Anyone? Anyone?


I’m writing an article about some of the things that churches can do to their spaces to prepare for outsiders and a new generation.

Quick! While you’re still procrastinating, before you get back to writing your sermon, preparing your prayers, or study for your class… tell me something… what do you hate seeing when you go into a church? What tells you that they’re living in the past instead of the present?

Here are a few of my least favorite things:

1. Old, faded, dusty silk flowers in the bathroom
2. An endless black-and-white photo line-up of all male pastors in the hallway (women, although they might have served the congregation, were associates, and as such, they’re not framed)
3. Unsafe toys in the nursery
4. White carpeting in the sanctuary

What would you add to the list?

20 thoughts on “Anyone? Anyone?

  1. I second the font. It has to be prominent and full of water. Stan Hall says it has to have enough water to drown a cat in it. I agree.

    It is more of a get together than a worship service, no preparation for worship visible.

    It smells stale. No one uses the space outside of that Sunday morning.

    Old golden and red pew seats with red carpet.

    You cannot see nature or at least outside via any sanctuary windows.

    The front doors are not open for all to come in.

    I hate hearing, “we are so glad you came, you must come back again next week.” Then nothing, no invite to lunch, no extend conversation of who I am and what I am seeking. I wish we could go further to reach out. It seems just shy of real hospitality.

    Is not hospitality welcoming the stranger at expense to yourself? I hunger for this more than anything.

  2. I am tired of seeing pictures of the church building…I’m already there, I know what it looks like. Show me pictures of the people and their ministry

    Bulletin boards that are 3 months out of date

  3. Wow…we don’t have any of those four things, except for maybe some unsafe toys in the nursery. But then we have a daycare so I doubt our toys are unsafe. Still its worth a check.

    White carpet? I’ve never seen white carpet in a church. We have a rather dark but very bold blue carpet, which I admit is not my favorite, but I don’t lose much sleep over it.

    I’m confused by Ryan’s comment on the windows, you do or don’t want to see outside? We have huge clear windows in the sanctuary, and I often find people staring out them. But it doesn’t bother me.

    Two things I don’t like:

    1.) Ratty old hymnals that no one wants to replace because that is what they’ve always sung from and insist they continue to sing from.

    2.) Pieces of ‘artwork’ that have no connection to today or to the real world; this includes Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, which seems to be everywhere in Iowa, but thankfully not in my church either:

  4. When the average age of the choir is 60+ I know its not a place for me.
    I echo the comments on carpet… churches NEED to replace carpet more frequently than they do, same for pew cushions, same for choir robes.
    There is nothing worse than an organ being played like a piano (actually the organ is an alien instrument to those raised outside the church).
    Maxwell House coffee still being brewed as if we were in the depression years!

  5. Along with the carpet… asbestos tiles. I know it costs money, and that flooring lasts forever, but you’ve just got to cover the stuff. I see the tile and I immediately wonder about what’s lurking around in the vents.

    Actually, this is really good feedback. I should have asked on a weekday….

  6. Locked doors, weird religious names for rooms ie Holy Hall, Heritage Hall, Greatly Sanctified Place, the Chapel–and they don’t mean the sanctuary–the Prayer Place, the Youth Shack etc. Also, no directions or maps to these places, no way to figure out where stuff is without asking someone and even then a lot of people don’t know.

    Not being allowed to take coffee into the sanctuary 😦 Having coffee available at church in the first place because its mandatory. The 15 second “greeting period” where everyone pretends to be able to both genuinely inquire and sincerely relate “joys and concerns” in the stated 15 seconds. The occasional feeling of being at a show, movie, theater, or strange concert.

  7. Jim, thanks for making me smile! There was a 7 foot version of Sallman’s Head of Christ back at my old church in the Midwest too so it’s not just Iowa! I bet I could locate it in my current church as well if I looked hard enough!

  8. dust in the corners… I don’t mind a little glitter, etc from the kids, that means it’s used. but dust in the corners and dust bunnies under the seats… people aren’t paying attention.

    also, fellowship hour where people are either talking to or doing “church business”.

    at my husband’s church, the pastors come right out and tell the people (at new members classes) that they won’t be talking to them between church services, because they will be spending their time with visitors.

    I think churches where the sanctuary is too dark gives the message that we are escaping the world, not engaging the world.

    very small narthex.
    also, only coffee for refreshments.

  9. diane, at the church I serve there was a tendency for us to schedule committee meetings right after the service and during coffee hour.

    After about a year of that I said that was enough; My primary argument being that is often the only time I get during the week to catch up with folks, but more importantly if we have visitors I really need to be visiting with them.

    I have found that most visitors don’t stay, but I often wonder if it’s because our coffee hour is in the basement; in this matter our facilities really hamper our ability to extend hospitality.

  10. Jim, at the church I worked in last summer committee meetings were before sunday school–8:00 am!–which not only was an issue for folks getting there, but since sunday school began at 9:00 the meetings always felt rushed and left little room for the Spirit.

    At my current church, there’s no real committees–Scottish Presbyterians don’t do it that way–but the board does split up into working groups during their monthly board meeting. That presents its own problems, but I like the idea of everyone meeting together first for fellowship, prayer, Bible, and then splitting up in the committee where they find their spiritual gifts.

  11. I don’t mind the parade of male pastor pictures. It makes me laugh and have a “we’ve come a long way baby” moment. though I must admit to hating pastor pictures that include the spouse. One church I supply has a parade of “staff” pictures, which include all clergy together. that was nice, too.

    Things that bug me: only coffee at coffee hour, so the non-drinker has to explain over and over and over again that they don’t do coffee. Ice water is a FINE and free substitute. It just feels more comfortable to have something in your hand.

    Lack of signage–no signs showing you where the church entrance is (if the front door is not being used), no signs showing you to coat racks or bathrooms or nursery.

    And most of all: INADEQUATE WEB SITES. I know that not everybody has a web site, but surely, every presbytery, diocese, etc. etc. can create a small page with a) time of worship (and when that’s different–i.e. summer times), b) time of sunday school, and c) directions. and d) accurate pastor’s names and emails. I spend a lot of time on church web sites for the young clergy women project, and I’d say that a good 50% of the churches have out of date websites with NO clear basic information, and it is VERY hard to find the pastor’s name and email. I’m not young young, but I’m youngish, and I would never visit a church without checking the website first.

  12. Eh, Carol, I stay away from your site for a few weeks, cause it’s christmas and everything, and you’re talking about all this interesting stuff. I gotta come back every day, obviously.

    It’s probably too late to comment here, but just in case.

    the thing I dislike seeing most in a church is an American flag – great conversation on that below. I just asked the woman who knows everything in my current church if it’d be ok to take it out, and she did it. I haven’t heard anything yet, not sure if anyone’s noticed. To me, there are lots better ways to provide pastoral care to veterans than having a flag in the sanctuary, but maybe this is a generational issue?

    I was interested how many of the comments here were around snacks, which I think is something I honestly don’t think I notice that much – I’ll check out what we’re doing better.

    A visitor recently pointed out that we have no changing table, which is something we will get fixed asap now that we realized it.

    I dont like video/power point screens in churches. We have so much screen time already (she types at 11:33 pm), it just seems like church is our one place to have a break. Personally, I cant filter out video all that well, so if there’s ascreen going, I have to work hard not to be mesmerized by it. I find it really distracts from my worship experience, since I cant spend as much time noticing the people and other symbols in the space…

    Probably there are more, but that’s enough for now. New year blessings!

  13. Juniper,

    Nope! Not too late.

    Glad there’s been no flag drama and I agree with you regarding the screen. I’m sure there are a lot of great churches with screens. I grew up in a screen church… it would just be hard for me to ever go back.

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  15. Just read this as a result of your posting it in the “best of” 1 year special commemorative post!

    Best already mentioned:
    -Ugly red carpets/kitsch/creepy picture of oddly anglo-Jesus/general datedness/overly “busy” sanctuaries.
    -Screens, powerpoint etc. They are bad enough in the classroom and boardroom, but in church?!
    -American flags, or any flags for that matter including non-national ones such as the “Christian” flag.

    Also- pastors who dont approach you during fellowship hour if you are a visitor, visitors should be the FIRST approached by pastors, not an afterthought! Cant emphasize this enough. (I know pastors arent “things” one sees, but still.)
    -i like to see bulletin boards or table displays in the entry way highlighting some of the efforts and values of the congregation: ie a fair trade stall, a display showing the “fruits” of the congregations mission efforts overseas and at home, or a board highlighting the groups a congregation affiliates with (more light, for example)

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