Fifteen Church Facility Issues

August 19, 2014

By Chuck Lawless

I know the church is not a building. That is not to say, though, that the building is unimportant. A building says something about the congregation that gathers there; so, we need to pay attention to our facilities.

Listed here are fifteen facility issues I and my consulting teams have seen recurrently in churches, including established churches and church plants.

  1. No obvious main entrance. We have seen this problem in churches with large facilities as well as church plants that meet in rented space. The building has several doors, each that enters the facility in a different location. Only one leads to the main entrance, but guests must guess which door that is.
  2. An unmarked (or unattended) welcome center. No signage indicates the welcome center, and no greeters direct people there. Brochures and sermon CDs might be available there, but sometimes no one is there to distribute them. Such a location is an information kiosk – not a welcome center.
  3. Paper signage. Even in larger churches we’ve seen it: handwritten (or even poorly done computer generated) room signs on a piece of paper taped to a wall. I realize emergency situations necessitate a “quick fix,” but this kind of signage implies a lack of attention to excellence.
  4. Old information on screens or bulletin boards. I’ve seen bulletin board announcements for events that took place six months ago. Even in churches with computerized announcements, I’ve seen outdated information flashed on the screen.
  5. Unsecured children’s area. Our “secret shoppers” often report having complete access to children’s areas. In some cases, no security system is in place to protect children. In other cases where security does exist, unmonitored outside doors still allow entrance to this area.
  6. Windowless doors in the children’s area. Windows in doors cannot eliminate the possibility of child abuse in a church, but they are at least a deterrent. Solid doors are an indication the church has not taken enough steps to protect their children.
  7. “Big people” furniture in children’s rooms. Perhaps you’ve seen a children’s room where the table is lowered a bit, but the chairs are still adult chairs. The furniture (and often, the teaching method in the class) say to a child, “Your job is to act and learn like an adult in this room.”
  8. Clutter. The list is long. Old literature on tables. “Donated” toys no one wants. Leftover craft supplies. Jesus pictures. Ugly upright pianos. Last week’s bulletins. Unwashed dishes. Drama costumes. Somehow the church facility has become a gathering place for junk.
  9. Open outlets in preschool rooms. A preschool room electrical outlet without a cover insert is an invitation to trouble. Toddlers typically have not learned not to stick something in the outlet.
  10. Dirty carpet. This one surprises me, simply because cleaning a carpet is not that difficult. It may cost a few dollars, but not cleaning the carpet says, “We’re not that concerned about the look of God’s house.”
  11. Odors. Again, the list is long. The musty smell of water damage. The hangover of dirty diapers in the nursery or spoiled food in the kitchen. An unfixed clogged toilet. What’s hard to believe is that people who attend regularly apparently do not notice the smells.
  12. Unstocked bathrooms. Sometimes I feel like I’m traveling on a mission trip when I enter a church restroom – that is, I’m out of luck if I didn’t bring my own toilet paper, soap, and towels. Those issues are only magnified when the bathroom is generally dirty.
  13. Poor lighting. Dimming the lighting might be an effective device to focus worship, but a service is hardly facilitated if members strain to read their Bibles. I’m especially sensitive to this one as I get older.
  14. Few garbage cans. Church buildings would be cleaner if our buildings included nicely designed, strategically placed garbage cans inside the building. There is a reason garbage cans in bathrooms and kitchens are often overflowing.
  15. Faded paint. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do to a room. It’s also amazing how long some churches wait before adding that fresh coat.

What other facility issues have you seen?


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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38 Comments

  • Anthony Hernandez says on

    Chuck,

    This article is SO helpful. Thank you for taking the time to put this out there. Currently, I’ve been tasked with navigating/leading/ensuring the overall quality and efficiency of our Sunday morning services, from Foyer to Green Room.

    If you have any other tips, articles, or prayers to offer, I’d appreciate it greatly.

    Grace&Peace

    Anthony

  • What I see most often in declining churches is inadequate and neglected nursery and preschool facilities. And these same churches wonder why they are not reaching young families. I think the neglected facilities often reveal an attitude that is the root problem, but I have also found that sometimes refreshing these facilities highlights the importance of that area and priorities and attitudes get adjusted as a result.

    Also, stained ceiling tiles. It is so easy to change out a ceiling tile (after your fix the leak). But churches take forever to get around to it!

  • Sanctuary too warm. Especially with no air movement. Stuffy church makes it difficult to focus and can actually make some people naesous!

  • A church whose worship services I occasionally attend, primarily to see how the tiny congregation is faring, repainted the exterior of their building. The building was originally painted white. It is now painted a dark shade of gray. Studies have shown that different colors can affect us psychologically: they can influence our mood. This particular shade of gray definitely does that. When the building was painted white, it looked bright and cheerful. Now it looks depressing, gloomy, even ominous. One has second thoughts about entering the building.

  • Doug Miller says on

    All of these are great. A new coat of paint can and does make a great deal of difference. However, I have seen where the wrong paint has been used and it looks just as bad as if the room had not been painted in several years. Using a dull color, or an “old” color, may be new, even look loads better than what it was before it got painted. But what does the color look like to someone who has never seen the room before? On block walls, semi-gloss, or at least egg-shell, should be used. Flat paint seems to accentuate the porousness of the blocks and still looks old even when fresh paint is on the walls.

  • In a time where many churches have become ‘tech savvy’ by creating web pages, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts these too should be updated on a regular basis. Many folks looking for a new church home may go here to check out your church before they ever decide to walk through the doors-how many potential visitors have you lost by ignoring these resources? In addition you should’ t tout the podcasts that are not there or leave a ‘coming soon’ banner up for an extended amount of time. Coming soon means it is close to debut but if you haven’t even begun the process then lets quit the false advertising.

  • I have been involved in six successful church plants (not counting the one my family attended when I was in elementary school.) All of these church plants took the trouble whatever the facilities they were using to create environments that would not be barriers to guests hearing the gospel and accepting Christ as their Savior and Lord.

    The facilities they used include private homes, a tennis club’s clubhouse, converted offices, a storefront, a school gymnasium, maritime museum conference rooms, fire station garage bay, and a cafe.

    A mother who has left her infant in a cluttered, dirty nursery staffed by teenagers is not going to be thinking about what the preacher is saying. She is going to be thinking about the health and safety of her child. The nursery and its attendants become a major distraction for her and consequently a barrier to hearing the gospel. She is also not likely to return.

    Creating attractive and safe environments can be viewed as a form of pre-evangelization. Even when the facilities a church plant is using limit what it can do, making an effort to create such environments conveys to guests that the church plant values them and their children. Setting out adequate signage and posting volunteers at strategic locations to help guests conveys to them that they are welcome. Taking these and other steps increases their receptivity to hearing the good news.

    Guests arrive at our doors on Sundays with different levels of needs. At the Journey we recognize that we may need to help them meet these needs first before we can meet their spiritual needs.

    One of our main ministry target groups are MSU students. The dining hall does not open until midday on Sunday. We provide a light breakfast for guests who have not had an opportunity to eat.

    Another one of our main target groups are young married couples with their first child. We provide a clean, well-equipped nursery staffed by adult volunteers and take parents’ cell phone numbers when we register their infant so we can call them if we need to. In this way we meet their security needs.

    I have personally functioned as a “mystery visitor,” sizing up a church from an outsider’s perspective for the pastor and all of the facility issues described in the article, I have observed in churches and church plants that were not growing. They had either plateaued or were in decline.

  • Stained chairs or pews in the sanctuary. Also buildings with footprints on its exterior walls, waist down. Gum and candy on the floors. 🙁

  • Bob Brooke says on

    Mold in older church buildings, left untreated and noticed only slowly, can become toxic. The EPA can and will close public buildings with toxic mold.

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