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Churches and Buildings – Part 5

Today, I’m continuing my series on churches and facilities:

Click for PART 1 or for PART 2 or for PART 3 or for PART 4

Photo by Emily Kulp

Yesterday, in Parts 3&4, I began by identifying the BIG 3 of spaces in facilities that are important to evaluate — worship, support, and parking. Part 4 gave a basic breakdown to help evaluate how much space of each you need.

Today, we’re going more in-depth on Worship Space.

Worship space is fairly obvious. However, how you count the capacity and how you use it is not so obvious.

  • What is our capacity? If you have individual chairs, count the chairs. If you have pews/benches — measure the pews and allow 20″ minimum per person Always round down to nearest whole number for each pew. (Don’t go by what the drawings say — code says use 18″ — I’m 5′-8″ and less than 150lbs and I don’t really fit in 18″ — you get my drift.) If you have movable chairs, have a design professional draw up your space and help you maximize the number of chairs you can fit in the space and still get out safely in an emergency.
  • Don’t just be open to multiple worship services DEMAND IT! (*Rant warning*) It is not wise that the biggest, most expensive spaces in churches are only used near capacity for an hour a week! Additionally, the financial strain of building a 1-service capacity building is poor stewardship. Buildings are just too expensive to not use them more than once. I’ve heard the “it will break up our fellowship” or “we won’t know everybody” arguments far too many times. People are going to hell because you’re more concerned about keeping your people together than you are about rescuing people from the wages of sin.
    If you’re a pastor who won’t go to multiple services, I hope you’re independently wealthy so you can pay for the next building program. Either that, or quit now before you make the rest of your church a bunch of self-absorbed spiritual navel-gazers. If you’re a pastor of a church with deacons, elders, or other lay-leadership group that won’t let you go to multiple services — either step up and be a leader, find a way to change the leadership structure to get these folks out of the way, or find a church that has a vision to do whatever it takes to reach people far from God (I understand this is not always easy).
    I’ve also heard the argument that multiple services is hard on the church staff. Two services on Sunday is perfectly reasonable for any staff member. If they can’t make that, you may need to evaluate their work ethic and/or let them go, anyway. Three or more services can be tough on staff, but if you carefully evaluate HOW you do it and balance it with the extent of the other programming in your church, it CAN and SHOULD be done. There are churches that are THRIVING with 5-7 services every weekend. The pastor is responsible for creating a culture on his staff that does whatever it takes to reach people. If your staff can’t handle it, you’ve created the culture that can’t handle it. Change the culture. You may need to change the staff to change the culture.
  • When you go to two worship services, you aren’t really doubling your capacity. Most two-service churches run about 60%/40% in their services. This means that adding a second service really adds about 67% to your capacity. Trust me, that’s the way the math works. Follow the numbers with me:  If you have a space that seats 1,000, your “real” capacity is 800 people (80%).  Using the 60/40 rule, your larger service can be 800. The smaller service would then be about 533.  Therefore, with two services, your total capacity would be about 1,333 . . . this is about 133% of total seating capacity.
  • When you go to 3 or more services, the impact is even lower, but it is still far cheaper than building. If your second service is about 2/3 your largest service, each additional service will probably be just over 50% of your total capacity. Using the above example, you would then have a capacity of 800, 533, and 500 for a 3-service church for a total of 1,833. Notice, this is now significantly more than double your “real” capacity of 800. This is about 183% of total seating capacity. Add about 500 for each additional service.
  • Multiple services is great for your people! You can challenge your folks to “Worship one, serve one.” This basically means your people can attend and enjoy one of the services and can find a place to serve somewhere else in the church during an additional service. When you get your people involved in the ministry of the church, they will be healthier Christians and will stick to your church much better than the average attender.
  • One additional note about multiple services and capacity: If any of your services is less than 50% of your total seating capacity, the room will feel empty and growth will be difficult. For our example of a 1,000 seat room, any service less than 500 will be hard to grow.  The easiest solution is to make the size of your room flexible. Some practical suggestions: (1) Add and remove chairs between services to make it feel fuller at smaller services. (2) Add pipe-and-drape between rows to make the room smaller for smaller services. (3) When you build, have flexibility built in to the space.

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