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Replace Your Pews? Build Up or Out? We Respond to Your Church Building Questions

Our free i3 webinars give us the chance to share the latest church building wisdom. We also have a question-and-answer session at the end of each one that gives viewers a chance to ask the questions that really matter to them. Then we can share those questions and answers here. Following are our responses to two more of your i3 webinar questions about church design.

Question 1: We have pews and are thinking of changing to theater seating. What is the trend and what are the advantages?

This is an increasingly common question as more church buildings get older and more church leaders are looking to remodel and update their church building. One reason to consider switching from pews to chairs or theater seating is that people are willing to sit closer together with chairs than they are with pews. When you make the switch, you gain an average of about 10 percent in seating capacity.

There are three factors to consider when deciding between removable chairs and theater seating. The first is cost. In 2019, removable chairs can be purchased for $50-60 per chair (more if you want wooden chairs, which give a warmer, more ornate appearance). In contrast, theater seating costs $200-300 per seat.

The second factor is the floor of your worship space. If you have a flat floor, you can install movable chairs. If your floor is sloped greater than 2%, you really have little choice but to invest in theater seating. This means you’ll need to decide whether the increased seating capacity is worth the cost of installing theater seating.

The third factor is flexibility. If you have a flat floor and want to use your worship center as a multi-ministry space, you might wish to choose movable chairs.

Question 2: Do current church design trends include a basement option or are more churches moving away from that design?

The bottom line with multi-story buildings is added costs. This is because you will need to install an elevator (in most places, this will be a building code requirement) and multiple sets of exit stairways. Elevators and internal stairways will eat into your available square footage, increasing the size of the church building you need to construct. Therefore, if you want to build another level, we strongly suggest that the church building be large enough to justify the cost increase. We suggest a church design of at least 5,000-10,000 square feet to make the additional floor (basement or second story) worth the money.

Of course, if your church building is on a landlocked property, you may have no choice but to build a second story or basement level. In that case, you will need to budget and raise funds for the additional costs of elevators and stairwells. If your land has a steep grade across it then it may be well suited for multiple stories with much additional cost. If you have the available space on your property, however, we do recommend that you build out rather than up or down.

We hope that our responses to these questions are helpful in your decision-making process. Whether you’re ready to remodel an existing church building or are looking at new church design options, sign up for our free i3 webinars to learn about the process and get your questions answered.

2019-07-17T04:27:54+00:00 July 17th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

How Advances in Technology Are Impacting Church Design

Technology impacts our lives in many ways, and churches are not exempt from the benefits of tech in daily living. Here’s how newer technological trends and advances can improve a church building and impact church design.

AVL Technology—and More—in Your Worship Center

Audio, video, and lighting (AVL) are three systems integrated in any modern worship location, especially in church buildings designed for real-time simulcasting. Integrating Wi-Fi and connectivity with AVL increases the seamlessness of multi-campus ministry with virtual worship. AVL, when set up well, can make it feel like the pastor is in the room with you.

Another technological advance in church design is handling sermon questions in real time, which allows people to text questions while the pastor preaches. After the question arrives, the pastor can quickly read it and respond. (Please note that we do not design AVL systems, but we can incorporate them into your church design and can recommend a list of reliable vendors for purchasing the technology.)

Integrating Technology Throughout Your Church Design

A dedicated space for monitoring and controlling these advanced technological systems is another big need. Modern church design can incorporate rooms set aside for video control, online streaming and recording control, video editing, and sometimes audio-visual recording studios. Because technology constantly changes, we suggest including space for additional technology in your church design.

We also suggest integrating technology throughout your church campus because tech innovations aren’t limited to worship. Digital signage, kiosks for giving, and dedicated church apps, which can include real-time sermon notes and an option for feedback to the leadership team, are examples of using technology in your church building.

Easing Church Building Management

Not all modern technology supports church attendees; some of it supports leaders such as you. For example, many commercial structures now have smart-building controls for HVAC that staff, from a distance, can manage through apps. We can include these energy-management systems in your church design. Wherever you are in the world, and with a reliable signal, your phone can regulate your church building’s heating and cooling units.

When we started building churches in 1970, none of this technology was available. Since then, so much has changed, but the bottom line for church design remains the same: The building and technology are tools to bring people closer to God.

Technological advances have also helped us share our i3 webinars for free—and in a format that’s easy for you to access. By registering for our next i3 webinar, you can keep up to date on the latest in church design and building trends.

2019-07-09T16:43:41+00:00 July 9th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

How Can Your Church Building Be More User-Friendly?

Arriving in a new place for the first time can be a challenge. You might not know where to go, what to expect, or even where to park. Guests at your church can feel the same way. If your church design is user-friendly, then you have a better chance of drawing guests and making them feel at home. The church design trend of making church buildings more user-friendly is something you should know about.

Improving Entryways to Your Church Building

Not every church building entrance is clearly marked. Expansion and remodeling can multiply doors and entryways, especially in older church properties, which can confuse newcomers. The best place to enter your church building can be misleading, if the main doors are not near the parking lot.

Since 2008 (when the economic downturn caused more churches to remodel rather than design a new church), many church leaders have asked us for assistance in improving their existing buildings’ entry options. We’ve added lobbies and grand entry areas that clearly draw the eye’s attention and, with inclement weather in mind, covered drop-off locations. These improvements to church architecture clarify the best entryway for guests when they arrive.

Incorporating Signs and Welcome Centers in Your Church Design

Once guests have found the best entrance to your church building, they will appreciate locating your church’s key features, such as restrooms, the nursery, and the worship center. We strongly suggest incorporating signs into every church design because they are one way that help guests find these areas in your church.

We have also featured welcome centers for remodeled lobbies and new church designs. These guest-service counters, like a hotel’s concierge desk, provide visitor information. Church members behind these counters can help guests with their needs and answer their questions.

Creating Transparency for Events

Transparency tells guests about your church’s events. We’ve seen many churches, especially older ones, where the church building is close to the front of the property and the parking is in back. In an older, downtown setting, people walked to church, rather than drive, and having your church building near the sidewalk was more important than parking lots. When church leaders opted for parking lots in the back, the church building became the focus.

Today’s church buildings can hide not only the parking lot but also an event that guests might want to join. If you drive by a church building and don’t see parked cars, you don’t know that anyone is inside on a Sunday morning or that you have the correct worship time. We’ve drafted several church design options that include visible parking to alleviate this issue.

Church design trends are constantly changing, and to keep up with the latest ways of how your church can be more user-friendly, sign up today for the next in our free i3 webinar series.

2019-06-25T19:49:37+00:00 June 25th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Understanding Gathering Spaces in Church Design

Once upon a time, the church lobby was commonly called a foyer. (Originally, it was the room where theater audiences in France went to warm up by a fireplace!) These days, we seldom hear the word foyer (although we still use it), and the role of this church building gathering space is very different. For one, church lobbies are growing—and their modern function includes a different kind of warmth.

Increasing the Ratio of Community Space

One trend we see today in church building projects is a steady increase in the size of the church lobby. In most churches built before 1970 the foyer is not much bigger than a large coat closet. In the 1980 church lobbies began to grow. The ratio for a church lobby design grew to a minimum standard of 3:1, which means the worship center was three times the size of the lobby. Over time, we’ve seen churches request lobbies closer to 2:1, and even 1:1, where the gathering space is just as big as the auditorium. This change is occurring because the church lobby now has a much bigger role to play. Once, it was simply a place to take off your coat, stomp the snow from your feet, and get a printout of the worship program.

Now, the church building lobby does much more. It is the first impression place for first time attenders. It’s a primary gathering place for attendees and guests, where people get to know each other and share stories. For people to want to hang out, the lobby must be inviting. This means plenty of comfortable seating, good natural daylight, and lots of room so people don’t feel pushed out of the space. This is why we refer to the lobby and café spaces as “intentional relationship building” spaces.

The Role of the Café

Another way many church leaders encourage community gathering is with a café. This can take different formats, from simple self-serve coffee pots on a counter to a full-service coffee bar that rivals the nationwide coffee chains.

It’s important to understand that a full-service coffee bar is a big investment on multiple levels for your church community. Coffee bars in churches can be difficult to staff, and specialized training is needed. The staffing and the equipment are additional expenses on your church budget line. It can be difficult to break even. On the positive side, however, making this investment often makes it much more appealing to stay around after worship and build community, especially to warm both heart and soul on a cold winter day!

The Disappearance of the Bookstore from the Church Building

While cafés are thriving in many church buildings, there’s another trend that’s waning. Many churches used to have bookstores in their church building complex. However, changes in the marketplace caused by digital retailers like Amazon have seen the Christian book market, along with many others moving online. Even LifeWay, America’s largest Christian retail chain, is closing all its brick-and-mortar stores and moving entirely online.

We haven’t seen a request to incorporate a bookstore in a new church design in a while. We are getting requests for smaller display areas or book nooks, but the large-scale Christian bookstore is clearly moving out of the church building and online.

As you may have noticed, church design and building trends matter. It’s helpful to know what other church leaders are doing to meet their vision for ministry. It’s one reason why we host our regular i3 webinars, which provide the latest in church building information to help you make the best decisions you can about your church design. Our webinars are always free, so sign up today!


2019-06-18T18:01:17+00:00 June 18th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Weaving Security Needs into Your Church Design

No one likes to see stories of bombings and shootings in the news. However, the prevalence of these stories, especially ones involving churches, is an important reminder that every church design should incorporate security measures. Therefore, we want to talk about some security options you should consider incorporating into your new church building or remodeling project.

More than Church Building Security for Your Children

Children are the future, of both our churches and of society. We’ve shared before about various church design examples that incorporate security for children’s areas. Some security elements focused on children’s protection include check-in desks and barriers, one-way glass windows, cameras, and creating a church design that places everything children need within one secure area, including restrooms and child-focused worship spaces.

But there are many additional security elements that can be implemented throughout your church building. For example, you can situate volunteers at strategic check-in stations around your church complex. We can also wire security cameras and an alarm system with a control room into your church building.

More than Sundays: Security for Staff and Volunteers

Security isn’t just a concern for guests and attendees who come for worship and events at your church. Security is also a concern for staff and volunteers who can be at your church building anytime, day or night. We can install ballistic film on windows, which makes it more difficult for someone to break in using a sledgehammer or baseball bat. Bulletproof glass is also an option, although we have not yet had any churches request this choice in their church design.

Access controls that lock-down doors and security doors that limit access are becoming more popular. A good church design should also consider the location of emergency exits. We can even build safe rooms, which feature solid-core doors, internally locking deadbolts, phone access and security cameras. This would give people a place to retreat and wait for assistance in case of an intrusion.

More than Security: Incorporating Care into Your Church Design

One final element to consider would be a worst-case scenario: caring for victims of a security incident on-site as you wait for professional help to arrive. As we noted earlier, Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio has incorporated a medical exam room into their church building complex. Church attendees who are doctors and nurses volunteer their time as part of their church vision for ministry in their community, but a room like this can also function as a first-aid or triage station in case of a security incident. Pairing it with a restroom would allow people to “shelter in place” during a security lockdown.

We don’t love thinking about the worst-case scenarios, but we do think it’s important stewardship, not just of your financial investment in a church building, but of the investment you are making in the people you serve through your place of worship. Because we’ve spent almost fifty years building churches, we have thought a lot about options for many types of situations. To learn more about our views on church building and design ideas, sign up for our free i3 webinar series today.

2019-06-11T22:51:25+00:00 June 11th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Think Big, Build Small with Your Church Design

We talk frequently about the importance of a church’s vision for ministry. You need to begin with your mission and dream big, but you don’t always have to—or need to—build big. In this post, we examine and explain why a recent trend in smaller church building worship spaces might be a better option for your new church design.

Today’s Trend toward Smaller Worship Spaces

In the late twentieth century, church design focused on “bigger is better.” Worship centers in new church buildings held 2,000, 4,000 or more people. But today, many church leaders are no longer choosing large worship spaces. We’re building few 2,500-seat auditoriums these days. A church design with 1,000 or so seats is today’s sweet spot for balancing a church’s budget, ministry, and space.

Cost-savings after construction is one reason for the growing number of smaller worship spaces. Maintaining your church building after the first five years can cost between $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot per year. When your church design is larger, you should expect more expenses and upkeep for your church building in future years, which can impact your budget and your ministry opportunities in your community.

Avoiding that Empty Church Building Feeling

That uncomfortable feeling of walking into a half-empty worship space on Sunday morning is another reason to build small. If you have 500 people in your church community but then build a new worship center that seats 1,500 to accommodate the future, the larger worship space will feel empty and can challenge energy and momentum for growth. When guests see so many empty seats, they might wonder if your church is shrinking instead of growing—they might go elsewhere.

Considering the impact of a large worship space on services beyond Sunday morning, like special events, is also important and another reason why many of today’s church leaders incorporate a smaller worship venue in their church design. Once upon a time, for example, weddings were big, elaborate affairs, but weddings today are trending toward smaller and more intimate spaces. If a wedding plans for 200 or maybe 300 people but you have a 1,200-seat worship space, the large worship space won’t be full.

Creative Church Design Options with Multiple-Worship Venues

Multiple-worship spaces are one solution to consider for your church design. Rather than seating everyone in one large auditorium, two smaller worship venues increase flexibility. For example, you may have two worship services at the same time—traditional and contemporary. You may also have, on the same campus, one worship service in English and another in Spanish. With linked worship spaces in the same building, the pastor can preach to everyone—in person in one space and on the screen in another. We can provide many creative options for multiple smaller worship venues in the same space with your church design.

In fact, there are many ways a church design can meet the needs of a church’s vision for ministry. It’s one reason why we host multiple free i3 webinars every year. These webinars let us share the latest trends with church leaders like you. To stay informed, sign up today!

2019-06-05T14:56:46+00:00 June 4th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Begin with Mission: Getting Your Church Building Right from the Ground Up

It’s either daunting or exciting — and sometimes both — to begin planning a church building project with a blank slate. You can dream big and imagine freely. On the other hand, you may be overwhelmed, not know where to start and tempted to copy the design of another church you’ve visited.  

The good news is that, in either case, we have some good advice you should follow to ensure your design works the way you need. You always need to begin a church building project focused on your mission.

Your Church Building is a Ministry Tool

We’ve shared before about how every church building should be a tool for ministry. This means that you have to design it well or it won’t function as you need it to. A saw without teeth won’t cut much wood. A church building that’s designed with only your big dreams in mind rather than your vision for ministry won’t help you connect with the people you’re called to reach in your community.

Think back for a moment to the churches built in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In that era, every church building looked the same. They had the same style, the same floor plan, and they were built from the same materials. You certainly couldn’t tell what kinds of people those church buildings were trying to attract. It’s why now, we always customize every church design right from the start.

Form Following Function in Your Church Design

You’ve heard that phrase about form following function – meaning something is designed with the end use in mind. Sometimes you will want the appearance of a traditional church design that echoes those from the ‘50s and ‘60s (though with all the modern conveniences like HVAC and state-of-the-art lighting and sound). That’s if you’re trying to attract people who are hungering for tradition. Sometimes you want a very contemporary church design to appeal to people in your community who are focused on living a life in modern times with modern values. Again, it all comes back to mission.

Never Copy, Never Settle

One thing that rarely works is copying the design of another church. Even copying a modern church building can cause problems. For example, a church design that attracts some demographics may not appeal to others. The successful ministry of a church downtown doesn’t mean those same ministries are going to attract people who live in the suburbs; they’ve moved there with different interests and priorities. This is why we always recommend starting with the church mission and creating a customized church design from there. It’s how, working together with church leaders, we enable ministries with buildings that work.

To learn more about how The McKnight Group puts mission first, and other important aspects of church building and design, sign up for our upcoming i3 webinars. In these free webinars, we share examples about how we customize buildings to meet the ministry needs of each individual church. Sign up today to learn more!


2019-05-21T18:23:40+00:00 May 21st, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Common Obstacles, Real and Perceived, to Remodeling Your Church Building

Remodeling your church is a big decision, one that can be difficult to make because of both real and perceived obstacles. In this post, we look at three of the obstacles we’ve seen church leaders face and discuss how they can be addressed.

Poorly Used Space

One common obstacle to church remodeling is the idea that you don’t have enough room to accomplish what’s needed, but our experience is that churches  may have space — they’re just not using it very well. For example, when extra classrooms aren’t being used, they can become storage locations or junk magnets. The space to expand existing programs might easily be found after a big rummage sale or a more efficient storage plan.

Another situation we’ve seen is that a church’s ministries change in size, but the spaces don’t. This means that a shrinking ministry may still be using the largest room in the building while a growing ministry is outgrowing the space allocated to it. This is where a church remodeling discussion can be helpful. Focusing on your church vision for the future rather than the glory days of the past can help make needed changes clearer.

Finally, you can look beyond your church building to the land around it. Is that land being used efficiently, or might there be room to expand your existing church building to accommodate additional ministries?

Church Building Code Upgrades

Whenever you begin a church remodeling project, you need to know whether it’s a big enough project to trigger a building code review. If you’re just tearing out old carpeting or repainting, you’re most likely not going to encounter problems. But the moment you start tearing down walls or changing doors around, you’ll likely need to upgrade the part you are remodeling to meet current codes.  In some cases, you may cause an entire church building system (i.e. fire alarm, etc.) to need an upgrade to meet the latest building codes.

Not all code upgrades are expensive. Some can be made with minimal expense. However, the older your church building is, the greater the possibility of incurring an expense you may not have counted on to upgrade your facility to meet current building codes. Therefore, it’s always wise to consult with a church building professional before you begin any church remodeling project.

Lack of Unity about Church Remodeling

As we’ve said many times, your building is a tool for your ministry. People are the critical component for any successful church vision. A lack of unity around your church remodeling project can be a major obstacle to achieving your church vision. In the example mentioned above, if you take the larger space from the ministry that’s declining and give it to the ministry that’s growing, you can create some friction and hard feelings if everyone isn’t on the same page.

This means that one of the first tasks for church leaders when considering a church remodeling project is to get everyone on board with your vision for the future.

Vision is a key component of any successful church building project, so we talk about it frequently in our i3 webinars. If you’re ready to start getting your entire church community on board with a remodeling project or want to learn more about church building, sign up today for our next free i3 webinar.

2019-05-14T17:45:02+00:00 May 14th, 2019|Church Building, Remodeling|

The Latest Church Building Questions from Our Free i3 Webinars

One of the reasons that we host our free i3 webinars live is that it allows for interaction with our Internet audience. After each webinar, we make time for questions and answers about church building and design. In this post, we once again share our responses to questions from recent i3 webinars.

“Do you have somebody on your team who helps figure out sound and lighting design for church building?”

In responding to this question, we need to begin with some definitions. When it comes to lighting, there are two types of design. The first is what we call house lighting or floor lighting. These are the lights installed for everyday use in a church building. For your worship space, this will include the kinds of lights that are on in a theater when you first walk in and are trying to find your seat. For other areas of your church building, this includes standard lighting and some specialty lights, such as the types of fixtures you want in your café or restrooms. We assist you in determining the best lighting for your church building needs.

When it comes to stage lighting design, audio and video for your worship space or other rooms, we do not have a person on staff to handle them directly. Instead, we have several audio, video, and lighting firms that we partner with for these design elements. We recommend these teams because we have worked with them on prior church building projects and trust their expertise. If you have someone in your church community that you would like us to work with, we are also willing to partner with them.

“Do you often suggest tearing down a church building rather than rebuilding?”

No, we very seldom do that. As long as your church building is structurally sound, it’s much more cost effective to expand or remodel an existing facility. Think about it this way: You would have to pay someone to tear down the old church building, then pay someone to build the new building from scratch. So, if your existing church building is feeling cramped or outdated, the best first step is to have a conversation with us about how we might remodel your existing facility. Unless you are totally out of land and have no direction to go besides up—and the existing structure can’t support additional weight—we usually recommend remodeling your current church building.

“Does The McKnight Group handle all church building permit needs?”

Yes, we do, with the caveat that we like the church to be involved in the zoning process. We handle the building and site permits and such. With zoning permits, we find it’s important for church representatives to attend public zoning meetings. It gives church leaders a chance to share their vision and for community members to meet and talk with church attendees. It’s about being active in the community as a local church. You also get to hear the questions and concerns being raised and address them right up front.

As you can see, there are many aspects involved in thinking through every church building project. This is why we offer our free i3 webinars and encourage you to come and bring your questions. Sign up for our next i3 webinar today.


2019-05-07T18:59:31+00:00 May 7th, 2019|Advice, Church Building|

Re-purposing an Existing Warehouse with a Creative Church Design

Sometimes your church vision changes so radically that you need a new church building to hold it. However, that doesn’t mean a new building needs to be constructed. Here is another situation where an existing structure, built for another purpose, is converted into a functional church building.

We’ve talked about converting big box stores and school buildings. In this example, we worked with a church to convert a warehouse for church building use.

A New Home for Linden Life Fellowship

Linden Life Fellowship is one church community with two histories. In 2014, two different churches in the Columbus, Ohio, area merged to form this new community. Each group had a small existing church building, but they needed something larger in order to worship together. After they approached The McKnight Group for help, we looked at available buildings in their area. We found a carpet warehouse and drafted a creative church design to meet their ministry needs.

From Warehouse to Church Building

As you can see here, small outside changes transformed this church building from less industrial to more attractive. But in this situation, we focused most of the time and money in the interior church design. As pictured, the prior warehouse had an unfinished interior, which meant clearing the space for its new use required less work.

We subdivided the warehouse to create classrooms, restrooms, and a kitchen, along with the foyer, which you see here. This entry area includes some nice seating areas and a fireplace (the focal point) that encourage guests and attendees to sit down together and get to know each other. We carpeted the entire church building with neutral shades and created a color palette that blends with the building’s façade. Bringing the same style of stonework from the entryway into the fireplace created a cohesive feel for the entire church building.

A Modern Church Design for Worship

A welcoming space for worship is one key component of any good church design. Here, you can see we designed a bright room that seats about two hundred people. It includes a sound booth and a simple, very flexible platform that draws the eye to that portion of the room. Ceiling tiles and a modern light system now cover the building structure that were once visible in the interior pre-remodel photo above.

Converting this warehouse into a functional, attractive church building was a case of good stewardship for this newly merged community. Remodeling other types of existing buildings with a good church design is always one possibility for any church community. We’ve seen car dealerships, grocery stores, strip centers, and school buildings transformed into functional church buildings.

To learn more about creative church design possibilities, sign up for our free i3 webinars, where we share the latest information on a variety of church design and building trends and innovative ideas. To learn more, visit our webinar page.

2019-04-30T18:14:01+00:00 April 30th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Remodeling|