By Larry Witzel and Vince Williams
March 10, 2010
As I walked into the church lobby, I saw it: a big, ugly stain on the carpet. Seven-year-old Katelyn was trying to publicly celebrate her parents 10th wedding anniversary, and in the process dumped an entire chocolate sheet cake on the floor. And her attempt to clean it up did little more than then squish frosting deep into the carpet.
In a way, that stain was beautiful. It said, “We do ministry here.” But what if nobody bothered to clean the carpet? What would that stain say about the state of your church as you stepped over it week after week after week? And what would that stain say to your guests? At some point, it no longer says, “We do ministry here.” Instead, it yells, “We don’t really care enough to clean this.”
The fact is, your church facility is a reflection of the health of the church. But more than that (and certainly more exciting), you can also use the building environment to inspire your church to be more healthy.
Here’s an example of what I mean. By putting your vision statement in large letters on your wall, you encourage people who see it to live that vision out. Guests who resonate with it are more likely to return. It reinforces what you say from the pulpit, and can inspire people to use their gifts in ministry. The atmosphere really can make a difference in the health of a church.
Corporations know this well, spending millions of dollars every year planning out their work spaces to increase the efficiency in their workers. This can be everything from the obvious inspirational posters, to subtle changes of color on the walls. And companies spend even more to create environments for customers to buy stuff. They know that the environment can influence behavior.
Similarly, in the realm of a local church, your surroundings can impact the health of the body. You really can design your space for health. Here are four ideas for intentionally using that building environment to improve the health of your congregation:
- 1. Communicate the obvious. Sometimes we expect people to know certain things about our church. Why are we here? Who do we want to be? It may be obvious to you, but that doesn’t mean everyone else understands. So use your space to visually communicate the basics of your church. Whether or not you talk about it from up front, people will get the message week after week. And when you do share from the pulpit, that visual reminder will reinforce the message.
- 2. Tell them what to do. It may be hard to motivate people to take action, but it’s impossible if they don’t know what you expect. Don’t feel you’re being pushy by asking people to take it to the next level. For example, have a place in the lobby that says, “Service, it’s what we do around here.” Include a list of ways to get involved. Have a range of options that could include every person who sees it, so that more people will feel comfortable getting involved.
- 3. De-clutter. Make sure your offices and lobby are free of things that are outdated, or do not help convey the vision and mission of your church today. At the same time, make sure that your church environment doesn’t feel like Aunt Dina’s off-limit living room. Take the opportunity to use walls and areas of the room to focus in on specific areas of importance to your church. Perhaps have a wall of missionaries you support, or a place for kid’s art projects. Just make sure it’s current and simple.
4. Smiles bring smiles. Humans have a deep psychological response to smiles. Researchers have found that babies as young as a few weeks old respond to pictures of smiling faces. By putting up pictures with smiling faces in your lobby (for example, on some welcome banners), you can actually increase the smiles of your greeters and leaders. Yes, it really works.
As a preacher, you get to speak to your congregation for just a few minutes each week. But your environment speaks to them every minute they’re there. So design your church environment as a resource to communicate, and watch the health level of your church grow.