The Future of Church Facilities
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Until recently, churches responded to growing attendance by building larger facilities. But the faltering economy makes raising large sums for building projects harder to accomplish. And combined with the aversion of younger churchgoers to the bigger-is-better ministry philosophy, these tight-money days are demanding imaginative alternatives. For some churches, the question has become, "Should we build at all?"

"We have told many clients in the last couple years, 'You're not ready to build, because you aren't sure what your ministry is,'" said Ed Bahler of the Aspen Group, a church design firm. "So what once took a few weeks has become a six- to twelve-month process: determining what their vision is and what they really need to do that ministry." The firm now focuses on guiding church leaders through the vision process.

"People ask us what ministry will look like in ten years—with the impact of technology and the desire to attract younger people driving many of the choices they make today," Bahler said.

"For some of these churches, the answer is not a new building. They can't afford it, and it won't accomplish their true purpose. It may be renovation of older sanctuaries, or holding services on multiple sites and venues."

And for those who do build, it may be a very different building.

Instead of a larger worship center, one church built an additional, smaller worship space complete with stained glass, as an additional venue. Their study before building showed the Catholic backgrounds of many potential attenders created a desire for a church that feels like "church."

That's also a common desire among younger people, partly in reaction to the big-box multi-purpose warehouse-church decades.

Does this mean goodbye to the cafegymitorium? Perhaps. And perhaps, too, to the giant fundraising thermometer-tote board in the lobby.

Ed Bahler and Bill Couchenour, presidents of two independent church design and construction companies and co-founders of the Cornerstone Knowledge Network, have decades of hands-on experience when it comes to creating effective ministry space. Skye Jethani will be interviewing Bahler and Couchenour about what church leaders should do before they decide to build or renovate their facilities.Sign up for the live webinar on November 17th.

November 13, 2009

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Susan

November 18, 2011  10:58am

I was so glad to see this site. I just joined a church over this past summer after attending for about a year. I had a few red flags but mostly was happy there. (I had just made a move from another city and this church was close too, seemed a godsend). Anyway, no sooner had I signed on the dotted line but a bunch of people left or got fired or something and then a massive building plan began complete with lots of mail and commitment packages. One letter even mentions the kids having a piggy bank to save money for building and mentions people giving stocks and bonds. Really? I am just about ready to back away. Very confused right now.

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Poet

October 24, 2010  9:59pm

It does seem that congregations as well as pastors tend to lean towards bigger is better. It seems like people have forgotten that they are the Church rather than the body. The church that I attend had just gone through a desire to build. They wanted to add onto the building we were in to accommodate for the growing congregation. We also have a smaller sister church in the city that was in need of more room as well as repairs. It came down to prayer as well as a vote and I am glad to say we voted to increase our sister church's space as well as refurbish their facility. Building should take some time just to make sure you are going along with God's plan rather than your own.

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Matthew Erickson

November 16, 2009  12:19pm

Great discussion. I think that the honest truth I've learned about this topic is that context shapes the approach to building. Certain buildings - or lack thereof - fit certain contexts better. Because of this, we cannot easily make a one-size-fits-all approach to building. We are a new church plant that is in a building campaign by necessity in our context. A couple of years ago I would have derided what I am in the midst of working on because I was a huge advocate of "building-less" church. That would simply not work where I am at now. Like those in cross-cultural work, we need to be good at contextualization, especially when approaching the topic of buildings.

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Jjoe

November 13, 2009  4:18pm

I'm right there with the building-less church. Being involved with a capital campaign right now I'm very disillusioned since it seems like we're raising millions of dollars for daycare, gymnasiums, etc. etc. It's the country-club mentality. The United Methodists currently having a campaign to "re-think church." Here's how I'd re-think it: I'd sell every building, spend the money on 'the least of these,' and membership would double. I just got back from Montreal. They have a wonderful cathedral, but during the decades it took to get it built, they had church on the lawn outside. I just attended a presentation on a medical mission in Africa. The church in that town? A tree. They met under a tree, but desired a building because when it rained, they didn't like to stand under it.

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Ken Eastburn

November 13, 2009  9:40am

Perhaps church facilities as a whole are coming to an end. That's what happened with the church I pastor...we're meeting in homes now. It is amazing the types of things we'll do in an effort to have a bigger or better building. What message is that sending to our congregation members? Or, better yet, what message is that sending to the surrounding world? I almost wonder, given Paul's command to abstain from even the appearance of evil, if we've ignored that because of how common it is for us to engage in the evil of consumerism. Whatever happened to in, but not of, the world. I don't hate buildings. But I certainly see them in a new light. Many churches put their buildings to good use, and have a healthy view of exactly what their building is (a tool) and what it is not (a necessity). That said, we often fail to realize just how limiting the walls of the church can be. So maybe, just maybe, this is one step toward a building-less church.

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Ken Eastburn

November 13, 2009  9:39am

Perhaps church facilities as a whole are coming to an end. That's what happened with the church I pastor...we're meeting in homes now. It is amazing the types of things we'll do in an effort to have a bigger or better building. What message is that sending to our congregation members? Or, better yet, what message is that sending to the surrounding world? I almost wonder, given Paul's command to abstain from even the appearance of evil, if we've ignored that because of how common it is for us to engage in the evil of consumerism. Whatever happened to in, but not of, the world. I don't hate buildings. But I certainly see them in a new light. Many churches put their buildings to good use, and have a healthy view of exactly what their building is (a tool) and what it is not (a necessity). That said, we often fail to realize just how limiting the walls of the church can be. So maybe, just maybe, this is one step toward a building-less church.

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Glucosamine

November 13, 2009  1:31am

Hi Eric Reed, I commend you all on this study. As one whose ministry is to help churches raise funds I found it alarming that half of those that plan on building will attempt to raise the funds without a stewardship partner. I would have been interested in their reasoning. In my experience it is usually a price issue. However there have been wide abuses in my industry that has soured many on professional firms. Hopefully that will change. It is proven that churches who attempt to raise funds on their own raise significantly less than those that use a firm. A layman told me just last month that his church tried raising funds on their own after using a firm on the first campaign. On their own they raised one million less! They saved a few thousand dollars to raise one million less. I would be interested in others thoughts on this.

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Robert Angison

November 12, 2009  5:13pm

I believe I will sign up for the webinar. Having assumed the pastorate of a church that had expanded their facilities and incurred debt to so, and then when the previous leadership left so did many of the people, this will be interesting. With the ability of our churches to expand their capacity (offering additional services, alternate sites, alternate times, etc) and still having a homogenizaiton through appropriate technology the implications are pretty profound. We recently did a capital feasibility study that persuaded us not to build on, but to simply think differently about our space. Why do so many churches sit empty during the rest of the week? It seems awfully bad stewardship to me. What other capacity expanding devices are out there? That is what I'm interested in hearing. You are the Church! Robert Angison

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