Spaced Out?


Adding room for education doesn’t have to drive you crazy.

You know you’re short on space when a young couple in your church asks if they can start a new young adult Sunday school class and the first words out of your mouth are “Where would we put you?” instead of “That would be great!” You’ve already packed rooms for the three children’s classes, and your youth and adult classes meet in the kitchen, the choir loft, and the parsonage.

Is there a way to create more educational space without spending a fortune? Fortunately, most churches have more room to learn on this subject than they at first realize.

Four Nonconstruction Options

Your church has five basic options for increasing education space. From those generally least expensive to the most expensive, they are: (1) increase usefulness of present space, (2) use off-campus space, (3)
remodel, (4) rent, and (5) build. The basic strategy here is to use low-cost options first, and high-cost options only if and when they become necessary.

Increase usefulness of present space. Almost every church can use existing space more fully. Consider doing the following:

Rearranging classes-move big ones to big rooms; small ones to small rooms.

Adding storage space. Do you have a storage room that could be converted to a classroom? Build a storage shed to free up that space.

Installing movable walls. Divide large spaces with movable wall systems or soundproof folding walls. Doubling up. Go to double session Sunday school, either before and after worship, or during each
session of double worship.

Changing times. Everyone doesn’t have to meet at the same time. Some groups, given the opportunity, would choose different meeting times-Saturday morning or Monday lunch. Some churches are moving Christian education classes to weeknights. Use two nights if one isn’t enough. It might even allow classes to meet longer and can provide better learning opportunities.

Changing furniture. Get rid of bulky furniture-overstuffed chairs, full-size cribs, space-eating play equipment. Then furnish for multiple usage. For example, you might replace pews with high quality
church chairs so worship space can be converted to educational space for Sunday evening or during the week. Or use adjustable-height tables to serve both adult and children’s classes at different times. Note:
If you use one space for multiple purposes, you will need active storage-space to store equipment not currently in use, such as children’s chairs.

Meet off-campus. Consider such places as:

Homes. Adults, children, and intergenerational groups can meet in homes for Christian education, especially during the week. Homes are an excellent setting for community-building.

Restaurants. Young adults often prefer meeting in restaurants.

Apartment complexes. Consider reserving the party or meeting room in the complex.

Institutions. Banks, motels, and other institutions have community meeting rooms that can sometimes be reserved.

Remodel. Most small churches have rows of small classrooms. As the church grows, small classrooms are no longer efficient. The solution may be to knock out these walls to open up space that can be used with a large group team-teaching approach. Each teaching team will consist of one master teacher assisted by one or more worker/caregivers. A good worker-to-student ratio is I worker per year-of-student age; that is, use a 1-to-5 ratio for 5-year-olds; 1-to-10 ratio for 10-year-olds.

This has two advantages: It solves teacher-shortage problems since fewer teachers (those gifted to teach) are needed, and caregiver assistants do not teach and do not need to prepare outside of class.

Rent. Renting off-campus spaces can be more economical than building, especially if the facilities are not used every day of the week. The challenge to this approach is that churches may want to rent property adjacent to their campuses. Appropriate space may not always be available.

Build. Can you build quality educational space inexpensively? In a word, no. If you build, expect to pay $60 to $ 1 00 per square foot for a project (including fees, professional services, furniture, landscaping, etc.), depending on local labor costs. One way to reduce costs is to plan larger, open rooms. They cost less than smaller rooms. Also, rectangular buildings cost less than other shapes.

Two solutions often perceived as inexpensive are portable buildings and metal buildings.

Portable buildings. These can be installed quickly to meet a sudden overcrowding problem. They also avoid some of the building code regulations that a church would have to meet in adding to its existing
structure. In terms of cost, they are generally less expensive than permanent construction. However, if plumbing and other full-construction features are added to the price of a high-quality portable, the cost difference may be minimal.

By default, portable buildings often become permanent structures on a property, and they require people to go out into the rain and (in northern climates) snow. In some communities, zoning laws restrict or prohibit their use. Portables generally have a low resale value. This means, however, that you may be able to purchase a used portable for little cost. Public schools are a good place to check.

Metal buildings. A high-quality metal building can be an excellent facility choice. They go up quickly and can be simple to plan compared to conventional buildings (often the company will provide a designer, potentially eliminating your need for hiring an architect). Techniques developed over the last decade have improved the metal’s baked-on finishes and coatings. As a result, these metal buildings are
virtually maintenance free for many years after construction.

With metal buildings, the uplift factor is important. This has to do with the resistance of the metal construction to wind. The thickness of the metal, the way the sheets interlock, and the way the metal is
fastened determine the uplift factor. Cheap metal buildings-which use low-gauge metal and inexpensive finishes-have a poor uplift factor and can actually be punctured by heavy hail storms.

Because of their low maintenance and ease of construction, metal buildings may be less expensive than conventional-but not by much if they are of a high-quality construction and are fully furnished with
all the electrical, plumbing, insulation, and interior wall finishes, etc., of a conventional building.

The bottom line for getting more education space for less money? The more you decentralize your Christian education activities, the less pressure you will have to enlarge facilities. If you can help your
congregation to see Sunday morning as just one among many time slots for Christian education and to see your church building as just one of many Christian education meeting places, then coming up with more room to learn won’t carry a big price tag.