By Dave Milam
Imagine you’re out of town, it’s Friday night, and you’re hungry. So, after some quick research, you finally decide to drive to a local hotspot. And though you’ve never been, you’re willing to roll the dice.
If you’re like most people I know, before you even look at the menu, you scan the restaurant as you cross the threshold. If the appearance and mood of the establishment meets or exceeds your personal standards, you’ll ask to see a menu.
But if it feels neglectfully out of date, mismanaged or disheveled, you’ll be gone in less than 30 seconds.
You may not like it, but in the age of information and option overload, our brains excel at judging a book by its cover. We are constantly bombarded by choices in our country. As a result, the church must learn to adapt to reach the community and culture to which she is called.
But when margins are tight and ministry dollars are already stretched, it’s not always clear when to hire an interior designer to help you update your space. It’s even possible that you’ve become completely oblivious to a problem that is painfully visible to all your guests.
Here are nine signs it might be time to refresh your interior design.
1. If you’re drowning in duct tape.
“Duct tape” is one of the most amazing inventions known to man. It’s the kind of thing you use when the real solution is either out of reach or unavailable. I’ve even seen the stuff fix a car’s dragging bumper.
The problem with duct tape is that it’s not meant to be a permanent solution. It’s a workaround. As I tour churches across the country, you might be surprised by how many church buildings are held together with metaphorical duct tape. Workaround after workaround may have saved money in the short term, but now you’re drowning in a sea of duct tape.
There comes a time when somebody needs to make the decision to stop using duct tape and apply permanent and appropriate solutions to the design problems you’ve endured for years. You can’t live forever buried beneath an avalanche of quick fixes.
2. If your primary color scheme is light beige or dark beige.
Beige has become synonymous with “bland.” The Urban Dictionary says “beige” is a way to insult someone for being too plain. A University of Texas study found that beige office spaces induced feelings of sadness.
Choosing a neutral seems like the inoffensive, safe choice. But it could be sending the wrong message or subliminally contributing to a negative vibe.
What is your church’s personality? What message do you want your community to receive from you? Share it with color. The point of a church building is to gather to worship God. Your space should contribute to that goal, not detract from it.
Now that you know color communicates, you may want the color expertise of an interior designer by your side.
3. If your carpet looks like a crime scene.
Most church leaders don’t see their carpet as a problem. But seriously, take a minute and do a quick evaluation. Walk directly from your church’s main entrance to the center of the elementary classroom and pay attention to your church’s carpet the entire time. If it looks like a crime scene, either get it cleaned or hire a designer.
Now walk into your auditorium and look down. If your carpet is either red, forest green or purple it’s definitely time to hire an interior designer. No questions asked.
4. If your lobby looks like an episode of American Pickers.
I actually love the show American Pickers—a show about two antique enthusiasts traveling state to state on the hunt for vintage treasures. There’s something nostalgic about seeing a room full of furniture and knick-knacks that the modern world has rejected.
But if your cassette tape ministry still sets up on a wooden banquet table every week, it may be time to an update your space.
One of the most often asked questions around updating environments is, “How often should our church update?”
The retail world has figured this out and understands the importance of keeping their store relevant and up to date. Most retail businesses subscribe to a rhythm of “routine renovation.” Though the church isn’t a big box store that sells milk, eggs, and frozen pizza, we offer something far more valuable to the human condition than a family-size box of Pop-Tarts.
You may have seen the principle of “routine renovation” at work while walking through your neighborhood Target store over the past couple of years. I’ll admit, the whole ordeal was honestly kind of maddening for me. Finding a box of paperclips became a tantrum filled game of Where’s Waldo—complete with stomping feet and pouty face.
But there’s a big reason stores update and remodel. David J. Livingston, a supermarket consultant and principal of DJL Consultants says, “A remodel usually brings in a five percent to 10 percent increase in sales.”
And our stakes are much higher than a monthly profit line.
5. If your kids or teen environments include neon paint, tiki huts, or a hand painted Noah’s Ark.
Eye-blinding neon should be used sparingly and with expert precision. Kids’ environments these days are beginning to have a sophisticated, clean, and flexible look with less theming. There is even more emphasis on lighting, projection, and interactive pieces with bold, modern color palettes.
So even though many years ago a dear church member hand-painted a beautiful mural of Abraham sacrificing Isaac in your preschool room, it might be time to contact an interior designer and freshen up your space.
6. If your lobby furniture was previously in someone’s garage
Yes, this actually happens…and I’m not kidding.
If this is you, hire a designer today and have a garage sale this Saturday. Trust me, just removing that furniture will improve your environment significantly.
7. If Pinterest exploded in your building.
In the absence of a professional designer, your team spent a few weeks on Pinterest and made a list of cool things you could do to your building. Pallet walls, vintage light bulbs, string lights and corrugated metal roofing for that edgy teen look. Now, your building looks like a Pinterest explosion or a sad attempt at Fixer Upper.
Churches across the country have cashed in their unique identities for the latest Pinterest fad or shiplap craze. Good designers can help you develop a timeless, tasteful look that will tell your church’s unique story, not just rip off the latest trend.
8. If you have wallpaper borders anywhere in your facility.
Here is an exhaustive list of modern environments that have wallpaper borders: nursing homes, funeral homes, and country greasy spoon restaurants. If your church is not meeting in one of those spaces…well, you know the rest.
9. If your volunteer design team needs a break.
Every church has at least one or two people who are self-proclaimed designers who have chosen everything for the church. From silk flower arrangements to gaudy wall plaques, these folks have reigned supreme.
For years, this strategy worked. But now it’s time for those dated designs to go. There’s only one problem: your in-house aficionados don’t know how to bring your church into the modern era.
And no, creating a “design committee” never works. So, don’t think that is the solution. Instead, hire an interior designer to help update the space.
A good professional interior designer will listen to your leaders and can help your church develop a plan for your space that will accommodate growth and create a current look on a budget. A professional can help you combine function and form while maintaining a relevant environment for your people and the guests they will bring.
DAVE MILAM (@davemilam) is vice president of strategic design at Visioneering Studios, a team of nationally licensed architects and general contractors.