March 18, 2015

Multi-generational Worship Spaces

Accommodating a diverse group of people is no easy task. However, spaces within places of worship can be converted to truly reflect all aspects of its community. Multi-generational spaces are a key element in remaining relevant within the community at large and within the worship community.

There are standard activities practiced by nearly every youth group in America. Designing a space around these youth-focused activities begins to send out the appropriate signals to a younger demographic. For instance, church lock-ins are popular among younger church-goers. Parents want to bring their children into a safe space, whereas children want to bring their parents to a space that has a particular aspect of intrigue or excitement.

Most places of worship will approach a redesign with a predetermined set of needs. These needs, however, are sometimes outlined without a ministry strategy to back them. The worship team may be thinking in terms of square footage, when they need to be thinking in terms of activity—what is the purpose of the space? Sometimes, worship teams will pre-determine what they need based on their existing knowledge, determining the direction for a project. Without an experienced design team, some of the “nonnegotiable” elements for their built environment may not end up providing the improvement the team expects.

When headed by a team of experts, the design begins with a period of intimate immersion. This is an interval known as pre-design and it’s absolutely crucial. By immersing themselves within the culture of the place of worship, a design team can witness the patterns, rituals, organizational structure—really get a feel for the essence of the people—so as to wrap their methods around the specific personality of the worship community.

Central Wesleyan Church approached their project with the set purpose of using their space to advance their mission. Through an intentional pre-design process, it was uncovered that multi-generational, multi-use areas were the all-encompassing answer to engaging both pre-existing and new demographics, knitting the generations together in lieu of designing and programming for each generation. Multi-generational, multi-use spaces are defined as being:

  • Agile environments that quickly adapt to new ideas
  • Multi-generational spaces that reach people at different “ages and stages” for meaningful connections with the church community and ministry mission
  • Environments that nurture personal connections within different age groups

Another example of using space for purpose was Cornerstone Church. Several years ago, their leadership needed a master plan for a new campus on a new site. Having outgrown their existing 30,000-square-foot campus, they required more space, but that space needed to reflect the mission. Their project goals emerged as:

  • An engaging place that would be a regular destination for the community—very visible and transparent
  • A safe place for people to belong and build relationships
  • A teaching place
  • A space that is active, non-traditional, and flexible
  • The aim of their space, as defined by Cornerstone Church’s director of outreach, is to build relationships

This is the key to transforming places of worship—opening the space to foster human connection. There has been a massive change within our society that has played a major role in how we view social interaction and relationships, whether social or spiritual. With an increase in the use of everyday technology, people have come to maintain a lifestyle with minimal human interaction—we have become starved for relationships. Thus, places of worship need to target this need, building spaces, like that with Cornerstone Church, that allow people to see and be seen, to linger and interact. Additionally, these spaces need to allow people at multiple stages of worship commitment to enter into the conversation.

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