Church Design in the Age of Social Distancing

Communal spaces are becoming more intimidating by the minute. So, how will architects and designers create spaces where relationships can still flourish, without the need for safe distancing and frequent disinfection diminishing people’s much-needed sense of community? Visioneering Studios’ vice president of strategic design, Dave Milam, spoke with Church.Design about questions like these that the […]

Communal spaces are becoming more intimidating by the minute. So, how will architects and designers create spaces where relationships can still flourish, without the need for safe distancing and frequent disinfection diminishing people’s much-needed sense of community?

Visioneering Studios’ vice president of strategic design, Dave Milam, spoke with Church.Design about questions like these that the design community is grappling with.

Milam’s overarching theme revolves around cleanliness—and making sure that a space’s cleanliness is obvious to the eye.

POST-PANDEMIC MINIMALISM

“If you’re like most churches, you may have more junk in your lobby than you care to admit,” Milam says. “In the post-pandemic world, clean is critical.”

Milam’s advice began with a push to have more chairs than sofas in communal areas for the sake of easy sanitizing. For Milam, any and all clutter deserves a rightful purge.

“Remove anything superfluous and ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn’t reflect the heart of your mission or strategically move people toward taking the next step,” Milam says.

His suggestion? Take away welcome desks and replace them with people and iPads.

“Anything printed on paper can quickly clutter your lobby. So, try and reduce as much printed collateral and migrate as much information to your website,” Milam says. “That means your 1980s brochure rack can probably go, too.”

Once you’ve helped your church clients purge their old furniture and say “Hello” to some new technology, you can start to consider some other design aspects that will help encourage cleanliness in their “new” space.

INGRESS-EGRESS FINESSE

“In order to help members social distance, church leaders will need to evaluate typical traffic patterns of people in [their] lobby and make a mental note of where people tend to clump together and where the natural flow of people clogs,” Milam says.

Many church entryways and lobbies host moments of checking in and dropping off children or sharing conversations over coffee. Milam suggests that when churches eliminate clogged arteries near doorways and lobbies, leaders can then “dangle a few carrots where you actually want people to safely hang out and gather.”

When thinking about clogged arteries, doorways, and lobbies, Milam suggests that technology play a significant role in the design of these spaces.

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“Automated doors, hand sanitizing stations, toilets, sinks, and hands-free kids’ check-in will be critical in this new season,” he says.

So, what types of spaces can architects and designers start to focus on and change in a post-pandemic world? Milam suggests that there are key areas of critical importance that must change as a result of COVID-19: children’s spaces, technical production spaces, entryways and lobbies, and outdoor environments.

CHILDREN’S SPACES REENVISIONED

“One of the most seismic changes in church design will be with the kids’ play environments,” Milam states. “For years, three-story playscapes with colorful tube-slides and ball pits were the dream of every child’s pastor, but those days are over.”

Playgrounds are at the intersection of germs and too much surface area to keep clean. But how else can children be entertained when parents are looking for a 10-minute break?

Milam suggests that the word “playground” takes on a whole new vibe.

“In the future, you’ll begin to see unique and creative play environments that are easier to keep clean and sanitize,” he says.

Inside outdoors

Right in line with playgrounds are outdoor spaces in general. The quarantine has re-introduced parks and recreational spaces to the world. Public areas are filled with families, athletes, and socially distanced friends.

“Churches hoping to fuel ministry beyond the walls are beginning to leverage dormant land to create engaging outdoor community environments and parks,” Milam reports. “In fact, with just a little intentionality, the Church can easily become the best backyard on the block.”

With so many adjustments being made to encourage and produce communal spaces outside the church building, what will that mean for the day-to-day work and physical space requirements of church administrators? Milam suggests that collaboration among church staff will continue to be strong in a post-pandemic world, of course, but that it, too, will look different.

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“During the quarantine season, church employees across the country have learned how to collaborate remotely and work effectively outside of the traditional office environment,” Milam says, just as is true for secular businesses.

Milam likes to think that in the future, employees will continue to find new ways to collaborate from many different environments. Goodbye rolling office chairs!

You’ll see more collaborative office environments with church employees clocking hours from coffee shops, public parks, and home offices,” Milam says. “COVID has officially ended the era of executive office suites for every staff member.”

PRODUCTION STUDIOS: THE NEW MUST-HAVE PHYSICAL SPACES

As long as the quarantine has persisted, churches have used their usual Sunday-service auditoriums as sound stage-type studio space for filming and producing.

“Overnight, the Church expanded her digital presence and the need for ‘dedicated studio space’ was born,” Milam says. “Resolved to sustain the power of their online impact, church leaders are now scrambling to find permanent and visible dedicated studio space to house their online campuses.” And he adds, “In the post-COVID season, you’ll start to see glassed-in, online studios attached to church lobbies as a strategy to keep the church’s digital presence front and center.”

So, what’s going to be the goal for architects and designers as life starts to re-open and churches begin to welcome attendees? Easy-to-clean community spaces, de-cluttered, bright lobbies, and traffic-friendly entryways. A renewed emphasis on outdoor gathering and recreation spaces. And the need for prominent indoor spaces to serve as studio hubs for the technical production of the online worship experience.

Feeling safe, welcomed, and at peace at church is going to depend heavily on a church’s ability to use outdoor spaces and create bright and sanitized communal areas. With the end goal of ensuring that relationships can be curated organically, there’s no other option than to produce spaces that immediately put a worried mind at ease.

First published on Church.design. Used by permission.