Real Estate Considerations Do Influence Attendance
By Lyle E Schaller
For the life of me, I cannot understand why you folks asked to meet with us this evening,” grumbled Harry Walker. “If you read the constitution and bylaws of our church, you can see the trustees are responsible for the property. We do not have any responsibility for program.”
Harry was upset when three members of the evangelism committee had appeared, without invitation, at the April meeting of the Board of Trustees at Calvary Church. They had come to raise one question, “What are you trustees doing to expand the evangelistic outreach of this congregation?” Harry’s response was, “That is none of our business. That’s your responsibility, not ours!”
Harry was wrong. The actions, or inactions, of the trustees can have a powerful impact on the ability of a congregation to reach and serve people beyond the membership. Likewise, in many congregations those responsible for the real estate may have a tremendous impact on how many people appear for Sunday morning worship. This point can be illustrated by eleven examples. Tied for first place as the most important are five responsibilities usually assigned to the trustees.
1. Maintain a Clean and Attractive Building
The building should be clean, neat, and attractive from both the outside and inside. An attractive building does attract people. An unattractive building repels. The responsibility for cleaning the building and keeping it clean should be clearly defined.
2. Use Lots of Signs
Both exterior and interior signs are important in helping first-time visitors find their way. The more densely populated the neighborhood and/or the larger the building and/or the more complicated the interior arrangement of the building, the more important are directional signs.
The beginning point is the signs along the roads and streets that direct motorists to your property. If off-street parking is available, “Park Here” signs can be useful as well as exterior signs that direct strangers to the proper door. One exterior sign should indicate in bold letters which parking places are reserved for visitors.
Interior signs should direct people to the office, the pastor’s study, rest rooms, the fellowship hail, and classrooms. These should be attractive and easy-to- read signs placed at strategic points in the hallways,
3. The Nursery and Rest Rooms Are Important
The quality of the nursery is of great significance for any congregation seeking to reach mothers born since 1960. The inspection committee to identify the changes needed to modernize the nursery should include (a) three mothers with first-born children not yet one year old (they need not be members), (b) a doting grandfather who loves children and has influence with the trustees, and (c) one extremely militant and loving grandmother. Do not ask five men, all born before 1925, to constitute the inspection committee for the nursery!
The women’s rest room can be a highly influential factor in (a) determining whether female first-time visitors will return, (b) influencing how long people will stay on Sunday morning, and (c) deciding whether or not to serve coffee during the fellowship period.
The inspection committee for the women’s rest room should first visit the rest rooms in that new shopping mall to determine contemporary standards of quality before inspecting the women’s rest room in your church. This committee obviously should be an all-female group if the goal is to meet contemporary expectations of modem women.
4. Offer Adequate Off-Street Parking
Once upon a time drivers were surprised and delighted to discover a vacant and convenient parking space at the end of their journey. Today many people place off-street parking in the same category of normal expectations as indoor plumbing and electric lights.
This is an especially critical issue for congregations that (a) are located west of Ohio (in the Northeast expectations in regard to off-street parking are lower than those west of Ohio), (b) expect to reach and serve people born after 1960, (c) plan to be in existence in the year 2003 (by which time most of those who now argue people will walk a quarter of a mile from where they park to get to church will be dead and forgotten), (d) expect to have mature women attending events during the week, and (e) plan to attract and keep a new generation of younger members through a full scale weekday and evening program schedule.
5. Provide Good Acoustics
As the proportion of churchgoers who have passed their sixtieth birthday continues to climb, the matter of acoustics becomes more important. By 1995 this will be a far more influential factor in determining who attends worship on Sunday morning and where they attend than it was in 1965 when many of the buildings with poor acoustics already had been constructed.
6. Provide Plenty of Space for Fellowship
As life becomes more relational, the size, shape, and quality of the place for fellowship becomes more important.
Ideally, the room where the fellowship period will be held both before and after worship will (a) be on the same floor as the room used for corporate worship, (b) be located between the main exit from the sanctuary and the main exit from the building to the parking area, (c) be able to accommodate comfortably all the people who attend worship, (d) be designed so there can be at least two places for people to be served refreshments, one for adults and children and one for teenagers, and (e) be designed with the cloakroom near the main entrance and opposite the main entrance into the sanctuary (the design should encourage people to stop and talk before picking up their coats). This room also should be furnished with several clusters of chairs for those who prefer to sit while talking. (In general, people who partake of refreshments while standing often stand in the traffic lanes so the chairs and attractive displays on the walls are necessary to offset this natural tendency.)
This room also should have space on the walls for at least four bulletin boards. One should be for news about members and their joys and concerns. A second should contain congregational program notices. The third may carry denominational and general church news while the fourth should by a “conversation starter” bulleting board where strangers can gather and comment to one another on what they see posted there. If the fellowship period is outdoors on the patio, kiosks can replace or supplement the bulletin boards in the walls. Wise use of bulletin boards can convey to the first-time visitor this congregation is still alive.
7. Air Conditioning Can Make a Difference
Sooner or later the trustees of at least three-quarters of the church buildings in the United States will face the demand for central air conditioning. The simple rule of thumb is that if more than 75 percent of the new single family homes constructed in your county are built with central air conditioning, you probably should plan on air conditioning your church building. In most counties this is an essential part of a strategy to cancel the summer slump.
A common response is to fund most or all of the cost of central air conditioning out of bequests. In a few churches, however, someone had the brilliant idea that it might be good to enable the people who will pay for it to enjoy the comfort of air conditioning before they die.
8. Can You Seat Too Many People?
Unquestionably the most difficult question facing the trustees in thousands of congregations concerns the seating arrangements in the nave. It appears that many houses of worship were constructed under one or more of the following operational assumptions:
a. Someday one of our members will be elected President of the United States, die while in office, the funeral service will be held here and so the nave must be sufficiently large to accommodate the crowd.
b. The congregation consists largely of husband-wife couples with six to twelve children so the pews must be sufficiently long enough to accommodate the entire family in one pew.
c. The members are young, find it easy to climb stairs to worship on the second floor, and will never grow old.
d. All members and visitors will be slender and agile people who will experience no difficulty in climbing past people seated at the end of the pew in order to reach the vacant sections near the center of that pew.
‘Between 1890 and 1906, 194,000 Protestant congregations in the United States added 6.3 million members for a total of 20.3 million members in 1906. They also increased the seating capacity of their sanctuaries from 41 million in 1890 to 55 million in 1906. That was a sign of a positive future orientation!
e. Sunday morning worship attendance will vary little from Sunday to Sunday or month to month, so it will not be necessary to adjust to the fact that attendance during Lent or on Christmas Eve may be double or triple the attendance in August.
f. None of our members will ever reach the age when a sloping floor makes it difficult to walk down to the chancel so the design can include a sloping floor to improve the view of the people seated in the rear pews. Or we will always serve Communion to people in the pews so the elderly will never have to walk down that sloping floor. (Also, young boys will never bring marbles to church on Sunday, and if they do, they will not drop them on that sloping floor.)
In at least a few congregations the passage of time has made one or two of these assumptions obsolete.
Three useful experiences for those responsible for remodeling the nave to accommodate contemporary reality could be to:
a. Stand outside the church on Sunday morning and count how many worshipers (1) come alone, (2) come as part of a two-person group, (3) come as part of a three-person group, and (4) come as part of a group including four or more persons.
b. Visit two recently constructed airport terminals and study the seating arrangements.
c. At one minute before the beginning of worship on a typical Sunday morning count the number of worshipers seated at the end of a pew and count the number of worshipers seated in the interior section of the pews.
These three sources of data may enable the trustees building on a desirable parcel of land of adequate size at a prize location. For them the most effective path to increasing worship attendance may be to raze that obsolete structure and replace it with a more attractive and functional meeting place. If it needs to be done, why not go ahead and do it now rather than pass the buck to another generation?
11. Is Your Location Obsolete?
At least 10 percent of all Protestant congregations are meeting at a site and/or in a building where the best long-range solution is to relocate. In a fair number of cases this was a poor location from day one—often because the land was a gift. In others the congregation has outgrown both the building and the parcel of land. (As a general rule, a congregation averaging one hundred at worship and expecting to be in existence at that location in the year 2010 should have two acres of land. For each increase of one hundred in worship attendance add one acre, thus the congregation averaging four hundred at worship needs a minimum of five acres of land. A Christian Day School will require a larger parcel of land for the same sized congregation.)
In the majority of cases both the location and the size of the parcel of land were adequate when that first building was constructed. The passage of time, however, has turned what once was a good location into an inadequate or obsolete location today.
One of the big differences between the middle and upper class Anglo congregations of today and most Jewish, Asian, Black, and working class Anglo congregations is the former often are barred by feelings of guilt from relocating the meeting place while the latter often relocate with far less guilt and more satisfaction.
This suggestion of possible relocation, of course, is irrelevant to those congregations that expect to dissolve within a decade or those that plan to change from a primary emphasis on worship, nurture, and evangelism to the role of a landlord housing a variety of community agencies and their programs.
Do your trustees see themselves as highly influential leaders in determining whether or not the worship attendance in your church will increase or decrease? If the answer is that they do not perceive themselves in that role, it may be the time has come to create ad hoc action committees, but that is another subject for the last chapter.
Excerpted from: ‘44 Ways to Increase Church Attendance’
By Lyle E. Schaller
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”