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Flexibility in Church Design

How can you build something that will not just last, but will also be able to adapt and mold to the changing landscape?


This is number 7 in a 10 part series on better building design. What does the future hold for your ministry?

How do you plan for it? How can you build something that will not just last, but will also be able to adapt and mold to the changing landscape?

I am not a very good prognosticator of the future. In the early 1990’s, I wrote in an article about how the fax machine (some of you may have never even touched one of these) was the future and email would flounder and fall away. I believe my premise was correct, but I was totally wrong.

My premise was that we were moving into a high-tech/high-touch time in society and that the Fax was great because it was high touch: you could hold it, touch it, mark it up and send it back. At that time email did not offer that capability. It was not what I considered “high touch”. I was wrong, very wrong….

Obviously. My problem was that I came to my conclusion using only the information I had at the time. I did not think forward of what might come down the pike some day. I was stuck with the information I had and thus drew what I considered the most logical conclusion. There is a fancy term for this called functional fixedness, a term which refers to a cognitive bias that limits a person to use an object only in the way it has been traditionally used.

The concept of functional fixedness originated in Gestalt psychology, a movement in psychology that emphasizes holistic processing. In the early 1990’s I could not see how technology and society would change and I was stuck in my thinking. A famous test that has been done on functional fixedness in 1945.

Participants were put in a room with a box of thumbtacks, matches and a candle.

They were then instructed to attach the candle to the wall in a way that the candle would not drip on the table. People tried to use the tacks to attach it to the wall, or tried to use melted wax to stick it to on the wall. Only 23 percent of participants thought to tack the box holding the tacks to the wall and then placing the candle in the box. The issue was that they viewed the box only as a receptacle to hold the tacks. It is our nature to just see what is in front of us, and to only see what's there as it is.

The challenge for us is to reimagine or re-envision our existing space, or to design a new space in a way that is not just fixed on what we see today. I think a good example of not being fixed on what a building is and “getting stuck” is the number of storefront churches I see popping up all around me.

By re-imagining these spaces a church is able to save a significant amount of money, as a significant amount of infrastructure and physical structure is already in place. The real key to the success of these projects is to not get caught up in functional fixedness and to be able to look to the future and to be as flexible as possible.

TAGS: Construction
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