Architecture and church growth

It’s pretty safe to say that growth is good. It generally means your church is doing it’s job; your ministries are successful, people are being helped and you’re sharing the good news. But does your building help facilitate that growth, or does it work against your success?

How large can your church become?

So what factors influence a church expansion project? While every site presents different challenges, here are some common themes.

Program: What kind of space?

Which areas of your building need to be larger? Perhaps your church experienced a mini baby-boom and you need immediate nursery space. In a few short years you may also need more education space. If your adult attendance is increasing, due to population growth in your area for instance, your sanctuary may be too small. This is one area that can be difficult to add on to if it wasn’t designed with expansion in mind. Perhaps you can add a balcony, or expand to the sides or to the back. Sometimes a little bit of creative thinking by your architect can offer a solution.

Do you have enough land?

How much physical space is available for expansion? If your church is in a dense urban area there is probably not much room for expansion and it may have to build up rather than out. Suburban properties may allow for lateral expansion more easily. The important thing is to look at the building as a whole; how the various types of users move through it, what spaces need to be adjacent to certain other spaces, what it will look like from the street. And also to allow for the next phase of expansion.

Parking for the people

In almost all cases, an increase in occupancy will be accompanied by an increase in municipal parking requirements so check your municipal land use bylaw. It could require as many as 1 parking stall for every 4 people in the sanctuary, or as few as 1 in 8. Practically, though, we find that the average number of people per car is about 2.5, so even though your local bylaw allows fewer when the parking lot is full, people (especially visitors) tend to go somewhere else.

Washrooms: Line begins here

Again this is a question for your local building code. In Alberta the washroom requirements for a Place of Worship is a ridiculously low 1 toilet for every 150 people. Can you imagine the lineups on a Sunday morning? To be practical (and fair to your members), if your attendance is increasing, so should your washroom capacity. Rather than expand the existing washrooms you may want to simply add some in the new addition, where it may be cheaper and easier to build.

Ventilation: Let out the hot air

Indoor air quality has such a big impact on the well being of your occupants. The air quality in a large room full of people can very quickly deteriorate if the ventilation system doesn’t have enough capacity to supply fresh air. People’s attention span becomes shorter and drowsiness sets in (and not because of the preaching!). So for maximum alertness, if you’re expanding your sanctuary pay attention to your air quality.

Next steps

There may be other factors affecting your planned expansion project. Some will be more challenging than others, but anything is possible if you throw enough money at it. If your church doesn’t have that luxury, it may just take some creative thinking to come up with a solution that meets your program and your budget.

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