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Architects' Roundtable Discussion of Ministry Facilities

Architects' Roundtable Discussion of Ministry Facilities

We spoke with Graham Adams, president of Charlotte, NC-based Adams Group, Aubrey Garrison, president of Birmingham, ALbased Live Design Group, and Paul Harding, president of Chicago-based Harding Partners.

Considering the wealth of knowledge that these leaders bring to the table with their combined 80 years of experience, it makes the most sense to let them do the talking. Read on to see what they have to say about church design.

WFM: What projects do you plan on designing for church clients in 2014?
Adams: The majority of the church projects we are currently designing are either addition or renovation projects on existing campuses.
In regard to additions, we are seeing churches in need of fellowship, education or recreation space. Usually when we are awarded a project, we re-master-plan the site. [This gives us] a clear understanding of where a congregation is currently and the logical path to continue with future phases. Many campuses are plagued with poorly placed buildings. We are trying to work around [this issue] to determine a logical way to knit the campus together [to] improve flow and function.
Harding: Our firm is working with multiple religious organizations to renovate existing non-religious buildings of various types into places of worship. In the current real estate market, it is often easier to get financing for projects that involve purchasing and renovating existing properties. Some properties that, on the surface, appear to be a good fit actually are prohibitively expensive to repurpose due to zoning requirements, building codes, environmental issues, and the physical condition of the building.
Garrison: Live Design Group has several
church projects we are currently designing to be constructed in 2014. Community of Faith on the northwest side of Houston, for example, will construct a new worship facility as well as an addition to their children's education building to provide additional space proportional to the new seating capacity. 

WFM: Will your designs for these projects be location-specific, or will there be some trends that transcend locale?
Adams: We do not believe plans transcend locale. As a religious facility architectural firm, we understand the nuances of working with ministry teams and congregations. There are emotions and heartfelt desires present when working with church clients that are not present in a standard business. The end user has influence over the design. We support a participatory design process that allows that end user a voice in the design. The functional design and the floor plan flow can be very unique to each church. With a design-specific location, you address the individuality of each congregation.
Harding: There are some fundamentals of church design that transcend locale. Proper sightlines, natural sounding acoustics, and certain functional relationships are consistent regardless of location. However, most of what goes into an inspiring and functional place of worship is site-specific. Basic things, such as site access and parking configuration, are based on working with the topography to manage storm water and grades. Using daylight to help create an uplifting worship experience is contingent upon the solar orientation of the building.
Garrison: Every [plan] we have designed has been unique for each church. The facility should reflect the personality, style and ministry of the church. If there are any trends, I would offer the following from the projects where we are involved: there is a desire for greater efficiency; more space, more seats for less construction cost and a larger "bang for the buck;" there is a desire for even greater flexibility and multi-use of various spaces.

WFM: In your opinion, are churches getting smaller? Is the megachurch now a dinosaur?
Adams: One size does not fit all. First and foremost, a church should be focused on spiritual growth, not the number of members. The megachurch movement is not dead, and in some instances [it is] still growing. The average church has 200 or fewer members. A church must have specific goals and cannot gauge their success in comparison to a megachurch. Worship styles and comfort levels are subjective, and so are church sizes.
Harding: There are wonderful and vibrant
ministries in all sizes. We do see an increase in the number of smaller churches. This is driven by the desire of people to find a congregation that has a common belief in theological teachings, order of worship, or types of ministry. While some of the new, smaller congregations are breaking away from larger worship communities, we do not see the number or growth of megachurches diminishing. Because of the current church lending environment, however, we do see megachurches trending away from one very large worship center to a multi-site ministry model.
Garrison: My personal feeling is that there is a trend away from the term "megachurch." The term has the connotation that there is reduced individual connection and intimacy. Small groups have changed that perception, and the design of the rooms can increase the intimacy. In many cases, large churches are still being developed. You can see from the list of churches we are currently designing, they are still building large worship rooms. Most of them are multi-site churches with a large central "home base" church and smaller satellite campuses.

WFM: Speaking of multi-site facilities, what do you think the future holds for these types of buildings?
Adams: We are seeing some trends toward having satellite campuses as a way to reach people in rural areas [or] seniors. [The satellites have also filled] a need created by the high population growth in certain suburban areas that may lack religious options.
Harding: Multi-site facilities will become more common as megachurches mature and continue to grow in size and outreach. For the congregations we have worked with, their older facilities limit growth because of a lack of seating or parking. Once the new larger facility is completed, the pent-up demand results in a significant growth in the congregation. This continued growth inspires the congregation to create a second worship center. Other churches channel the energy and resources of a large and stable congregation into a second church site as a way to expand the reach of their ministry. This is particularly true for urban congregations, where limited parking, a lack of transportation, and neighborhood identity make it challenging to gather new members from a broad geographic area.
Garrison: We believe the multi-site concept will continue to grow, certainly within the fast growing churches. It is obvious that satellite campuses allow a church to reach more people in a broader area.

WFM: Could you share some words of wisdom for church leaders that are looking to expand in 2014 and beyond?
Adams: People are much more likely to donate when they can visualize the expansion or future addition. From our experience, we have found that donations always increase after we have produced interactive supporting graphics that show
the congregation the "Big Picture."
In addition, the old saying "penny wise pound foolish" is a good rule of thumb. This past year, we have dealt with several churches that have put Band-Aids on several large repairs. These repairs, when added together, could have made a much larger impact if they assessed the overall cost benefits and the real return on the investment. Sometimes what appears to be financially conservative is actually very costly.
Harding: The Bible talks about doing all things in moderation. It is important to balance function, scope, quality, and cost in these projects. In realizing the vision of the church leadership and congregation, it is important to be realistic from the outset. It is wonderful to have a vision for the ministry. Achieving that vision in phases is often an appropriate and necessary approach. This is about worship spaces with fine sightlines, excellent acoustics, and some degree of sustainable design strategies to reduce operating costs. Extremely economical medium and large-sized worship buildings rarely have excellent sightlines and excellent acoustics. While it is easy to assume that electronic audio/video equipment can overcome a poorly designed sanctuary, the resulting compromises often limit the functionality of the space and [yield] an unsatisfying worship experience.
Garrison: We have always said that the "dream church" will always be larger than what they can afford. We believe the process should be developed around creating a design that incorporates the dream and allows the construction partner to generate the cost. The church can evaluate how to achieve the greatest part of its dream. This can be done through carefully planned phasing of multiple projects or by selecting the most important parts of the dream and saving cost in other areas to afford them.

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