Churches often downplay the significance of place as a key factor to church growth. Churches can grow, it’s argued, in any setting. And this is true. But 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 churchwho it is, what it values, and how it reaches and disciples people in the context of our culture.
Millennials, today's 18- to 30-year-olds, are especially attuned to the way a physical space intersects with their own life storyhow a church either helps them find their place or pushes them away. In our recent Barna/CKN Making Space for Millennials study, data revealed that young adults are looking for churches that recognize and meet their needs for cultural relevancy and authenticity ("Is this church for real?"), visual clarity ("Tell me where I am and what I should do next now that I'm here"), modularity (a recognition that Millennials are piecing their lives together based on myriad options), and a craving for physical spaces that help them connect with God through nature.
Churches that understand Millennials' needs are well-positioned to make room for them to discover God and grow in their faith. If you want to spark growth that includes Millennials, here are some aspects to consider about your church's space:
Get your visual language right
In our Making Space for Millennials study, the need for "visual clarity" emerged. Visual clarity includes everything that a person sees and experiences when they interact with your church. 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. If your website seems dated, confusing or dry, many will assume this is what they'll experience when they go to your church. If your church has a website, does it convey your church's DNAwho you are, what you believe, and what people can expect when they worship with you?
What about the physical space where your church gathers? What story is it telling people about you? 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 new visitors would understand but would make first-timers feel confused or alienated?
Committed believers need inspiration; the unchurched need to identify whether they belong. Does your church send visually clear signalsand are they the signals you intend to send?
Provide a respite from the movement
Churches focused on big vision are typically built and executed by high-energy, high-capacity leaders. And yet Millennials are reminding all of us of the need to build respite into our spaces. Sometimes in growing a church, we forget about creating spaces where we can be alone with God, space that's free of function. It won't take mucha nook, a grotto, tucked-away seatingto show young people you have their best interests in mind, and not just your own vision for multiplying the church.
Build in Third Place space
Things have changed within the church. Once the hub of spiritual activity, today's church provides just one piece of a modular spiritual journey. We may worship together, but we also attend Bible study on Google chat, give money to multiple causes, volunteer at local religious groups and so on. We piece together the experiences of our lives. And Millennials, more than any generation, live in this modular way.
Third Placesneutral community spaces that encourage social interactionare a vital way to offer connection in the face of modularity. If you need to go off site to places like Starbucks or Panera for all of your church meetings, mentoring opportunities, and life conversations, you probably need to create a Third Place space to call your own.
Don't forget the windows
All generations love nature, but Millennials crave it. If you're looking for a new church building or redesigning your own, keep nature in mind. How's the view of God's creation? Even in cold climates, young people want access to outdoor spaces to connect with God. When designing a space to worship in, consider the natural light. If a space is lacking windows to accommodate technology or teaching, you'll do so at the expense of the natural context we all need to experience.
It may seem like a small detail, but natural light actually plays a huge role in our emotional well-being. Design 101? Maybe. But don't forget the windows.
If you want to appeal to a new generation of people, you have to design for one. What is the physical space where your church meets saying about your congregation? Does it help people find their place in your church? Is it an environment that will facilitate growth, or is the space where you do church a barrier to it?
As a Project Architect for Aspen Group, an integrated church design and construction company, Derek DeGroot enjoys working with clients throughout the creative process, from early concepts to the finished design of a space. Derek excels at navigating unique challenges that churches face with budget and space constraints. His positive approach combined with Derek's architectural expertise results in ministry-enhancing designs that reflect a church's DNA.