the shape of leadership

Church Appeal

Is your building getting in the way of your church?

Chris Railey on June 15, 2018


Growing up in church, did you have to wear your “Sunday best”? For us guys, that probably meant slacks and a button-up shirt. For the unluckiest, it required a suit and tie. For girls and women, it may have meant a dress.

Many churches have opted for casual attire. That’s because we’ve found that a pair of jeans and an untucked polo shirt can help put people at ease who might not otherwise come to church. But there is one area in which we still need to bring our Sunday best.

When we talk about church, we mean a few different things. One of those is your building.

Your church’s facility will have the very first say to any and all visitors. When they see your sign from the road, pull into the parking lot, step through the door and find a seat in the sanctuary, they receive a multitude of messages about who you are and whether you care about them. All of that before one song is sung or one verse is read.

We hear a lot about curb appeal on HGTV or from real estate agents. It’s the way your house looks to those who come to visit. I want to introduce another term: church appeal. We can attract or repel people who have an interest in our church by how the building looks, feels and functions.

Outside In and Inside Out

What’s keeping people away from church? We can spend hours answering this question. We can talk about style of worship, content of sermons, or availability of discipleship pathways. We can also point to cultural and societal problems that have de-emphasized church.

But let’s get back to that question and consider what is keeping people from your church? Looking from the outside in and the inside out, are there any problems you see around your building that may turn off guests? It may be time to take a closer look.

Give your building an audit. Start from the parking lot and work your way inside. Try to put yourself in the mind of a first-time guest. If you have trouble doing that, ask someone who’s never attended to do it for you. Or hire a “secret shopper” to provide a detailed report.

What do people see when they pull in? Is your sign visible from the street? Are the parking spaces clearly lined? Are there potholes you need to fill? How easy is it to walk from the lot to the front door?

Once inside the building, how easy is it to get around? If this were your first time, would you know where to drop off your kids, how to get to the sanctuary, or where the closest restroom is? Are the hallways well lit, or are there dark corners that feel cold and uninviting?

Ministering in excellence means you take a long look at even the little details.

When you enter the sanctuary, how is the seating? Are there any blind spots because of posts or pillars? Are there damaged or worn seats? Does the sound system produce dead spots in some places? Does the décor look dated?

All of these may seem like small issues, but they can contribute to a negative experience for your guests. Ministering in excellence means you take a long look at even the little details to ensure your building is warm and friendly and each guest feels welcome and wants to return.

Three Levels of Interventions

Once you’ve done your audit, you may find some things you need to change. It would be great if you could renovate the entire facility at once, keeping it updated year after year. However, most church budgets don’t allow for that. So here are three levels of intervention you can employ to increase your church appeal:

Do a general clean-up. Trim the bushes, paint the walls, and repair what’s broken. You may even be able to replace the sign out front or add better signage inside. These are quick repairs you can do over a weekend. They aren’t too expensive but can make a big difference.

Consider enlisting the church body to help out. Schedule an all-church work day. Assign different areas according to skill. Those who like to get dirty and sweaty can help with the lawn, while those with a creative eye may want to help update the children’s areas.

Chances are you have someone in your church who owns a lawn service or design studio. That person may be willing to donate expertise, equipment or even a crew to do much of the work. This could keep the costs even lower.

Complete a full overhaul. If the flow of your church building is restrictive, you may need to move some walls. If you find that your church doesn’t allow for friendly engagement, find ways to open up space. At this point, we’re talking about construction projects you will need to hire professionals to complete. But it may be time for an overhaul at your church.

This may be a good opportunity to switch from pews to chairs to allow your sanctuary to be used for multiple purposes. Hiring an interior designer to find the best color scheme can be helpful. The point is not just to look great, but to provide an inviting atmosphere to which people will want to return.

Consider additions. It may be time to add on to your existing footprint. Are you running out of space? Are you maxed out on the number of services you can run each week? Adding an additional room, space or even separate building may be the best option.

Such a project may require approval from the entire church. You may also want to start a capital campaign for it. Planning is crucial, but renovation can be vital for your church’s appeal.

Whether the job is big or small, it’s going to take a group effort to improve your church appeal. The best way to start is by getting the leadership on board. That means getting your staff excited and your board invested. Once they’re ready to make some big changes, your congregation can get behind it.

And once the work is done, your guests will appreciate it.


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