God is a God of “place-based” community. In fact, the book of Leviticus takes a deep dive into the specific features God wanted the Israelites to pay attention to as they built their community. From the overarching concept of the Tabernacle to the nitty-gritty details, their story culminates with the creation of an amazing sacred space.
The original biblical definition of ecclesia is the idea of a Christ-centered community of believers doing life together–not just meeting for a worship service once or twice a week. We’re meant to share space and break bread with one another, and the community at large.
When you implement these environmental upgrade strategies in your church, you’ll find that you spend less time plastering the community with posters and flyers, and more time where it’s most important: welcoming church and community members alike into your sacred, shared space.
1. Design Intentionally
The Tabernacle was very practical; it was basically a tent in the wilderness. But here’s the thing: everything meant something. Every choice was rooted in intentionality, and meant to tell a story and convey a deeper meaning.
The idea of a church environment being carefully considered and designed, down to every detail (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch), is incredibly powerful (we call it Spatial Design). When your space is designed for church members and the outside community alike, you’re able to point more people toward eternity.
Generic spaces have become irrelevant; instead, take the following steps to make your space more intentional:
Consider the surrounding culture, unique identity, DNA, and purpose of the ministries at your individual church.
Question the traditional ideas of “sacred space” (traditional iconography, stained glass, etc.).
Ask yourself (and your leadership team) whether it’s healthy for your church to be in stark contrast to your community.
2. Assess Community Needs
In order to bring more people to Christ:
Study the broader community outside your church walls–not just your own internal Christian community.
Conduct a community needs assessment as you strategically plan your ministries.
This will help your team identify sweet spots where you can serve not only your own members, but those outside your church as well.
Include your neighbors in your assessment as you move forward.
For example, your ministry team might have a heart for bringing the homeless into your facility, but if your neighbors aren’t on board, you’ll want to steer in a different direction.
The consideration for both the needs of your community and your neighbors will resonate in a big way. For example, 2|42 Community Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, bought a run-down warehouse in the worst part of town with the intention of creating a safe space for families and children. PlainJoe worked with 2|42 to create a thriving, multi-functional community center that now offers recreational facilities, food and coffee, fitness classes, and worship services.
3. Create a True Shared Space
To broaden your reach, maximize your space outside of normal church functions:
Instead of leaving the building empty for most of the week, find ways to share the space with your neighbors.
Create a performing arts space that the outside community can use when the church isn’t.
Utilize your facilities for recreation, day care services, and more.
A great example of these principles in action is True North Church in Merriwa, Western Australia. True North houses a separately-branded space called The Block that offers:
- Compass Early Learning Centre, an early childhood learning facility equipped with an innovative nature playground and a program that emphasizes exploration, discovery, and growth;
- 115 Collective, a cafe & coffee shop where people can connect and dream;
- The Point, a versatile, state-of-the-art event space equipped with the latest A/V equipment and enough space for 400 attendees;
- And The Loft, a co-working space open to the community for a small monthly fee that provides a place for entrepreneurs to work and connect with one another.
The most important audience to consider as you upgrade your space is your primary target. Ask yourselves, “Who are we designing for?” Most likely, the answer will be the community of the lost outside your church walls.