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Understanding the Types of Security Needs for Your Church Building

In recent posts, we’ve discussed the issue of safety in your church design and what that entails. Security is one element of overall safety considerations, but it’s so important that it requires special attention of its own.

While we have discussed security in the children’s areas of a church building, here is a broader perspective of security issues church leaders need to consider when developing a church design or planning your new church building project. We offer this advice not as security experts but based on our extensive experience designing and building churches.

What Does Church Building Security Entail?

Security is a broad term that includes many potential threats. Some threats, such as fraud, and financial and online security breaches go beyond our scope since they do not involve church design (although they do require consideration).

Within the purview of church design, we address the following types of security threats:


Burglary is “breaking and entering,” when the church is closed and locked, for the purpose of stealing what’s inside. This is different from theft. Over the past 20 years, an average of 4,700 burglaries have occurred in American churches each year, and common items taken include audio-visual equipment and other valuable electronics.


Theft involves persons in the church taking things that do not belong to them and occurs when the church is open and occupied. Examples of this might include purses left in a meeting room or a tablet left on a desk while its owner ran down the hall to get a cup of coffee. Over the past 20 years, an average of 7,400 thefts have been reported in churches each year. This count is likely lower than the actual number, since not all thefts are reported to authorities. The average church-related theft loss is $2,000.


This is a difficult but necessary subject. Physical, sexual, verbal, and even neglect within a classroom are all examples of abuse. Churches with daycare and school programs are more likely to experience these types of security issues, which is why we have specific recommendations about the best types of windows and doors to install in your classroom wings.

Terrorism, Random Violence, and Domestic Disputes

These types of security issues are less common but still important to consider when drafting a secure church design. Domestic disputes can spill over into churches with random acts of violence, while domestic terrorists have proven in recent years that churches are not off limits from their intentional acts of violence. There are measures that church leaders can put in place to minimize the effects of these possibilities.

Thinking Ahead to Address Church Security

In upcoming posts, we will focus on these security threats and how they can be addressed in more detail. Stay tuned for those, and for an upcoming announcement of our 2020 lineup of free i3 webinars, where we address such complex issues as church security so that you can build the safest possible church building for your community.

2019-12-03T18:05:49+00:00 December 3rd, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Safety and Security: Building Code Storm Shelter Requirements

When planning a new or remodeled church building that includes a school, church leaders should be aware of the requirements for storm shelters. Building codes have become quite stringent about what must be built into educational facilities to protect against the weather, but there are some exceptions that apply to church buildings.

Do the New Storm Shelter Requirements Apply to Your Church Building?

In 2015, then again in 2018, International Building Code (IBC) storm shelter requirements were updated for all Group II Educational Occupancies. IBC codes are the most widely accepted building codes in America, which means that most municipalities are requiring these new rules. Whether or not these Group II regulations apply to your church design depends on what type of educational spaces you have in your church building.

There are two exceptions to the Group II code requirements. The first is for daycare facilities and the second is for educational facilities that are “accessory to religious worship.” This means that your nursery and Sunday School classrooms (on Sunday morning, adjacent to your worship space) are exempt. But if you have plans to include any other kind of school in your new church building or remodel project, even if it’s religious, you must follow the updated IBC codes.

What New Storm Shelter Requirements Must Be Part of Your Church Design?

If a non-exempt Group II school is part of your plans for your new or remodeled church building, here’s what’s involved. It must be big enough to hold all the occupants of your building. That includes not just all your students, but also all the teachers, all the administrators, and other staff, including the cooking and cleaning staff in your kitchen.

This storm shelter space will have increased roof and wall/structural design requirements to withstand tornado- and hurricane-strength winds. You will need to include multiple exits and fire separation from the rest of the church building in your church design. You must have emergency power for both light and ventilation, and adequate restrooms for all the people that use your storm shelter. There must also be access to first aid supplies among other requirements.

Making an Opportunity Out of This Storm Shelter Requirement

So how can you embrace the requirement to construct what will feel like a concrete bunker type of space on your church property? Schools are typically combining storm shelters with other large spaces they will want, like auditoriums, cafeterias or gymnasiums. In this way, you’re creating a multi-ministry church design that will keep everyone in your church school safe, as well as providing an indoor gathering space that can be used in other helpful ways.

Some churches are taking this one step further and publicizing the existence of their storm shelter to the local community. That way people know that, outside of school hours, their church building is a safe haven in case of tornado, hurricane, fire, or flood. While building a storm shelter can add to the expense of your church building project, it may well be a step worth taking if it supports your vision for ministry in your community.

These updated IBC storm shelter codes were discussed in one of our free i3 webinars. Sign up for these educational webinars to learn more about the church building process. Our list of topics for 2020 will be posted soon!

2019-11-27T19:09:06+00:00 November 27th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety|

Church Building Safety and Building Codes

Safety is one area that must be considered when creating a church design for a new or remodeled church building. Recently we offered a free i3 webinar covering the topic, and we are sharing some of the highlights here. In this post we will cover areas of safety that are addressed through building codes.

One quick reminder: Our expertise is church building. We are not safety and security experts, but our nearly 50 years of creating designs for churches brings with it much experience and insight which allows us to help church leaders integrate safety and security features into their new or remodeled church building.

IBC, Building Codes, and Church Building Safety

IBC stands for International Building Code, and it’s the standard template for building codes followed by most municipalities in the USA. The IBC provides minimum requirements that affect church design in the areas of safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, and many other areas.

Within the area of safety, there are many types of requirements in the IBC. Fire safety requirements, for example, can include automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, firewalls, fire doors, appropriate types of windows, and various kinds of fire ratings and fire separations for different parts of your church building. Another section of the building code covers emergency egress or exits. This includes exit signs, emergency lights, battery backups, panic door hardware, and other items with the purpose of getting people out of your church building quickly and safely in the event of an emergency within the building.

Incorporating Structural, Environmental, and Wellness Safety into Your Church Design

Some sections of the building code address less obvious components of your church design. There are structural codes that must be met if your church building could be exposed to high winds, specifically hurricanes or tornadoes, and extreme roof load requirements if your area gets major winter storms.

Environmental safety building codes address how to store and handle hazardous materials. While hazardous materials aren’t commonly found in most churches, there must be exhaust systems where fumes can arise, including hoods over cooking equipment in your church kitchen. Related to these are health and wellness requirements, usually connected with fresh air and natural daylight for classrooms and other church building spaces, and hand-washing regulations for kitchens and caregiving spaces.

There are cases where churches are exempt from some of these requirements, based on the size and structure of your church building and its various approved uses. Churches may also voluntarily install more safety equipment than is required, including automatic sprinkler systems. While this is a relatively expensive proposition, some church leaders have felt the added safety is worth the investment.

Do You Want Your Church Building to Be a Storm Shelter?

One interesting development in recent years is that some churches have decided to become voluntary storm shelters as part of their vision for ministry in the community. This involves part of your church building being designated to serve as a shelter from a weather event, such as a tornado, hurricane, or winter storm. Additional building code requirements must be followed if you choose to use your church building for this purpose.

In our next post in this series, we will address recent changes in the building codes for storm shelters, for those churches that may be pondering this possibility. All this information comes from one of our recent free i3 webinars, which cover helpful trends on a variety of topics. We will be sharing our 2020 i3 webinar lineup soon!

2019-11-25T18:58:42+00:00 November 25th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Understanding the Importance of Safety and Security in Your Church Design

When the time comes to consider a church building or remodeling project, there are many obvious things to consider: your church’s vision for ministry in the community, its worship needs, teaching needs, community and fellowship needs—and, of course, its budgetary constraints.

There are also other, less obvious needs that church leaders should consider when making their dream church building a reality. Some of those revolve around safety and security, and we addressed them in one of our recent free i3 webinars. Over the next several posts we will outline some of the safety and security needs from that webinar that all church leaders should discuss and address.

Beginning with a Disclaimer

Our expertise is building churches. While we endeavor to build safe and secure church buildings, we do not pretend to be church security experts or security team experts, nor are we experts in the development of policies and procedures for church security teams. But when it comes to church building design, we have a lot of experience and wisdom to offer.

Defining Safety and Security for Your Church Building

It’s important to understand the difference between safety and security. “Safety” is an umbrella term for many types of potential issues that could arise in your church building. These include health and mental wellness, fire safety, weather safety, building security, the presence of dangerous persons, environmental disaster, crime, vehicular safety, and many other issues that relate to the safety of persons when they are on your church property.

“Security” refers to a subset of safety that specifically addresses human threats. While much of safety addresses items that might be unintentionally dangerous or harmful, security focuses attention on the ways in which humans might bring intentional harm to people or property in your church building.

Incorporating Security and Safety in Your Church Design

Here are five elements of safety that are important to address in any church design: fire safety, vehicular safety, environmental safety, security, and health and wellness. The latest safety and security measures in each of these categories should be implemented into every church design. In forthcoming posts, we will address these areas so that you can be well aware of what’s needed to keep your new or remodeled church building safe and secure for all who come through its doors.

Fortunately, many safety and security elements are mandated by municipal building codes. This makes it easier for you to be certain that you are incorporating necessary safety features into your church building. Next, we will discuss which safety elements are covered by building codes. As for upcoming free i3 webinars, we will be announcing our 2020 webinar lineup soon, so stay tuned!

2019-11-21T16:38:55+00:00 November 21st, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Security|

Answering Questions about Church Design for Children’s Spaces

We’ve frequently shared question-and-response posts from our free i3 webinars on church design and church building. Here are some recent questions that we answered, focusing specifically on children’s spaces.

Q: How frequently should we change themes to keep them fresh and exciting, and who are good vendors to use?

You should think long-term when choosing a theme for your children’s space. This is primarily because there’s a significant investment to be made in thematic decorations for your children’s spaces. Remember that, while adults may grow tired of a theme, new groups of children will arrive in your church building each year. For them, the theme is fresh and exciting.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t periodically freshen up the paint (and change colors) in the children’s area of your church building (children being rather hard on walls in general!) but planning to change themes on a regular basis isn’t a necessity.

We do have some recommended vendors for obtaining thematic elements in your church design. Wacky World Studios offers both wall-scapes and three-dimensional pieces with a wide range of pricing. Worlds of Wow and Think Little are two other vendors that we have used for children’s themes in church building spaces.

Question 2: How do you handle dual-purpose church building spaces?

We do frequently get questions from church leaders about how to make church building spaces appealing to children during the week and adults on Sundays, or how best to appeal to kids in a wide age range. The best way to approach this is to start with a neutral backdrop in terms of wall colors, flooring, etc. However, if you’re looking only to appeal to a variety of children, you might be able to add a bit more color to the room.

Then you want to consider bringing mobile elements into the space. You can create backdrops on wheels that you can quickly and easily bring into the space when it’s time for children to use it. You will also want to make certain the furniture you choose for each age range is easy to move and store, and that your church design includes nearby storage for furniture and backdrops when they aren’t in use.

Question 3: Should every children’s room in our church design have a theme?

This isn’t really necessary. We suggest that you focus your budget on creating an exciting and engaging theme in the corridors of your children’s spaces. If your budget allows, you might want to take some simple element of the theme into each room, and certainly keep the color scheme aligned with the theme in the corridors. But you also want to avoid too many distractions within the classrooms themselves, so that your ministry is the focal point. For that reason, we recommend bringing color into each children’s classroom, but leaving the themes out in the corridors.

We hope that these responses have been helpful in your own thinking about the best church design principles for children’s spaces. As you can see, attending our free i3 webinars gives you a great chance to get your church building questions answered. If you can’t wait for our next webinar, give us a call at 800-625-6448.

2019-11-05T18:35:45+00:00 November 5th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Creating Fun Children’s Spaces in Your Church Design

Fun attracts children—of all ages! We’ve covered much recently on the church design principles for children’s spaces on Sunday and weekday childcare and preschool requirements. In this post, let’s step back from the rules, regulations and formulas to address the importance of creating fun in church building children’s spaces.

Your Church Building is a Tool for Children and Family Ministry

We’ve talked before about how a church building is a tool for ministry. Nothing replaces great ministry. However, having a fun space that attracts children and their families can really help accomplish it. Fun children’s spaces show that children are important to your church. It also lets parents know that you value them, because you value their children’s presence in your church.

The Limits of Church Design Coordination

A great way to create fun is by using themes. We’ve discussed before ideas on types of themes to consider. Make sure to use colors and images that will stand out and attract children.

Another consideration – Make your children’s area stand out from other areas of the church building, like your lobby with your children’s center. You really want people to know, as they’re approaching your dedicated children’s space, that this area of your church building is different, sending the message, “This space is specifically for kids.”

Planning for the Full Picture of Children’s Ministry

In addition to the children’s ministry spaces themselves, a successful church design for children will include important elements in other parts of your church property. For example, you will need clear and abundant signage to direct families to children’s spaces. You want it to be easy for people to navigate your church building and to know where they are going. Not having to ask for directions helps visitors feel more comfortable and connected to your space. You may also want to consider installing play equipment, especially if you will have weekday childcare or preschool in your church building.

Another important element of your church design is the quality of materials used in children’s spaces. Yes, it may cost more to install quality finishings (we’ve talked about this with flooring for children’s spaces). Remember that children are likely to be harder on those finishings and furnishings. It’s worthwhile investing in quality products that will stand up to children’s happy energy.

It’s important that every part of your church design speak to the particular needs of your vision for ministry, whether it’s a children’s space, a worship center or other parts of your church building. To learn more about church design and building wisdom, sign up today for our next free i3 webinar.

2019-10-22T17:35:48+00:00 October 22nd, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Building Codes and ADA Requirements for Weekday Daycare and Preschool Spaces

We covered that any preschool or daycare program that your church operates during the week will have to be certified by appropriate agencies. Those agencies have a different, and often stricter, set of rules and regulations than you need for your Sunday church design. You’ll also need to consider how building codes and other government rules will affect the daycare and/or preschool programs in your church building. Here are the types of issues you will need to address in your new or remodeled church design:

Understanding Building Code Regulations

Your state childcare board is not going to dictate how you should construct your church building, just that it follows building code. These codes will contain requirements for childcare, so your church design needs to incorporate them.

In childcare, the big age demarcation is under and over 30 months of age. For any children under 30 months old, there are some extra building requirements. You must have doors from each classroom that take you directly outside. This means, especially if you’re remodeling your church building, that you can’t use basement or second-floor classrooms for children under 30 months old. Another requirement arises if you will have over 100 kids under 30 months of age. In this case, your church building must have automatic sprinklers installed (for fire suppression).

Meeting Church Design Requirements for Hot Meals and ADA

There are also more general requirements that must be met for your childcare programs. If you are going to serve a hot meal in your childcare program, your kitchen must meet health department codes. This includes a certain number and type of sinks, a certain number of cooking devices, and whether you need kitchen hoods, fans, grease traps, and so forth.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) also dictates numerous requirements for the elevators, family restrooms, doorway widths, ramps, and other elements of your church design so that your building is handicap accessible. You also must design a safe egress from your church building. For example, if you have an older building and you want to have rooms upstairs for grade-school children, the stairs leading there can’t be too steep or wide, and they have to be consistent.

Hallways also have requirements. In a church remodeling project, your older hallways could be too narrow, or it could take too long before you arrive at a stairwell (what’s called “travel distance”). You could also have dead-end corridors, which make it more difficult for children to escape in case of a fire. Building code requires that any upstairs level in your church building that’s used for childcare should have at least two stairways leading to where you can exit at ground level. You can’t have any classrooms beyond those stairways (in dead-end corridors) because there would be no way out if there’s a problem.

Clearly these regulations are put in place for good reasons. It’s important to protect everyone who uses the classrooms in your church building any day of the week. To learn more about best church design practices, sign up today for our next free i3 webinars.

2019-10-15T17:12:24+00:00 October 15th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Design Principles for Weekday Daycare and Preschool Spaces

We covered church design principles for children’s spaces on Sundays and special church events. But what about a daycare or preschool that is open for business during the week? The design principles for these kinds of church building spaces are a little more complicated. First off, the appropriate state agency will have to certify any daycare or preschool program, which means meeting certain standards and following additional, stricter rules. We’ve provided some points below to consider.

Understanding Church Building Childcare Terminology

There are two basic types of childcare programs churches commonly offer, and each requires state licensing and approval. Daycare programs for children will usually take children of all ages and is a year-round program. Preschool programs, however, generally handle a certain age range and only happen during the school year.

Preschool and Childcare Church Design Numbers and Ratios

For preschool children, state agencies generally require room size between thirty and thirty-five square feet per child, which is larger than the numbers you’re allowed for Sunday use. If you intend to use your church building for preschool or childcare, you need a church design with more generous children’s spaces.

Another factor to consider is the number of children per teacher. State agencies also set these ratios, which vary according to age and location. For example, if the ratio for newborns to twelve-month-old children is 1:5, then you need one teacher for every five babies. The ratios increase as the children get older. A typical ratio for five- to eleven-year-old children might be 1:18 (one teacher for every eighteen children). 

Churches occasionally miscalculate these ratios, which should be carefully considered in your business plan. For example, you might design a nursery for ten babies that’s only 260 square feet, which is fine for church use at 25 square feet per child but is not enough for a daycare space that might need at least 30 square feet per child. Although you’re allowed to have ten babies under one teacher’s supervision, the room design itself only allows for eight. The income for two babies is lost, which might mean the difference between your program breaking even or losing money. Remember: because the numbers vary from state to state, check the rules and ratios for your state.

Additional Requirements and Special Program Opportunities

In addition to classroom space for preschool and childcare, you need to follow state requirements for restrooms and playgrounds. Because many states require one restroom fixture for every ten children, you may need to incorporate larger restrooms into your church design. Your outdoor playgrounds will need between 50 and 60 square feet per child, and after you determine how many classrooms’ worth of children you want on your playground at one time, you will need to make it big enough.

Finally, state programs rate daycare and preschool programs, and you can improve those ratings by including special program spaces, such as an art room for preschoolers or a computer room for older daycare kids, in your church design. If you’re aiming to make your church building a magnet in your community, this is another way to make your program stand out.

Preschool and childcare spaces require careful planning and consideration. And we’re not done yet—our next post will address the impact of building codes and ADA on childcare and preschool spaces. Meanwhile, take a look at our upcoming free i3 webinars, where you can learn more about creating the best church design for improving ministry in your community.

2019-10-08T21:01:00+00:00 October 8th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Children’s Church Design for Sunday Use: Kindergarten through Fifth Grade

Our last several posts have focused on functional church design principles for children’s spaces for use on Sunday (and other days when ministry is happening, and childcare is needed). Last time, we reviewed the best church building setup for a Sunday nursery and discussed how your church design can best serve preschool children and their families. In this post, we address the church design needs of children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Church Design for Kindergarten through Fifth Grade Classrooms

As we’ve noted before, the younger the children, the more space they need, so it follows that elementary school-aged children will not need as much room as preschoolers or those in your nursery. We recommend that you allocate 20–25 square feet per child for these school-aged classrooms.

Grade school rooms are going to be equipped with some similar fixtures and furnishings to those that you find in a preschool classroom. You will need cabinets or closets to store worship materials, teaching aids, art supplies, paper and pencils, and so forth. You might decide to install sinks in these classrooms, if you expect children will be participating in activities that can be messy, like art projects. Since these are older children, capable of making bigger messes and splashing farther, we recommend churches that install sinks in school-aged classrooms to install a tiled area around the sink, to make cleanup easier.

If you expect to be doing a lot of arts and crafts, you may wish to tile a broader section of the floor, to prevent damage to carpeting. However, you will want comfortable carpeting installed in an area of the classroom so that kids have the option of sitting on the floor when appropriate.

Church Building Restrooms for School-Aged Children

In planning for restrooms in your church design, keep in mind that these children, unless they are home-schooled, are likely learning at school how to visit a restroom down the hall from their classroom. It’s no longer necessary to have restrooms that are connected to each classroom (as younger children need). However, for security reasons, you may still wish to have group restrooms located close to the classroom and within the secure children’s area. Having both a smaller adult restroom and a larger children’s group restroom, within the secure area, can also be a good idea so no one needs to leave the area until parents come to pick up their children.

Again, sometimes there may be building codes that dictate the number and configuration of your group restrooms, so check on the requirements of your municipality.

Other School-Aged Children Design Considerations

Windows are something to also consider with older kids. Some churches wish to install windows between individual classrooms so that volunteers and staff can look at what’s going on in the other rooms and get someone’s attention if they need help. Windows also ensure that a child cannot be left alone with a teacher or volunteer.

To learn more about our various church building recommendations for each aspect of your church campus, check out our i3 webinar page and register for our next free church building webinar.

2019-10-01T17:10:04+00:00 October 1st, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|

Children Church Design for Sunday Use: Preschool Age

Different age ranges of children each have different requirements, so your church building should take these different needs into account. In this series, we’re focused on specific children’s needs for Sundays and special events rather than as a full-time daycare facility.

Whenever parents are busy elsewhere in your church building, whether they’re in worship or adult education or a special event, you need the right space available to care for and teach their children. This post looks at the needs of preschool-age kids.

Church Design for Preschool Rooms

The general principle for room space for children is this: The younger they are, the more space they need. With a nursery, the children aren’t that active, but you need space for changing tables and possibly a washer and dryer. When you create a church design for preschool children, you need to understand that these children will be more active, so you need a safe space for them to move around. Therefore, it’s important to plan for between 25-30 square feet of space for each child in your preschool room.

Preschool rooms are going to be equipped with many of the same types of fixtures and furnishings that you find in the nursery: sinks, cabinets, and child-sized tables and chairs. Here you won’t have cribs or rocking chairs for adults to rock babies, but you will need to have both adult and child-sized chairs, and the children will need to be able to access the sink in the classroom (even if it’s via a movable step stool). You will need supply cabinets too for more arts and crafts and teaching aids than you needed for the nursery room.

Church Building Restrooms for Preschool Needs

Restroom design for preschool classrooms is a challenge. Children in this age range will benefit from having a restroom attached to the classroom (see the schematic design above), so they won’t have to travel far (or be unsupervised) when they need to go. Since preschool children are small and learning to use these facilities, some churches install small toddler toilets (and lower sinks) in these adjacent bathrooms.

Determining how many toilets of which type (including handicap accessible) is also a consideration—one that is often determined by local building codes, so it is wise to check on the requirements for your municipality.

Other Preschool-Area Considerations

As you can also see in the schematic, there’s a curved desk in the upper yellow part of the image. This is the check-in desk for this portion of the children’s wing of the church building. Having a central check-in point allows parents to watch as their children are safely escorted all the way to the door of their preschool classroom. It also keeps parents separate from the children’s classrooms, minimizing crowding and the potential for chaos with many small preschoolers running through the area.

In our next post, we’ll complete this series by addressing the needs of children who are in kindergarten through fifth grade. To learn more about our various church design recommendations for all ages, check out our i3 webinar page and register for our next free church building webinar.

2019-09-24T21:10:39+00:00 September 24th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design|