I met First Baptist Church of Madison a few years ago. They hired my consulting business to assist them in looking at their building and the ministries it housed. As we listened together, the word ‘hospitality’ became our watchword. More specifically, how could the building be more hospitable to ministries and people? We focused on entrances, navigation in the building, and ‘places to be’.
People (we) prefer entrances that are easy to find, approach, and use. It helps when they are distinctive. First Baptist Church had most people entering through the door off the parking lot – the back door to the building but the main door for ministry. This entrance was uneventful and confusing. Two doors were in view – one that led to the elevator and one to the stairs. The backside of the building needed a dramatic entrance that clearly defined one door - a door to be entered for all people, for worship, general church happenings, as well as community and special interest group events using the building. Not only was the door to be distinctive in order to easily find it, but that in simply seeing it, excitement was stirred about what was beyond.
Once inside it became a narrow maze of hallways and multiple levels. This required detective-like navigational skills. The dilemma: too many people moving in too little space to too many places with no space to stop, reorient, or pause to have a conversation. The maze of intersecting hallways was producing traffic problems. This church needed a place for people ‘to flow into’ once they entered the building. They needed a space that had the qualities of a grand commons, a union, vestibule, front porch, hub, foyer, a plaza, square, mall, atrium. They needed a large gathering space that was at the crossroads of their movements – supporting their comings and goings and all the transitions in between. They needed a space that connected people - allowing them to meet, gather, and converse. They needed a place without walls and doorways - naturally inviting all to participate and use the space. They needed a space that gave a person a chance to pause, ‘a place to be’.
The design of a gathering space is very important if your watchword is ‘hospitality’. This becomes the area to ‘hang out’; an area that is neutral to all activities and ages. It is a space that can be used without complication or permission by a visitor, a child, a student in the English tutoring class, a small group, an after church gathering, a conversation between two people, a place to wait, a place to meet, a place to be. For this gathering space to be effective and well used, it needed to be at the crossroads of the movement patterns and without walls. It needed to connect the rooms of the building and their activities. It needed to welcome people. Welcoming spaces invite people to linger, sit awhile, and connect with others. Such a space helps a person feel valued and expected.
This ‘hospitality of space’ was further defined by a mix of tables and chairs, soft chairs or sofas for conversation and waiting, a chair here and there, and lots of moving space. Too many chairs and tables tend to restrict community building. New people are hesitant to approach those seated at tables and in chairs and that is why plenty of standing open space is needed. A gathering space must engage movement. In this way, everyone has a ‘place to be’.
First Baptist created the perfect gathering space for their needs as well as working with the limitations of their building. It has all the qualities mentioned above with yet another level of hospitality and intentional building use achieved. They designed nooks and crannies for people ‘to be’. They gave ‘space’ in their hallways and stairs for ministry to happen. It is the simple placement of a bench at the end of a hallway to rest, a wider place on the landing of the stairs for two people to sit by the window and chat, an enlarged space at the top of the stairs for a round table and chairs to conduct a meeting or class.
Noted church consultant, Ken Callahan, says, “People come to a church longing for, yearning for, and hoping for this sense of roots, place, belonging, sharing, and caring. People come to a church in our time with a search for community, not committee. We make the mistake of assuming that, by putting people on a committee, they will develop ownership for the objectives of the church. People are not looking for ownership of objectives or for functional, organizational, institutional goals. Their search is far more profound and desperate than that. They are looking for home, for relationships. They are looking for the profound depths of community.”
Intentionally designing spaces for ‘belonging’ is a good thing to keep in mind! It is important to think of ways church ministries and buildings practice and create ‘spaces to connect’. I commend First Baptist Church of Madison for their careful listening, intentional design, and faithful living into new spaces and possibilities!
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