What’s Your Space Communicating? Appealing Settings Matters to Creating Churches UnChurched People Love to Attend—From Andy Stanley’s New Book, Deep & Wide
I’ve been thinking a lot about space in the past few months. No not that space, the one Hubble Space Telescope explores every waking minute. I’m talking about the space in which we do ministry—the space in which people encounter God in worship, kids grow in the knowledge of the Lord, small groups explore the Bible.
If I asked you, What’s your space? I would guess an image immediately comes to mind. Perhaps it’s big and open and filled with modern lights, Panera-esque colors, and thousands of theater-style seating. Maybe it’s more modest and ancient, accented by stained glass windows and the residue of yesterday’s incense. Perhaps it’s a cozy living-room or a room that’s been made to look like a living room with plush, comfy chairs.
Regardless, this morning’s question is an important one: “What’s your space communicating?” It’s an important question because creating an appealing setting matters to creating church experiences that unchurched people love to attend.
The reason I’ve been thinking a lot about space the past few months is because I have the privilege of relaunching a church that peaked at a few hundred people and has dropped to 10-15% of that peak. A number of reasons have contributed to that decline, but one of the big ones was where the church was gathering the past 18 months.
You see the church launched in a high school cafeteria and thrived there for sometime until it was forced to relocate to a 900 seat auditorium elsewhere in the school. An intimate, family feel was exchanged for this massive room that created a distance and formalism that killed the vibe big time. They tried different things to compensate until they moved to the location we’ve just moved from: an aged gymnasium at an inner-city, neighborhood church that was difficult to find and even more difficult to enjoy.
When I came to candidate for the position I remember two things: it was hard to find and felt creepy. It wasn’t creepy because of the people or what went on there—we’ve got great, kind people and a wonderful sense of community! It was creepy because it was down and around this dark hallway, in this not-so-clean gym with flickering, buzzing fluorescent lights, and in a space that was too big for our current size.
Now, for a number of reasons I’m thankful God provided this space for our church for a season, but I’m even more grateful God recently provisioned a new space that fits who we are and the message we’re trying to send our community: You are important to us! Let’s face it, an environment goes a long way in sending that message.
In his new book, Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley makes this exact point:
“Every ministry environment involves a physical setting. It may be a large room or a small room. It may include chairs or circular carpets for seating. It may be a park or living room. Regardless of the type of setting, it needs to be appealing to the target audience. You know from experience the physical and emotional effects a comfortable, inviting environment can have. You’ve walked into offices, homes, and vacation spots and immediately felt at home. You’ve walked into those same environments at other locations and felt just the opposite.” (164)
We’ve all experienced those types of environments, haven’t we? The homey and not-so-homey? How much more important is it to have a comfortable, hospitable, normal environment for people who want to encounter God and explore His Story?
Stanley goes on to say, “Every physical setting communicates something. There are no neutral settings.” (168) So let’s get honest at the beginning of a new ministry week: What’s your space communicating? Is it comfortable? Clean and Tidy? Organized? Safe? Is there design, décor, and attention to detail?
I would encourage you and your team—whether you’re the executive pastor, a youth group leader, or small group leader—to consider these questions that Stanley offers: “What’s distracting? What’s tired? Where do you need to paint? What needs to be thrown away? Replaced? Are your settings appealing?” (172)
No, getting your ministry environment “just right” isn’t a magical pill that will solve your ministry woes. But it will go a long way in creating church environments unchurched people love to attend, not to mention your own people! There are already plenty of barriers in this world between unchurched people and the church. Let’s not let something that we can control—our space, our environment—be the make or break between people exploring and experience Christ or not.
Jeremy Bouma has spent a decade ministering among our postmodern culture, first in Washington D.C. and most recently as a pastor in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA—a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith—holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and writes at www.novuslumen.net.