Welcome to Season 2 of the Your Church Matters podcast. In this episode (58), I answered a question that came via email. Greg asked, “Do you think that the building we are in could be holding us down [from] getting new people coming or staying once they come, as far not being in a ‘church’ building.”
That is a great question. The reason it is a great question is because it does not have a simple answer. My best answer is, “It depends.”
- Owning a building is not necessarily better than renting space. Many churches in America (and around the world) do not own property or meet in a “church” building. What you do in the building and the ministry that flows from the building is much more important than the building itself.
- New people coming or staying once they come is not an issue limited to churches that meet in non-traditional or rented space. Every church, regardless of size or location, has to deal with this issue (unless they deliberately do not want to grow). My personal conviction is that making your church (not just the building) more guest-friendly is a much larger concern. I previously recorded two episodes related to that:
- Getting people to come and getting people to stay are two completely different issues. The guest-friendly part may help a first-time guest be motivated to return a second time. Getting them to stay is an issue of helping them to connect with other people. The best way to do that is through powerfully effective small groups. Thom Rainer says that those who get connected into a small group are 5 times more likely to assimilate into the life of the church than those who only attend Sunday morning worship services. I also recorded an episode on powerfully effective small group Bible study:
- Episode 25 – 10 Commandments of Powerfully Effective Group Bible Study (June 25, 2015)
- A building is a tool. Having it in your tool shed is not nearly as important as using it with skilled hands.
Some ways that a building COULD be holding you down (even if you own it):
- If it becomes the focus of your ministry. We can become so obsessed with our buildings that they consume energy, attention, and resources that would be better spent on ministry with people. (I have sometimes referred to this as the Edifice Complex). If the cost of maintaining your facilities uses up all your financial resources and there is nothing left for ministry, your building could actually be holding you down.
- Check out this blog post: Don’t let your church building kill your church (Karl Vaters, New Small Church)
- If it is not well-maintained. Full trash cans, facilities in disarray, peeling paint, burned-out light bulbs, weeds, cracked windows, dirty restrooms (huge issue) … you get the point. All of these say, “We don’t care.”
- Here’s another good blog post: Fifteen Church Facility Issues (Chuck Lawless, thomrainer.com)
- If it is not user-friendly. Here are my big 4 facilities issues when it comes to user-friendliness:
- Signage – Is the main entrance well-marked and obvious from the street? Is the welcome center well-marked and obvious from the main entrance? Could a first time guest–without any assistance except signage–find the church office, restrooms, worship space, nursery, and children’s area? If not, your signage is inadequate. (Also, if your signs look like they were done by a third-grader and are attached to the walls with staples or Scotch tape, your signage is inadequate).
- Handicap accessibility – Is there an up-to-code ramp that will allow a person in a wheelchair access into every part of your facilities? Up-to-code is 1 horizontal foot of ramp for every vertical inch. (If your porch is 36 inches above ground level, you need 36 feet of ramp). Inside the building, do you have ramps or an elevator if your facility is multi-story? Are your doors (including restroom doors) a minimum of 32″ wide (preferably 36″)? Do you have a handicapped accessible and equipped restroom that has enough room for a wheelchair to turn around with the door closed? A lack of these says to families with handicapped needs, “You are not welcome here.”
- Restroom facilities – Have I mentioned that this is a huge issue? Handicap accessibility, cleanliness, fresh smelling, well-stocked with toilet tissue, hand soap, paper towels. Door locks or double entrance for privacy. Easy to get to during worship service without being disruptive.
- Nursery facilities – Families with babies will give you ONE CHANCE to get this right. Nursery must be clean, safe, and secure. Clean is primarily determined by sight and smell. Safe is determined by furnishings and equipment (no exposed plugs, unlocked cabinets, broken toys, old or unsafe furniture). Secure is determined by atmosphere. Is there adequate and well-trained supervision? Do doors have windows so people can see in, but also locks to control traffic in and out? Do you have a “check-in” system that gets the necessary information from parents dropping off their children? Is there a way for nursery workers to call for assistance in case of emergency?
What have I left out? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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*Special thanks to Keith Cooper (Guitar Music)
*Special thanks to Nathan Woodward (Saxophone Music)