Once upon a time, the church lobby was commonly called a foyer. (Originally, it was the room where theater audiences in France went to warm up by a fireplace!) These days, we seldom hear the word foyer (although we still use it), and the role of this church building gathering space is very different. For one, church lobbies are growing—and their modern function includes a different kind of warmth.

Increasing the Ratio of Community Space

One trend we see today in church building projects is a steady increase in the size of the church lobby. In most churches built before 1970 the foyer is not much bigger than a large coat closet. In the 1980 church lobbies began to grow. The ratio for a church lobby design grew to a minimum standard of 3:1, which means the worship center was three times the size of the lobby. Over time, we’ve seen churches request lobbies closer to 2:1, and even 1:1, where the gathering space is just as big as the auditorium. This change is occurring because the church lobby now has a much bigger role to play. Once, it was simply a place to take off your coat, stomp the snow from your feet, and get a printout of the worship program.

Now, the church building lobby does much more. It is the first impression place for first time attenders. It’s a primary gathering place for attendees and guests, where people get to know each other and share stories. For people to want to hang out, the lobby must be inviting. This means plenty of comfortable seating, good natural daylight, and lots of room so people don’t feel pushed out of the space. This is why we refer to the lobby and café spaces as “intentional relationship building” spaces.

The Role of the Café

Another way many church leaders encourage community gathering is with a café. This can take different formats, from simple self-serve coffee pots on a counter to a full-service coffee bar that rivals the nationwide coffee chains.

It’s important to understand that a full-service coffee bar is a big investment on multiple levels for your church community. Coffee bars in churches can be difficult to staff, and specialized training is needed. The staffing and the equipment are additional expenses on your church budget line. It can be difficult to break even. On the positive side, however, making this investment often makes it much more appealing to stay around after worship and build community, especially to warm both heart and soul on a cold winter day!

The Disappearance of the Bookstore from the Church Building

While cafés are thriving in many church buildings, there’s another trend that’s waning. Many churches used to have bookstores in their church building complex. However, changes in the marketplace caused by digital retailers like Amazon have seen the Christian book market, along with many others moving online. Even LifeWay, America’s largest Christian retail chain, is closing all its brick-and-mortar stores and moving entirely online.

We haven’t seen a request to incorporate a bookstore in a new church design in a while. We are getting requests for smaller display areas or book nooks, but the large-scale Christian bookstore is clearly moving out of the church building and online.

As you may have noticed, church design and building trends matter. It’s helpful to know what other church leaders are doing to meet their vision for ministry. It’s one reason why we host our regular i3 webinars, which provide the latest in church building information to help you make the best decisions you can about your church design. Our webinars are always free, so sign up today!