Fifteen Church Facility Issues

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 Even in churches with computerized announcements, I’ve seen outdated information flashed on the screen.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.


photo credit: justshootingmemories via photopin cc

Posted on August 19, 2014

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • The Journey, in which I am involved, uses rented facilities–the Curris Center on the campus of Murray State University. The rooms and areas that we occupy on Sunday serve other uses during the week.

    We have flag banners, sandwich board signs, and greeters at the two entrances guests use to enter the building–the main entrance on the first floor and the side entrance on the second floor.

    We have a children’s ministry sign-in center and middle school ministry sign-in center on the first floor and a children’s ministry sign-in center and a welcome center on the third floor. Banners and portable signs clearly mark each center, which typically has at least two or more people in attendance.

    Sandwich board signs on the first and second floors direct guests to the atrium stairs and the main elevator.

    We do not use paper signs or bulletin boards. We do use computerized announcements on large flat screen TVs, which are kept up-to-date.

    We have security people at all entrances to the children’s areas and the one outside door, while unlocked in a case of a fire, is closely monitored. The doors in the children’s areas are glass or have windows in them.

    We have no clutter. We set up every Sunday morning and put out only what we need. Everything is else kept in its storage totes.

    We put cover inserts in the electrical outlets in the preschool rooms. We vacuum carpets if they need it.

    Guest services is responsible for ensuring that restrooms have toilet paper, liquid soap, and paper towel. Guest services puts out hand lotion and sanitary napkins in the women’s restrooms and mouthwash and breath mints in the men’s bathrooms.

    We have no control over the lighting in the lobbies, which could be brighter.

    Guest services also makes sure that there are no overflowing garbage cans in the bathrooms and other public areas.

    If a mobile church can give this much attention to rented facilities it uses once a week, a church that has its own building can do even more

  • Wow if this stunts growth we got ALOT of work to do……just dont tell those new Christians we have been leading to the Lord in the midst of our mess. I agree we need to do all to the glory of God and we need to give God our excellence, but there comes a fine line where if someone will not join your church because you “…have last weeks bulletin still out…” not sure I want to be in the same body as someone like that…a nit picker. BUT at the same time there are some that need to treat the house of God different than they treat their own…with a little respect and care for something that others have to share also. This one is a tough one but worthy of a read and prayerful consideration of areas for improvment and growth. Thom I read and appreciate your words of wisdom this is not a comment against just a note to say there is a fine line there that is hard to find. Thanks for the post and reminder, now I gotto go get next weeks bulletin done!

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Jay. We’re simply reporting what we’ve found, most often in churches that are not growing.

    • @Jay
      More than once, I’ve gone to the Sunday morning church service, and picked up the bulletin for the service the previous Sunday. Last week’s bulletins were on the usher’s table, intermixed with this week’s bulletin.
      Now imagine what a guest would think, if an usher gave them last week’s bulletin?

  • Michael Grout says on

    I have found a few churches, mostly rural, that don’t post accurate service times. In particular, I recently visited two separate churches. The first one I missed the service all together because they had changed the start time for the summer. Their marquee didn’t reflect the change. The second church had a start time on the marquee, a different start time on their website (which had not been updated in two years), and then the actual start time in their bulletin. Both churches were pretty and well maintained by missing a key ingredient for visitors…

  • A big church facility issue is outdated “churchy” artifacts like bishop chairs on the platform and pews that are only found in the church environment and limit the usage capacity and flexibility for the largest square foot room on the property.

    Auditorium chairs can accommodate wheel chairs wherever the individual would like to sit rather than in the rear of the auditorium where a pew has been removed or in the isle. The same square footage can be used for training, small group clusters, fellowship meals, concerts and a host of other occasions other than the once a week worship service.

    An even greater challenge is that many church artifacts perpetuate the image of an institutional, centralized, out-of-touch, religious event rather than the gathering of redeemed, set-free, made alive Christ followers. It’s always interesting to see where the battle lines are drawn. Modifying church facilities and removing clutter (stuff we can’t throw away because of who gave it) seem to be among the top five areas of greatest resistance.

    Environment either contributes to or distracts from our intended mission or purpose. What I see says more than what I hear. Context trumps content every time.

  • Fake Wood Paneling! Ugh!

  • An interesting article. You mentioned that some churches feel like you are on a mission field. I currently live in China now and attend the 1 public church in a city of 500,000. The building is designed for (American style) 250 people. Each Sunday, there are about 500-600 in it. It meets upstairs in their building. The seating is hard and uncomfortable and I have more leg room in the economy section of an airplane. There is parking for 10 cars and 30 – 50 bicycles and cycles.
    Since I began there, they have put up a sign on the gate leading in that tells what time the service is. Before, there were no signs at all.
    Since the service is entirely in Chinese, I don’t understand it. The pastor has asked for suggestions about what the church could do differently. I try not to make too many suggestions because I don’t want to be the “superior” westerner telling the “poor Chinese” how to do things.
    I’d be curious if you have any thoughts about what a church in China can do to expand it’s outreach.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, John. Many of the issues I raise in this post reflect a Western approach to church. If I were in China, I would work with the local leaders to see what is most appropriate in their context.

  • Insufficient handicap parking.

    Unattended parking leading to double even triple parking close to covered entrance.

    Senior adults(50 plus) forced to meet in furthest distance from entry/sanctuary.

  • Allen Smith says on

    Inadequate access for people with physical challenges. Our church facilities are such where there are places where one can go without needing to navigate stairs. Our education building is a split level, so when you enter you have to either go upstairs or downstairs. The main sanctuary building can be accessed without navigating stairs, but several of the Sunday School rooms in that building are located upstairs.

  • lyston Peebles says on

    here are two
    1. There are too many church buildings! (250 Billion dollars worth in the USA)
    2. There are under used. vacant most of the time!

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      I don’t disagree with you — especially about the vacancy issue. If a culture expects a church to have a building, we should at least use it to its fullest capacity.

      • Gay Jones says on

        Our building is rather large but sits empty most of the week. So sad.

      • I’m surprised by this one; I’ve been a multi-church pastor in four locations across the UK and all the premises have been busy most days of the week, not just for church activities, but also for community groups – this helps address both the visibility issue and can help smaller churches address the financial challenge of keeping facilities in good order; that said one of the bigger, wealthier churches where I’ve ministered have done best financially out of this arrangement. Sadly, too many churches in this situation often fail in other areas mentioned in this thread – and inadequately address the missionary and evangelistic opportunities they offer.

  • Two others come to mind instantly:

    1. Torn (or missing) hymnals/chorus books. This one is easier than the thought it takes to put into how we should fix it.

    2. Un-mowed grass. Immediately says, “We don’t care about first impressions.”

    Great list for sure Chuck, and definitely something we can all be involved in fixing. It’s not just one or two people’s job to take care of the church. 🙂 Blessings!

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, T.J. Guess I’d forgotten the hymnal issue because we see so few churches that have a hymnal any more. Unmowed grass is a big one, especially since it’s so obvious.

  • Chris Poirier says on

    I think, similarly to Ron, that the conditions of the exterior of a church says a lot about what takes place in side. Certainly I am not defending the position to, “judge a book by the cover,” however I think my point is more about stewardship in general. If I roll up into a church parking lot that looks unkempt, exterior needs repair, lights don’t function, etc I tend to question the priorities of the church and their abilities as stewards of God’s provision. We all should be applying our love of Christ to these issues just as we do to teaching, preaching, and the like. That said, for many churches money is an issue today and prioritization of funds is a reality. However, I think we can find many ways to address items that may show our love of Christ through our stewardship without breaking the bank. (i.e., Church Workdays, volunteers for upkeep, etc.) As much as many may want to point to lack of funds, we are still called to be good stewards of what God has provided us and our approach will define our witness as much as the condition of our churches.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Chris, you’re correct that money is often an issue. Those congregations that have a building, though, may find they can make improvements without spending a lot of dollars. Thanks for contributing to the post.

  • Ron Harvey says on

    Starting out in ministy I can remember church growth experts tell us that the 3 P’s to church growth were “good preaching, good preschool and good parking.” Un-kept parking lots is one I had to deal with when I was called here in Bakersfield. New slurry, new stripping, got rid of unkept weeds, and man did things look better. We have plenty of parking(that is what is meant by “good parking”) it just didn’t look appealing.

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