By Vicki Brown
The church’s mission —what its members believe God wants to do through their congregation — should determine the shape and function of the church building, some professionals believe.
“A [building] program has to be tied into the mission statement,” John Littlefield of Littlefield Architecture in St. Louis believes. “Just like you don’t go on vacation without a map, you need a building plan.”
The plan should include the mission statement and the thrust or ministry direction the church feels led to pursue. For example, members decide to focus on the nursery because many young families have moved into the area, and they relegate the church office to the bottom of the building priority list.
Sometimes ministry to the community determines building needs. For example, First United Methodist church in Sedalia had shops built on its property specifically for its carpentry ministry.
Although their building plan is in its “very preliminary stage,” members of Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia are using their mission statement as its cornerstone.
“Our building needs to facilitate our mission statement, “To reach people far from God,” pastor Chris Cook explained. “We try to keep five principles in mind, to keep balanced in the Word, evangelism, missions, discipleship and fellowship.”
For members to reach out to people who know little about God or who may feel a little intimidated to attend, the building should be user-friendly and inviting.
Church leaders began to see ways in which the current structure could be improved when they noticed the look on the faces of young mothers when ushers explained how to get to the nursery, downstairs and in the back of the building.
Capacity issues also awakened members to building needs. “When Randy Coil [Coil Construction in Columbia] walked through our building, he said that when you reach 80 percent capacity, you are turning people away. That was shocking,” Cook said.
The church does not have enough room for events and large group activities, or even for before- and after- worship fellowship. The lobbies are too small to accommodate visiting.
“We have to rent space for most fellowships,” Cook added. The congregation rented the nearby senior center to host its Thanksgiving meal last year.
And members have had to adjust to changes in the current sanctuary. Members included temporary classrooms along both sides of the sanctuary when they had the present structure built in 1984. The future plan called for the interior walls to be removed and the sanctuary expanded.
Within the last two months, the church renovated the sanctuary to replace some of those walls with petitions to close areas for classes and open them for worship.
To help congregants through the transition, Cook has preached a series of sermons on servanthood. “I believe it starts with the pastor, just casting the vision,” he said.
The series is helping members see the space situation as “a cross to bear for awhile,” he added.
In fact, he noted, at one time the church tried two Sunday morning worship services to mitigate the space crunch. The experiment didn’t last long because “we are a very relational church,” he said.
“I think the renovation [of the sanctuary] will bear on our mission,” the pastor noted. “Once the [college] students are back,…they are going to feel more comfortable inviting friends because of more space.”
Making the building inviting and meeting needs will attract others, Littlefield believes. “People will talk about their church more and invite people more” when they see that a church cares enough to meet physical needs, he said.
Working from a common mission can make the planning and building stages easier. “I like to see a church see far ahead, to set a goal and make a plan,” noted Jyh-Yuung Ping of St. Louis-based Image Architects.
“I like to see the church moving in the same direction and with the same excitement…and to see far enough to prepare for all possible things that can happen.”