Top Five Trends in Worship Architecture

Today’s churches are more than just a place to worship; they are also a place to connect and build a community. Church projects often have tighter budget restrictions and want to balance function and form; recent trends in church design focus on creating spaces that are welcoming as well as practical.

Coffee Culture
Churches love their coffee culture. Often this can be quite literal, with a coffee bar in the lobby as a key priority. All churches are trying to create a welcoming place that provides opportunities for casual interaction. This space can be designed as an actual place for serving coffee, but can also be a soft seating area or a “living room” style lounge. A warm, appealing gathering area brings in an element of comfort and relatability, with the aim of fostering connections among established members as well as newcomers. These spaces may even be accessible during the week, creating additional opportunities to enjoy the facilities and connect with other members and staff outside of Sunday worship. Connecting to others is critical in places of worship and is a contributing factor in why people return.

Inviting Gathering Places
Material palettes continue to trend towards warm tones that invoke feelings of comfort. Wood textures in flooring and feature walls bring natural materials into the building. Plants also add a human-scale element; soft seating creates a casual atmosphere for gathering in lounge areas. Sometimes clients will mention a favorite coffee shop and ask for a similar aesthetic in their own cafes or casual gathering zones, often referencing the material palette or the way it makes them feel. For churches that are renovating and have the ability to reuse materials, repurposing existing materials in new ways can be a great way to bring a familiar item or patina into the new facility. Examples include upcycled stained glass windows or old floor boards transformed into a wainscot or a feature wall. Regardless of whether a church’s worship space is a black box, a more traditional sanctuary, or somewhere in between, gathering areas should be bright with natural light to create comfortable environment where people want to spend extra time and promote a sense of community.

Kids’ Space with Impact
Church choice for parents is often influenced by their children. Providing childcare so parents can attend a worship service is necessary, but is just the first step in creating rich children’s programs. Security is at the top of the list when it comes to designing for children’s programs and can be accomplished with check-in stations, innovative technology, secured zones, and properly trained staff. Diversity in the types of kids’ facilities is another way to appeal to youth. Often, elementary through high school kids meet in large groups based on their age range and then break out in smaller groups for more intimate discussions. Providing a space for kids of all ages is important, and each group has different programming and design requirements that must be considered. Areas serving children bring many opportunities for fun colors, themes, and materials. Churches that are trying to attract families must address the children’s needs as much as their parents’, and a fun, engaging environment encourages kids to return, along with their families.

Flexible Facilities
Multi-purpose, flexible facilities are essential to providing for a variety of church functions. Planning and designing for Sunday morning logistics helps optimize each space with as many people and needs accommodated as possible. During the week, building usage typically drops significantly. Many smaller and mid-sized churches cannot afford to build and maintain facilities which are empty for most of the week and must provide for all needs within the Sunday worship facility. Churches often double up on program uses for various rooms; for example, staff can use classrooms as offices and large-group meeting room for conference rooms. To accommodate a range of users and activities, strategies for flexibility include adding an extra closet to tuck away weekday office materials or providing AVL equipment in a large room appropriate for youth worship or a large staff meeting. Lobbies can serve as gathering areas on Sundays while providing an event space during the week for fundraising banquets, speakers, or for the house band to play. For program functions which occur sporadically, flexible spaces help to achieve the most efficient use of facilities as church needs change.

Outdoor Amenities
Ministry is not limited to the indoors. Taking advantage of available outdoor space can provide new opportunities to connect with others and allow for a variety of experiences. Large patios can serve as an extension of lobby functions and can house tents and booths and check-in stations. Baptism and other celebrations can occur outside when appropriate. First impressions begin at the exterior; volunteers stationed at entries can greet members and newcomers and direct people where they need to go. Some churches provide fire-pits, fountains, or outdoor seating areas to create additional opportunities to gather and connect. These outdoor amenities can be a great way to extend programs beyond the walls of the church building itself, promoting a connection to the wider community.

Places where churchgoers feel safe and welcome create a sense of community. Providing for youth, designing spaces that can be used for more than one purpose, and extending programs outdoors all support the functional needs of the church, offer comfortable spaces and ample opportunities for gathering, and help churches achieve their ministries.

About Emily

Emily Schulte, AIA, specializes in worship designs for diverse faith-based clients across the region. With a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture form Clemson University and a Bachelor of Architecture from NC State University, Emily joined the LS3P’s Greenville office in 2015. Her notable recent projects include Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC; Lifepointe Christian Church in Fort Mill, SC; Grace Baptist Fellowship in Greenville, SC; and Life Fellowship in Cornelius, NC. She was recognized as an Associate of the firm in 2018.

Emily’s professional experience also includes an extensive portfolio of designs for commercial, retail, and historic preservation projects across the Southeast. Outside of the office, Emily is actively engaged in professional and community outreach through the United Way.