the shape of leadership

Seven Church Building Design Trends for 2018

Changes that will shape the spaces in which we worship

Dave Milam on February 7, 2018

The beginning of every new year ushers in a parade of architectural predictions from the experts, and 2018 is no exception. But this year, you won’t see the typical trendy, fly-by-night fads you often see in lists like these. Instead, you’ll see an enduring change that will shape the foundation of church building design.

So, whether you are a designer or a church leader, these seven trends will help you navigate the challenge of serving the church in a post-Christian world.

1. Incarnational Design

I work for a company that carved out its reputation in the marketplace as the church design firm started by designers with “theme-park experience.” I’ll admit, for years, our team leveraged the “attractional model” of evangelism to create a niche in the market. And though we still have designers who have worked on projects for Disney, Warner Brothers and Universal Studios, I’ve noticed that church leaders are not geeking out over architectural evangelism anymore. Instead, leaders want to intentionally maximize their facility to serve their neighborhoods and break down barriers in their communities.

It’s been a gradual transition, but in 2018, you’ll begin to see a significant shift in the overall philosophy of design. The theme park attractional model is dead, and “incarnational design” has become the predominant thinking among church leaders. Churches don’t want to amuse people. They want to see them transformed. So, instead of trying to wow their community, churches hope to serve.

Church lobbies are beginning to feel more like co-working environments that are available for locals to pop open their laptops, sip chai lattes, and draft a few emails. Fewer frills and more service. You’ll even notice the subtle shift in children’s ministry environments. Most are becoming less “themed” and are taking a more sophisticated form.

In 2018, we won’t just build churches; we’ll help Christ-followers become the Church.

2. Expanded Connection Space

In the mid- to late-1990s, lobbies served as functional spaces intended to greet guests and herd people through the worship assembly line as quickly and efficiently as possible. It was almost as if the church were saying, “We’re glad you came, but we need your seat and your parking spot, so please leave ... in Jesus’ name.”

As a result, lobbies were designed to be tiny conveyors for quickly moving people in and out (except for that imposing welcome desk built as a beacon for first-time guests).

The ministry model has evolved, and “community space” has become one of the more pressing needs of the modern church. Leaders realize it’s easier to get people engaged in a community once they have had the opportunity to connect between services.

So, in 2018, you’ll see more churches expand their lobbies and create more space for human connection and interaction. Lobbies will even begin to sprawl outside the walls of the building onto the lawns and porches. Churches will invest in outdoor environments that invite families to sit, lean in and build relationships. 

3. Open Office Design

In 2018, churches across the nation will continue to experience culture shock as we witness baby boomers handing the reins of leadership to the millennial generation. That transition will not only mark a drastic change in leadership style, but it will also represent a significant turning point in church design.

In 2018, we won’t just build churches; we’ll help Christ-followers become the Church.

These days, you can often gauge the church’s leadership culture by how they arrange the office. In most cases, the workspace preferences of the boomer generation are incongruent with the natural habitat of the millennial leader. Millennials tend to crave collaborative environments. As long as they have a comfy couch, fast Wi-Fi and a cup of coffee, they are set. No cubicle or corner office needed.

As a result, this year, you’ll see an avalanche of open office design with generous collaborative space. 

4. Stage Set Design

Over the past decade, many creative teams have blown the budget and burned the midnight oil to create fresh main-stage environments for every new series. It’s been an unusual phenomenon to see what a group of creatives can do with an old pallet, a sheet of Coroplast and some bubble wrap. MacGyver would be proud. But now that we’ve all seen thousands of ways to stretch white fabric and shape foam cutouts, the set-design craze is beginning to stabilize.

You’ll begin to see a more consistent main-stage look with authentic, less gimmicky accessories to support monthly series launches. And LED technology and environmental projection will replace homespun backdrops.

Praise the Lord.

5. Sophisticated Design

In 2018, churches will begin moving away from the rustic/reclaimed dark materials to a lighter, brighter modern feel, while still focusing on natural materials. Wood-looking flooring will remain popular, but trends are moving away from darker colors and more toward lighter floors in white, taupes and grays.

Expect to see simple, clean branding, and graphics with sophisticated, bold text combined with single powerful images. Messaging will be highly graphic and abstract — less literal.

Kids’ environments will also begin to have a sophisticated, clean, flexible look and feel, as opposed to highly dimensional, static theming. There will be more emphasis on lighting, projection and interactive pieces and bolder, brighter color palettes.

6. Natural Light

Today, many church auditoriums are dark, black-box-theater-style environments. It’s a style that made sense at the launch of the video projector revolution. In those days, even high-dollar projectors struggled to overpower the light from a single window. But in 2018, LED screen technology has changed the game and made natural light more doable.

Besides, production teams have utilized almost every kind of light filament to enhance the Sunday morning experience except natural light. But in 2018, you’ll begin to notice churches harnessing the power of natural light in worship environments. Though smart-glass technology, windows can become opaque or transparent with the touch of a button. The ban on natural light in the worship venue is over.

7. Next-Level Security

At one time, security was reserved for the kids’ area. But after the devastating church shootings in Texas and Tennessee this past year, church leaders, more than ever, want to design buildings that incorporate defensive strategies in the event of an active shooter.

In 2018, church designers will lead the charge in developing new standards to protect church staff, worship teams, pastors and members.

Though this list is far from complete, church leaders and designers alike will experience 2018 as the year that launches a deep-rooted shift in the way we see and interact with church building design.


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