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If you decided to build a church without a traditional sanctuary, or you bought a building that was never was a church – what sort of furniture do you want to look for to outfit your new place?

Traditional worship spaces are changing at an ever-increasing rate. Where single purpose pew filled sanctuaries with ornate architecture and stained glass once ruled, worship facilities today are increasingly found in converted warehouses, gyms, night clubs, bowling alleys and the like. Purchased or rented, these spaces can provide a significantly lower cost alternative for today’s churches especially when first planting a new church.

Fueled by a refocusing of recognition that a church is not a building but rather the Believers inside and a desire for functionality over tradition, these less traditional venues are economically meeting the needs of their active congregations. However, practical and important questions face congregation’s when evaluating and adapting non-traditional worship space.

Over the past 30 plus years I’ve has helped tens of thousands of churches evaluate and maximize the effectiveness of their worship facilities. While there is no one simple answer for successfully adapting non-traditional space for church/worship and ministry and virtually any space can be adapted to fit, here is a simplified checklist that will help your church make good decisions that will help maximize your ministry’s effectiveness.

Clearly Define Your Worship Purpose and Style

How you worship will define how your space will be used and the interior products that will enhance or detract from your worship activities. Are your services liturgical, praise and worship, do you incorporate alter calls, communion, a band, drama, etc? What will be the blend of space application for gatherings, worship, classroom, fellowship and recreation? This definition will help you determine just how you need the space to be used and if you will need extra furniture or sound absorbers.

Seating

Churches used to only be wooden pew. Now, pews are out. While although they are classic, they are harder to sit in and difficult to move or change around. Now, 95% of the seating churches I’ve worked with purchased are upholstered metal stackable chairs. Comfortable seating has been a key player as churches move forward in their lifespan. Padded chairs on the other hand can be moved when needed to allow the sanctuary area to be used for a wide variety of multiple purposes which is a great way to reduce the amount of space and costs required to support a broad offering of church activities.

Temporary Walls

Sold by a variety of companies, these movable partitions allow for open space to be partitioned and used for classrooms, nurseries, banquet, etc. on either a permanent or temporary basis. If your church is beginning in a wide-open space, then these are what you should be looking for. Some brands can absorb sound as well making them ideal for petitioning off offices or classroom areas. Temporary walls will can be a lifesaver when you realize that men’s bible study and youth group have both been scheduled at the same time.

Stages, Platforms, and Risers

Available in virtually any configuration and easily assembled or taken down, they can convert almost any open area into a venue for speakers, choirs, bands or more. Stages are easy to move and elevate speakers and worship leaders for members to see and hear. This will again allow you to use your space in a variety of ways without having to commit to one specific design.

Lighting and Sound

Technology has significantly reduced the size, cost and complexity of support tools for worship activities. Determine your requirements before you go shopping because the range of options is so appealing. Buy brand name equipment than can be systematically expanded and augmented as needed. With increased life service spans, this modern equipment will serve you ministry for many years. Be sure your facilities electrical systems are or can be adapted to support the new technology you are considering. Be on the lookout for set-ups that can easily be moved and is a bit bigger than you need now to allow for growth.

Non-traditional facilities can be an attractive alternative for ministries today. With forethought and planning, virtually any open space can be converted to support your ministry with the right choice of products to support your ministry purpose and style.

Dr. Thomas McElheny serves as the director of Christian education for several Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and has over 30 years of experience as a provider of chairs and products to America’s churches.

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