One of the biggest trends in worship facilities in the twenty first century has been the increase in designing spaces for multiple uses, allowing a versatility that previously hadn't existed.
This is important today because budget constraints have forced many churches to find ways to utilize its building space for different functions. Spaces are used for far more than just fellowship; the space is used for community meetings, as classrooms, for choir rehearsals and even for community club meetings.
Paving the way for these new multi-use functions are a series of products that make separating space easy and affordable. Everything from stackable seating to stow-away tables to removable screens and dividers can help a church become as flexible as it needs.
David Leuschner, associate senior director for Gateway Church, which consists of five campuses throughout the state of Texas, says the ability for each location to serve in a multi-use function is vital to its success.
"The goal is to set up and break down easily so we can use each in a variety of ways," he says. "We utilize stackable chairs, screen dividers, and ever our AV gear is on a platform that we can roll off and pack away in a corner."
Brentwood Baptist in Nashville, Tennessee, utilizes a retractable seating system in their multi-purpose space, creating breakout rooms when needed. Meanwhile, Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas uses air walls to divide its kids room into different configurations.
Divide and Conquer
Rich Maas, vice president for Screenflex Room Designers, based in Lake Zurich Illinois, says the company has been providing partitions and other portable room dividers for decades to help churches get the best use from its space.
"Our products were born in churches," says Maas, "my brother started as a church architect and that became his niche. In the late '80s, he had the idea to create this company, designed to help churches establish a sort of portable classroom," he says. "Today, we help folks make better use of their space. Most have a big open space and they can keep it open or close it off. Our products assist churches divide space for specific programs when they don't need the whole room."
While there used to exist wall products that could be installed in the ceiling or floors to create separation, Maas says these weren't multi-functional as you couldn't move them to create the size of the space one wanted. Screenflex provides dividers that allow for any configuration.
"Dividers are versatile. They can fold up like an accordion panel or and you can unfold them out to 24 feet—plus there are options to put two or three of them together, which can span across an entire gymnasium," Maas says. "It's efficient, easy and can help churches save money in a number of different ways."
Another company helping to separate space is Forest Grove, Oregon-based Woodfold, which provides accordion and roll-up doors to create instant walls for a church. Don Chapman, maintenance manager for Holy Family Catholic Church in Yerington, Neveda, says the facility is using the dividers to separate out its religious studies classes and to create smaller meeting rooms for other community events.
Another option to divide space is exemplified at Gateway Church. According to Leuschner Gateway's North Fort Worth campus has a 1,000 seat room and thanks to curtains on both sides of the room, three separate spaces can be achieved with a sweep of the fabric.
"It allows for a quick change and makes things simpler," says Leuschner. "We have a screen and projector on each side. As a result we can hold individual Sunday school classes because we have the ability to section off rooms with screens and speakers and benefit three times as many people."
Have a Seat
Bruce Prock, managing director of Bertolini Inc., headquartered in Chino, California, says the company manufactures stackable church chairs, which are idea for multi-use environments.
"The great thing about our chairs is that you can stack them eight-high. These can be combined with dolly systems (a 5-wheel ergonomic system) that allows people to move our chairs easily, without anyone getting hurt," Prock says. "Our chairs originated from the whole banquet and conference industry but have evolved over the years to suit churches better."
For example, Bertonlini chairs have ganging devices or interlocks, which is important in a church setting to keep them safe and secure. In addition the chair backs come together to create a bench-like scenario.
The company's product line also includes more basic plastic chairs, which can be used for other multipurpose functions in a church.
The Wenger Corporation, based in Owatonna, Minnesota, offers everything mobile from choral risers, to removable platforms—even mobile stage accessories. This includes an ADA compliant disability ramp that can be transported to different rooms easily.
"We understand that a church in today's world needs to have the flexibility to appeal to many different types of groups and create different settings within its space to save money and serve its congregation best," says Christopher Simpson, president of Wenger. "Multi-use facilities are the new normal and our equipment can help any church become as versatile as they want to be."
Thomas McElheny, owner of ChurchPlaza, a Sarasota, Florida-based chair manufacturer, which has been serving churches in the vertical space for almost thirty years, says the multi-use environment relates to the nature of a ministry. After the recessions of 2000 and 2007, the company decided to put all its efforts on church seating.
"We understand the business nature of a church as an enterprise and we wanted to create efficiencies for the church and create seating for the multi-purpose environment," says McElheny who notes, "By creating removable chairs with he same high-level and comfort as theater seating, we give churches the ability to remove floor space and rooms become anything they want them to bea classroom, meeting room or what-have-you. That's the greatest service we can provide."