It used to be families attended one-room church houses with musty basements for classrooms, no air conditioning, and leaky roofs — a far cry from today’s worship facilities. Now, churches are searching for creative ways to integrate spatial flexibility and high-tech features in sound technology, theatrical lighting, video projection with theatre-style seating. Regardless of the church size, faith, or demographic, creating a worship facility that supports that church’s vision and ministries is the ultimate goal. Whether outgrowing, relocating, or updating their facilities, today’s church exercises several design trends. Some of the hottest trends going involve well-developed and thought out strategic programming and master planning, state of the art technology, unique contemporary architectural style and image, and multifunctional use space.

enVISIONing – the Master Plan

A well-developed written program with a well-designed master plan is critical to success of any church project, especially in a situation where a church has outgrown existing facilities and purchased new property with plans to relocate. This opportunity commands a visionary experience that leads to proper planning based on the church’s ministries of today and tomorrow. The master plan should be a voice that speaks loudly about “who” your church is and why it exists. Since churches must build in phases, most leaders prefer building additions that blend to appear as though all were constructed at the same time. Some architectural firms have developed unique strategic planning workshops to facilitate the necessary programming information. A few firms have even developed computerized programs that generate several different models based on facility size, demographics, growth patterns, financing, fund raising, project costs, and cash flow. These models are so sophisticated that they allow real-time input and modification to explore different design choices, with instant feedback on their effects. All of these master-planning elements are critical to a successful project.

Wired for Sound…and more

Today’s churches are more technologically alive than ever. Worship centers are filled with all-digital sound for audio mixing and control, and full blown stage houses boast fl y galleries, rigging equipment and catwalks. In many churches, theatrical lighting systems are just as sophisticated as those in performing arts centers, and video projection systems are impressive enough to inspire awe in the average movie goer. Serving a generation that has grown up with audio and visual communication, the church has learned to speak the language that connects its message with the people. This trend continues to strengthen as technology advances, and society expects more of this electronic language. Churches continue to position themselves to provide cutting edge worship services, not only through the spoken word, but also in drama, music, and video technology. More progressive churches now use it on a daily basis and with all age groups — a direct reflection of the visionary mission and ministries of today’s Church. Technology not only appeals to young people; it has become the standard among children and teens who use it in school every day. Architects Talk About Design Trends David E. Evans, AIA Mantel Teter, Inc.

Looks are Everything

For many churchgoers, the look of a campus doesn’t just make a first impression; it makes a lasting one. People want to feel comfortable when being in a place. Many church images and styles have undergone major “cosmetic surgery” in the last 20 years. One trend has been to design a campus plan. Churches are no longer just buildings, but hosts several different site amenities including walking trails, ball fields, picnic areas, prayer and meditation gardens, water features, and most importantly, ample parking. The exterior design of these facilities takes on the appearance of community or convention centers — large open spaces with lots of glass and a feeling of invitation. The use of traditional “box” designs, gable roofs, steeples, and stained glass windows continue to diminish. Upon entry into church, large fellowship foyers or malls now greet people. These lively spaces are the hubs of church activity and boasts several features including welcome centers, coffee/café areas, prayer rooms, large accessible rest rooms, bride’s rooms, bookstores, personal visiting places, cry rooms and directional information. All the other spaces radiate from the fellowship foyer. Today, sanctuaries and auditoriums are designed with much larger seat counts, (sometimes several thousand), yet they are shaped and sculpted to provide the feeling of intimacy. Architectural materials and specialty lighting play a big role in creating character in such space. Large platforms, or stages, now accommodate several activities besides sermon delivery. As such, space is needed for large choirs, orchestras, and dramatic props. In addition, larger spaces are being allocated for daily staff members and administration, as well as for volunteer support services. Themed spaces for specific ministries (especially nurseries and other youth areas) are becoming increasingly popular and play a big role in making everyone feel comfortable and welcome. Other church spaces accommodate events on Sunday and during the week. Plus, many churches offer use of their facilities to outside community groups as part of outreach ministries and community awareness.

Flexibility of Space

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. 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-in-place 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. A well-developed master plan, a state of the art technology, contemporary architectural style and image, and a space intended for multifunctional use: These constitute the hottest design trends for today’s churches. They support vision, assist churches in reaching their ultimate goals and provide the best possible facilities. Our grandparents wouldn’t even recognize us! 

Published in CHURCH BUSINESS, January 2004