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How Your Building Is Your Killing Your Growth


Listen, almost every senior pastor I know, including myself, has struggled with one or more of the issues above. Why? We’re pastors, not construction professionals. We’re funded by free-will offerings, not by selling products and services. We can’t raise venture capital. Communities change. Priorities shift. Culture reinvents itself.

Building and maintaining relevant, effective ministry space is simply hard work. There are no easy answers. And we’re all in the same boat.

But there are a few things I think senior pastors and church leaders can do to make cost-effective, workable changes.

1. Identify and Re-Brand Your Facility’s “Red Zones” Every Seven Years

In the same way updating a home’s kitchen and master bath will provide your strongest returns on investment, churches have similar areas that provide the biggest bang for the buck. I call these areas “red zones” because they have the greatest ability to attract and/or detract people to/from your church. Fortunately the “facelift” for each of these areas is pretty small compared to new construction.

Here are the areas of your facility to focus on …

Church Facility “Red Zones”

Road Sign—This is the first thing new people see when they approach your complex. Usually it’s a pre-done, cheesy looking thing from the ’50s. My suggestion is to take pictures of 25 different corporate signs in your region and make your sign almost indistinguishable from the best on that list.

Front Entrance—The best thing I can suggest is to go to our friends at Plain Joe Studios and have your entire team look at what fresh graphics can do to simple box structures. The addition of three to four large banners at your entrance could transform even the most dated looking church building.

Lobby Space—Space is more important than what’s in it. Remove absolutely everything that’s in there—walls, chairs, etc., until you have enough space to move traffic freely. Once that happens you can slowly add back Guest Services areas, etc., if they fit.

Children’s Ministry Entrance/Lobby—Wowing parents of children is one of your highest priorities when contemplating facility renovation. Have your entire leadership spend a few hours together combing the pages of our friends World of WOW! and you’ll walk away brimming with great ideas you and your volunteers can implement with a little bit of money and elbow grease.

Kid’s Classroom Doorways/Entrances—See above.

2. Take a Leadership Field Trip to Get Ideas

When you realize there are changes you need to make to your facility, the first thing I tell senior pastors I coach is to put their leaders in a van or bus and hit the road. It’s one thing to see ideas on a website. It’s a completely different experience to see the same thing live.

Three years ago we rented a bus and took 60 of our most dedicated volunteer leaders to visit LCBC Church in Lancaster. We attended a service, met with their staff and then had a wonderful dinner in the home of a sweet Amish Family. We took away a number of great ideas from that experience.

Seeing and feeling the vibe of a place breeds vision. It breaks through what psychologists call “groupthink.” It helps your people walk back into your facility with fresh eyes.

In the past two years I visited 30 different churches in six different metro areas to simply see what churches in the 2,000-5,000 range are doing, and to bring video and pictures back to my team. You may not have the resources to do that, but you could do a “virtual trip” with your team. Find people that are willing to Facetime or Skype while walking around their building.

3. Get Outside Eyes to Give Unfiltered Feedback About Your Facility

One of the exercises I do with senior pastors I coach is have them record a video of every aspect of their building. Then we watch it together as I have them take notes while I give unfiltered observations about what comes through my mind first. I quickly notice “low hanging” fruit that can be quickly changed—paint, too much “junk” in the facility, outdated signage, etc. You can do this with anyone.

4. For Over-Sized Worship Venues, Create “Virtual Capacity”

Virtual capacity is a phrase I coined to describe the attempt by church leaders to make our worship facility venues feel like they are near capacity, regardless of the number of people in the room. We always want our buildings to feel full, even when they’re not.

Room too big? Space out your chairs and rows and hang floor to ceiling cloth barriers on the sides of the room to block peripheral vision.

Have pews? Rope off sections. Cover them. Move the stage closer by placing a temporary smaller stage in front of a portable backdrop.

Ask your people to help provide creative solutions to your “too much space” problem and I’m confident you can shrink the emptiness of the room.

5. For Those With Too Little Ministry Space, Challenge Your People’s Assumptions and Priorities

I’m shocked how recalcitrant church members can get when asked to reconsider what is “necessary” for Sunday morning activities.

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I’m the founding Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia. In 13 years the church has grown from a small group in my home to over 2,000 incredible people. Before that I served in churches of 25 to 600 in attendance. I love church planters and pastors of smaller churches, and totally understand the difficult challenges they face as they try to help people find their way back to God.