By Dave Milam and Jody Forehand
When churches run out of space, they typically have more options than adding brick and mortar. In fact, the costly decision to increase square footage should be the last resort.
Often, the utilization of space is the biggest problem. Many churches have enough total square footage, but an inefficient floor plan consumes prime real estate in the building’s footprint.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine if you have enough square footage: your church building should have about 45 to 55 square feet for every attendee. For example, if you have a church of 300 people, your facility should probably be around 15,000 square feet.There’s a growing trend of churches starting Thursday night services or alternative venue opportunities to reduce the impact of space and facility constraints.Depending on your ministry philosophy and style of programming, that rule of thumb generally works for churches up to about 2,000 in attendance.
If space utilization isn’t the culprit, perhaps you could use your square footage constraints as an indicator it’s time to launch a new campus or add extra weekend service opportunities. There’s a growing trend of churches starting Thursday night services or alternative venue opportunities to reduce the impact of space and facility constraints.
Sometimes building additional square footage is not only the best option, but it may also be the only option left. A lack of space can stunt a church’s growth and frustrate both visitors and your committed attendees. The trick is to identify the potential barriers or constraints to growth and eliminate them before they stop you in your tracks.
Here are six signs that you might be running out of space.
1. Your kids have become sardines.
We’ve noticed churches often grow to the area with the tightest constraint. For example, it’s possible your parking lot could be the ceiling to your growth. You can have all the seats in the world, but if you don’t have space for people to park, you’ll never fill your auditorium.If you don’t have enough kids’ space, parking spots, or worship seats, then you’re out of alignment. The shortest leg of the stool will always determine your capacity.Also, it won’t matter how many open seats you have available in your worship center if parents are being turned away, or scared away, from an overcrowded kids ministry area.
The reality is, it’s like a three-legged stool. If you don’t have enough kids’ space, parking spots, or worship seats, then you’re out of alignment. The shortest leg of the stool will always determine your capacity. So, if you’re expanding one or two of these areas beyond the capacity of the third, you may be wasting your money.
2. The Sunday morning experience in your building is claustrophobic.
It’s nearly impossible for your members to create community and develop relationships when the church’s hallways force people to keep moving. Give them space to breathe and room to slow down.
Your lobby needs margin, too. A more right-sized lobby can include seating areas out of the traffic flow, coffee stations, and places for divine appointments to happen. Your people will want to hang around and greet visitors if you give them space. And if done right, your lobby can also serve as an event space other days of the week.
There are also legal ramifications to overcrowding. Some growing churches treat the fire marshall’s capacity rating as more of a suggestion than a requirement. If that ever happens to you, it may be time to explore opportunities to create more space.
3. Closets are becoming classrooms or offices.
If you just put the newest staff member in a closet that was converted into an office, you might be running out of space. And if you’ve planned for your next hire to displace your cleaning products, then at this point, you may be just playing a game of whack-a-mole until you add some square feet.
Converting a closet to an office or classroom can be tricky. If you’re not careful, you may inadvertently violate a few building codes or other regulations in the conversion.
4. You have traffic jams in your parking lot.
Los Angeles highways aren’t known for their peaceful drives and free-flowing traffic. As a matter of fact, they have a terrible reputation for stalled movement and road-raged drivers. If you’re not careful, your parking lot could develop the same reputation among local churchgoers.In most cases, you should have at least one available parking spot for every two seats in your worship center.In most cases, you should have at least one available parking spot for every two seats in your worship center, especially for churches with multiple services. That means if you have 1,000 seats you’ll need at least 500 spots to service all of the cars. You may need even more if you squeeze the time between services down too close and don’t allow time for adequate turnover.
But quantity, by itself, isn’t enough. If your parking lot is laid out like a Walmart instead of like a sporting event venue, you can have all the spaces in the world and still have road-rage inducing loading and unloading headaches, not to mention pedestrian safety issues.
Your typical shopping center has people trickling in and out all day, but your church functions more like a concert or football game with most people arriving in a short window of time and then trying to all leave at the same time to beat lunch crowds coming from the other churches down the street.
5. You’re losing children every week.
When your kids’ classes are haphazardly sprinkled throughout your campus, security can easily become a nightmare. Without a main secure environment and strategic flow for parents to drop off and pick up their children, you are asking for trouble.
If you’re not providing a safe and secure place for parents to leave their kids comfortably, you’re setting yourself up to a liability issue, and likely will lose a second visit from your guests. You may or may not need new square footage to solve your problem, but you definitely need a major remodel to locate all the kids’ areas together behind one secure entry point.
6. You’re having regular meetings about remodeling to create more space.
If you’re having a conversation every month about knocking down walls, the undeniable truth is your church is growing. That’s a good problem to have, but you have to be proactive to stay in front of the demand.
Waiting until you’re at 100 percent capacity before beginning the conversation about expansion means you’re still likely at least two years away from a solution by the time design and construction of the expansion is completed.As the church grows, the needs and strategies of ministry evolve.As the church grows, the needs and strategies of ministry evolve. The programming that seemed to work so well years ago no longer serves the ever-expanding needs of the growing community.
As a result, your ministry teams are having to create workarounds for their ministry to happen. And when the best option is to convert a closet, your church’s facility has itself may have become a barrier to effective ministry.
If the conversation about which walls to knock down has become so commonplace that you caved to the pressure and decided to pull the trigger, you may find out after the fact that all you really did was just tip over the first domino. What you thought was going to be the solution, might have unintentionally toppled over five more dominos.
The answer created more problems than it solved. Now you’re thousands of dollars deep into a “solution” that isn’t fixing anything.
If you’re still unsure about whether or not it’s time to build, let professionals help you evaluate the signs above to see whether it’s really time to build or not.
You might discover all you need is a less expensive remodel or a simple reconfiguration of the existing space.
DAVE MILAM (@davemilam) is vice president of strategic design at Visioneering Studios, a team of nationally licensed architects and general contractors.
JODY FOREHAND (@jodyforehand) is executive vice president of operations at Visioneering Studios.