Is your church ready to begin an alternate worship style venue? Could your church use an extra fellowship hall? What about more space for the youth group? Do you need room to start an outreach program for community seniors? If you’re asking these questions and others, then it’s time to consider a well designed multipurpose room.

No matter what you call them—multipurpose buildings, family life centers, activity centers, or sanctanasiums—these increasingly popular flexible spaces are as likely to be found on a 400-member church campus as on a mega church campus. Churches of all sizes are finding them a less expensive and more versatile alternative to traditional space.

So what’s behind the rising popularity of this building type?

“It’s all about their economy and versatility”, states Dwight Teter, chairman and chief executive officer of Mantel Teter Architects in Kansas City, Missouri.

Teter claims that many growing churches are using a multipurpose facility as a stepping stone before investing in their ideal worship center. Building a multipurpose facility first allows the church to raise capital funds while accommodating rapid growth.


Simply put, it’s a room that must be all things to all people that use it for all types of ministry. That shouldn’t be too difficult! Since the space will likely need to accommodate recreation, a higher ceiling should be considered. Regulation sized gymnasiums need at least 22-24 feet of clear height for a ceiling. This allows for activities to be played such as basketball and volleyball. Ceilings are higher to accommodate other needs such as staging, clean sightlines, and dramatic or musical presentations.

In a traditional sanctuary you can’t remove the pews or theater seats to set up a basketball court or tables for fellowship dining, but the usual limits don’t apply to multipurpose facilities. A family life center can quickly be transformed from recreational to educational space by hiding sports equipment and setting up chairs and tables. Such flexibility enables churches to host their current ministries while simultaneously expanding into new areas.

Of course, not all multipurpose buildings are intended to be used as a gym. Even without a higher ceiling, these buildings can be used for a variety of events, such as receptions, seminars, and even a interim worship space or permanent worship venue spot.


Since churches’ needs often outweigh their budgets, creativity is a must. Classroom spaces are designed to become much larger and are often able to be subdivided using operable partitions that glide in a track system suspended from the ceiling. They offer excellent acoustics with seals at the floor and ceiling and can withstand much abuse. While these dividers are a trendier, more expensive option than metal studs or drywall, they provide maximum flexibility of space.

But it doesn’t stop in the classroom; worship space has become more flexible as well. Some churches use moveable chairs in lieu of fixed pews or theatre seats, and platforms are made to be extremely flexible with minimal fixed-inplace items. Many first phase church buildings begin in a multipurpose building that facilitates worship, fellowship dining, and recreation all under one roof and in the same space. Many first-phase church buildings begin in multipurpose buildings that facilitate worship, fellowship, dining and recreation under one roof, even in the same space.

Teter states “Multipurpose facilities have significant challenges in the areas of acoustics and lighting. It’s extremely difficult to balance the acoustics in any large open space, especially one with four parallel walls!” Teter says his firm always recommends to their clients to seek professional design assistance from an acoustical consultant. Often sound problems can be treated with acoustical tiles or sound-absorbing panels, but these solutions should be designed during the initial design stages with the architect and not as a “fix” after the facility is built.

There are also lighting challenges. For a recreation area, the preferred lighting might include high intensity fixtures which are very bright. However, the same space may be used for multimedia presentations, which requires darkness or at least control over lighting. If the space is also used for fellowship dining, then a softer more incandescent light should be used. This will help those mashed potatoes not look so green! Dimming features are generally desired to enhance the flexibility of the space.


While traditional sanctuary and education space is in great demand on the weekends and maybe one other day a week, multipurpose spaces are used all week long. This type of space, if creatively designed, may offer some of the most significant space in which to do ministry. The multipurpose room can be viewed as a community center of sorts. It accommodates so many user groups, including many groups outside the church membership. What an awesome outreach tool for ministry!

Four areas of benefit to the multipurpose building are:

1) Economy: Minimum cost for maximum space

2) Utilization: The space can be used all week for many different ministry needs

3) Outreach: The relaxed atmosphere of the multipurpose facility often appeals to the unchurched

4) Relationship building: The facility can be used for community events. The only thing a multipurpose building can’t offer is tradition.The multipurpose facility will have a different look, depending upon its use at that time, and some church members may need to adjust to this change.

In fact, church seekers are not looking for the traditional buildings. Baby boomers and, to a larger degree, Gen-Xers feel that the external reflects the internal. New looks and flexibility say, “We care, and we are fluid in meeting the needs of others. “Status-quo scares seekers.” In a culture that seeks belonging and place, the multipurpose building has the opportunity to create a non-threatening environment where one or two can connect and feel a sense of community.

“The letters and phone calls to our office from our clients tell us that the flexibility of this type of building lends itself to so many activities that it’s not unusual for the building to be reserved by various groups far in advance, in fact, they’re all church members!” says Dwight Teter.

This is truly the Master’s plan and the type of situation churches envision when they build a multipurpose facility; their aim is to create cost-effective space that’s used often by both members and the community. 

Published in RELIGIOUS PRODUCT NEWS, November 2007