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Making Small Spaces Work

Making Small Spaces Work

...when you don't have the luxury of adding square footage.

If you are a pastor or ministry leader in a healthy, growing church, you know firsthand how this blessing can cause some logistical issues. What do you do if your church has outgrown areas of your current facility, but you are not yet at a place where you can build a new one? Or maybe you are even in the process of building a facility. What do you do in the interim to make sure that quality ministry can still happen even though ministry space may seem crowded?

Many churches have tried to tackle these issues by increasing their number of services, adding satellite facilities, and so forth. One particularly effective method that churches also use is interior redesign. Either with the help of professional designers, or through their own creative brainstorming sessions, many pastors and ministry leaders have developed ways to maximize the space at their disposal without destroying their budgets.

So how do they do it? What are some of the secrets to making ministry spaces comfortable and fully functional when you don't have the luxury of adding square footage? WFM asked some church interior design experts that very question.

The experts speak

Ronald E. Geyer, AIA, NCIDQ, principal at Good City Architects LLC in Greenville, S.C., specializes in helping both full-time and volunteer ministry leaders discover and address the needs that drive important projects to better serve their congregations and local communities. Geyer uses his experience to help churches make smart decisions about the environments they use in ministry.

"Church, wherever it happens, should affect us deeply without standing still," Geyer says. "Truth is truth, but technique is up for grabs. And buildings are some of the most expensive, powerful and misunderstood technologies at our disposal. There's no excuse for doing them badly. The stakes are too high."

Geyer continues, "The better our understanding of a ministry’s vision and strategy, the more effective the architectural response can be."

As for making the most of crammed ministry space, Geyer says the best way to do this is to design rooms for multiple uses.

"The single most important characteristic of multi-use space is loose fit' in which a building or room avoids precious conformity to a particular function, especially to the extent that it becomes unusable for any other use," Geyer says.

Sharon Exley, president of Chicago-based Architecture is Fun, a company that specializes in creating meaningful play and learning environments, also believes in making spaces multi-functional to maximize space. When designing for crammed spaces, Exley urges ministry leaders to be clever.

"As architects, designers, educators, a nd good listeners, we maximize space by making the most of it. Furniture can be built-in to millwork or flexible, free-standing elements. All surfaces can promote learning and celebrationmake them do double and triple duty. Be creative with them, especially floors. Above all, be clever and create a flexible design, one that children and teachers can modulate, control and use,” she says.

Making spaces work (harder)

There are a variety of ways to make ministry spaces multi-functional. Geyer, for instance, uses his fine arts design background to create spaces that seamlessly provide a variety of uses. He says that one example of this is the use of off-stage storage space.

"Theatre stages are able to present changes of scenery because they have fly lofts and wing spacerooms out of sight of participants [and where the sets are stored]. It seems counter-intuitive, but spending money on chair and table storage is critical to allowing rooms to fully commit to a number of varied activities."

Another way to make the most of churches' smaller spaces is through the use of color. Architecture is Fun employs color routinely in its designsand recently won a Benjamin Moore Hue Award for using color in "extraordinary ways."

"Paint is a heroic materialit has the most bang for the buck. Don’t be shy with color, [and] do tell a story with it," reports Exley.

Worlds of Wow, an Argyle, Texas-based design company that focuses on creating kids' ministry spaces, is also a proponent of using color to help in tight spaces. Reagan Hiller, company president, draws on past experience in the amusement park industry and uses it to take children's church décor to a new level. In counseling ministry leaders with a tight budget, Hiller says that it is imperative not to settle on boringeven though a space may be challenging.

"Do something, even if minor," Hillier says. "Freshen up the space with a brand new color palette that is bright and open, making the space seem larger than it is."

Hiller advises that the confines of small spaces make it imperative not to try to do too much. Along with that, removing clutter is essential, because cleaning up a space can actually make it seem bigger. He believes that any space, regardless of size, can create an engaging environment when it is used effectively.

"We want every church to have an inviting, effective kids' ministry environment, no matter what type of space they have to work with," he says.

"It’s important to not overwhelm visually with too many items or too much density [in tight spaces]. We can often utilize the tighter space into a specific theme and turn it into a destination of the storyline."

Case in point: Crosspoint Wesleyan Church

Crosspoint Wesleyan Church, in Lynchburg, Va., had the problem of very constrained space along with weekly attendance that surged from 70 to more than 200. Pastor John Williamson led a campaign to turn offices into a café and library while expanding a children's church space to make room for incoming families.

The new café and library, along with a new outdoor patio area, serve as additional hang-out/fellowship space where regular attenders or visitors are exposed to Williamson's messages in a more casual environment. Along with the sanctuary, the new spaces also serve as overflow areas on various Friday and Saturday nights when the church is transformed into a venue for hardcore Christian music.

With the redesign, Williamson estimates that Crosspoint has been able to expose about an additional 400 people to Christ.

Williamson says that the changes in function and design were a no-brainer concerning his church's culture and values. "The culture of Crosspoint is high invitation, high challenge. That requires us to make spaces to let people have conversations," he says.

"We also needed some overflow space for the occasional Sundays when we packed the 120-seat sanctuary during the second service. Our basic view of the church building is that it needs to be structured as a community center that the church uses for worship experiences on the weekend."

Williamson says that if he had to do it over again, perhaps he would have enlisted the help of an experienced designer as the redesigns did not quite flow structurally, but overall the project was still a success.

"We believe we ended up with a very practical and very efficient use of the space. Most of the moves were reactions to more growth," he says.

As Crosspoint continues to grow following the redesign, the long-term plan is to move into a new facility. But short-term, the church will add two Saturday night services to help make room for everyone.

TAGS: Design
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