As we’ve looked back and shared stories from the first fifty years of The McKnight Group, one pretty clear lesson is that there will always be change. Naturally, church leaders wonder about what changes lie ahead. While the future is always uncertain, we can share the changes we are noticing now, and what they might indicate for the future. Hopefully, what we share today will help prepare you for your own future church building plans.

Current and Future Church Design Challenges

Some recent church design challenges we are seeing relate to zoning and environmental regulations. Once upon a time, a church building was seen as beneficial to a neighborhood; it brought up property values and people felt positive about having a church as a neighbor. Unfortunately, that has changed in recent years, with more cities and neighborhoods not wanting a church building nearby. This can lead to zoning hurdles.

We also see many more code and environmental regulations these days. Significantly higher requirements and red tape are causing building permits to become increasingly difficult and expensive to get. Fortunately for our clients, we handle the building permit process, so church leaders can focus on creating a church design that will work with their vision.

Overcoming Challenges by Being Good Neighbors

So, what can church leaders do to overcome these challenges? Our best advice is to build good relations with community leaders and your neighbors. For example, if the fire department cites code violations in your church building, don’t put off addressing them. In recent months, we’ve encountered two very different situations that illustrate the importance of good relations. In the first, church leaders wanted to make a change in their existing church building. They opened a dialog with the local building official, and The McKnight Group, describing what they wanted to do in that part of the facility. He was very cordial and appreciative, and forewarned them about code changes they’d have to follow. He even helped that project along, talking to other administrators about zoning. He paved the way.

In the other case, a church spent years neglecting what zoning officials and building officials were saying. Then, when their church design project came up for approval, it took quite a while to go through, in detail, everything that had to be done. It took several meetings, and several months, because the trust wasn’t there between the officials and church leaders. Because the church still has future church building projects planned, they had to invest a lot of time and energy in rebuilding that trust.

Being Flexible about Your Church Building

Another key way to prepare for the future is to design a flexible church building. In prior church design projects, we’ve built sanctuaries that can expand in the future by installing, and later removing, internal walls for classrooms or offices in the back of the sanctuary space. We’ve built multi-ministry spaces for churches that have morphed multiple times: phase-one worship center becomes a children’s ministry space, choir room becomes children’s ministry offices, youth gym later becomes the school gym. With the right church design, internal spaces can change to meet your evolving church vision for ministry.

Finally, some churches will include what we call “shelf space” in their church design. This is empty space within the church building envelope that isn’t finished—just a concrete or gravel floor, no walls or ceilings. That allows the space to be built out for future uses that can be determined later on. Of course, you don’t want to invest in a lot of space you can’t use, but sometimes a bit of shelf space will be the right option, and we are always happy to discuss each church’s individual needs in more detail.

As you can see, it’s important to keep up with all the changes happening in church design and building. This is why we host a series of free i3 webinars every year. We will unveil our 2021 lineup of webinars shortly, so stay tuned!