the clothes you are wearing…and you may not have even said a word. In addition, the room itself tells a story (more on that later).

The concept of “story telling” has become an “Aha” moment for me.  I’ve learned that some of the most interesting, complex, intuitive and compelling parts of my story are those observed and not heard. If I have to verbally communicate that a component of my story is generosity and kindness, then it’s very likely that those attributes aren’t really part of my non-fiction story, but rather a fictional (fairy tale) trait that I want people to believe about me.  Conversely, congruent stories are generally seen and felt long before they’re verbally communicated. In fact, I believe that some parts of our story, those with the most intrinsic value, are never spoken. We didn’t need to hear Mother Theresa tell us she loved orphans. We don’t need to hear a speech by Shaquille O’Neil to know that he’s a large man who has done well for himself as a professional athlete. We don’t need to have a mother, rocking her baby, to tell us that she loves that gift from God.  No, we can see it.  We can feel it. There’s something that communicates the story to us just by looking at the person or the situation.

“Story” is all around us…in virtually every aspect of our daily experiences, which means that our church and ministry facilities also tell a story. The questions for church leaders are:

What story are your facilities/campus telling?

Are we intentional about the story?

Is the story congruent with who we are, who we think we are, what we believe/value and who we want to reach for Christ?

I believe there are seven primary factors to story-telling that we need to be cognizant of related to our church facilities and a first-time guest’s experience:

  • Story vs. Fairy Tale
  • The “new” Front Porch
  • Design/Street-scape
  • Parking Lot Experience
  • Way-finding/Environment
  • Interactions
  • Condition

Over the next weeks and months, we will be exploring each of these areas in more detail. I believe that as we become more acutely aware of the impact of our ministries’ unique story, and how it impacts our guest and the people God had called us to read in our community, the greater the impact we’ll have on fulfilling that calling.

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 tcool@visioneeringstudios.com.


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