But buildings require time and capital. For some churches, especially those that are focused on reaching more people for Christ as quickly as possible, the thought of building new campuses or investing in permanent space seems at odds with a nimble, frugal approach to launching multiple congregations.
Aspen Group, as founders of the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), commissioned Barna Group to research the impact of today's various methods and models for church expansion. We wondered what role facilities play in reaching more people with the Gospel and fueling a church's growth strategy. Does a building inhibit a church's ability to expand, or does it actually help create steady, sustainable growth?
Four key themes emerged in our More Than Multisite research in regards to designing and planning for multiple church facilities:
1. Design The Experience
The setting we select to gather God's people tells a storyboth about the space itself and about the people occupying it. The physical place a church chooses to call "home" says something about that church: who it is, what it values, and how it reaches and disciples people in the context of our culture.
Selecting or designing a space that doesn't match your church's DNA will create a disconnect with people. Thoughtful, intentional design, on the other hand, creates a sense of consistency and trust with your congregants and church guests.
As a new church plant or multisite, new guests will be checking you out. Nearly each person that comes through your facility will come away with a distinctly positive or negative impression of your church. Your ministry and your people will surely be large components of that experience. So will your physical space.
What story is your church building telling? Do people come in and immediately know where to go and what to do? Is it clear where they should sit? Are there unwritten codes of conduct that regular attendees would understand but would make first-timers feel confused or alienated? Can parents clearly see from the main entrance where to drop off their kids or use the restroom?
Removing these anxiety-inducing barriers will allow you as a church to offer an experience that will help people connect with God and others on a deeper level.
2. Permanent vs Pop-Up
The More Than Multisite research tells us that most churches of all types desire a permanent facility, as opposed to flexible, temporary space. Buying or building a permanent facility signals that a church is committed to putting down roots and making a contribution to its community. Being a part of physically investing into any neighborhood builds a stronger sense of trust and openness in a community.
Sometimes, it may take time to be able to invest at this level. Meeting in a school or movie theater may be necessary for a season. If this is the case, there are ways to enhance rented, temporary space, such as investing in signage that helps direct people through your mixed-use space, or in quality technology that can be set up weekly. These are ways of investing in the quality of the worship and gathering experience without the permanence of your own space.
3. A Focus on Family
Many church leaders that plant or launch multisites are doing so in neighborhoods with a large family contingent. The research shows clearly that children's (and, to a lesser degree, youth) ministry areas are a top priority for all types of reproducing churches. Design that is focused on the specific needs of familiessafety, security, a family experience, and opportunities to connect with other familiessends a clear message that your church values family.
Parents, more now than ever, want to know that their child is safe, having fun, and that they can connect with other parents. All of these can be handled with intentional design and investment in children's ministry space.
For example, having one point in and out of the kids area can greatly enhance the security of your children's check-in/check-out area. Details of design in kids' rooms can create a fun learning environment for children. And intentional flow and places to connect will allow parents to feel relaxed and able to connect with one another, too.
4. Millennials and Multisite
Aspen co-produced the CKN/Barna Making Space for Millennials report in 2014. This research revealed that young adults, born between 1984 and 2002, highly prize good design and a sense of place. Many Millennials are drawn to traditional churches. They also widely value that which is local and tailored to their unique context.
With a broader cultural trend toward "going local," multisite and church plants may have a leg up when it comes to attracting Millennials. By placing an even greater investment in aesthetically pleasing design, churches will be better positioned to attract young adults who are interested in becoming part of a local church community.
In Making Space for Millennials, the need for "visual clarity" emerged. Visual clarity refers to the cues people see and experience in a physical space that gives them clear direction on where to go and how to get there.
Everything a person sees and experiences at your church either contributes to visual clarity or detracts from it. Starting with your church's website, which is frequently the first impression someone has of a church, people infer certain things about your church based on the way you present yourself.
What about the physical space where your church gathers? Does your church send visually clear signalsand are they the signals you mean to send? Is your signage easy to see? Does it clearly communicate what you want people to know?
Designing the experience, investing in permanent space over temporary, focusing on families, and attracting Millennials to your new churchthese four elements speak to some of the key findings from the More Than Multisite research.
Do you have an intentional plan for facilities that will enable you to achieve your vision for reaching more people in a geographic area, whether as a multisite or a church plant?
Derek DeGroot is a lead architect for Aspen Group, responsible for working with clients throughout the creative processfrom early concepts to the finished design of a space.