I am a product of the Baby Boomer big worship center era. For many of us old guys, the formula for building a worship center was straightforward. We would project the church’s growth many years out and build a worship center to accommodate that growth in a single service.
Those days are ending.
The more common approach today is to build a worship center that will accommodate growth with multiple services, multiple venues, and multiple campuses. As a consequence, there will be no need for a large, single-service facility.
How did this change take place? Let’s look at six key reasons.
- The pervasiveness of multiple worship services. Two decades ago, the most compelling reason for going to multiple worship services was to accommodate growth until a new and larger facility could be built. Today, the most compelling reason for multiple worship services is to meet the schedule needs and desires of the congregants and guests. Very few church leaders today consider moving from multiple services back to one with a larger facility.
- The growth of multiple venues. My specific definition of multiple venues is different worship services held on the same campus. For example, my church has the following services meeting simultaneously on Sunday morning: two English-speaking worship services, one Hispanic service, one Chinese service, and one service for the deaf. The latter three services have their own teaching pastors. The first two services include a live feed of the pastor alongside the in-person teaching of the pastor.
- The unexpected growth of multiple campuses. I use the word “unexpected” for a reason. A few years ago, I saw clearly the trend toward multiple-campus churches. The surprise was the incredible growth rate of the multi-campus church movement. Many church leaders have decided to add a campus, often a leased facility or an acquired church, rather than build a bigger worship center.
- The desire for perceived intimacy. The pendulum seems to have shifted from the desire to be an attendee in anonymity to a longing to be a part of a community of worshipers. This desire will result in the strategic building of smaller worship centers.
- A greater emphasis on building stewardship. For many churches, the unused time of a worship facility is only exceeded by college football stadiums. The “occupancy rate” of the majority of worship centers in America is less than five percent. Biblical stewardship demands we make better use of these expensive facilities.
- The Millennial generation is sensitive to the issues of stewardship and fellowship intimacy. As the largest generation in America’s history continues to assume positions of leadership and influence, these men and women will influence greatly the smaller size of worship centers.
There are at least two major implications for the trend toward smaller worship centers. First, there will be an increased demand to downsize current worship centers as well as building new but smaller facilities. Those leaders in churches and design/build firms who lead the way in this trend will be in great demand.
Second, it is critically important that church leaders find persons in design/build firms who are not only knowledgeable about designing and constructing a building, but who understand these pervasive and critical trends in congregational life.
I would love to hear your perspective on this issue. And I would love to hear also from those who have experienced or are experiencing the issues I noted here. It is indeed a fascinating development.