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Multipurpose Rooms Require Meticulous Planning for Benefit of Multiple Ministries
By: Lee Walker

When congregations come to agreement that a new church facility is in order, one of the biggest – and most important – issues to address is: What should it look like?

That question conjures images of Notre Dame, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey, to name a few. These ornate monuments to man’s creativity unfortunately taint the plans of many congregations that are focused on appearance and not necessarily functionality. But today’s successful churches place a premium on analyzing how God’s ministry can be spread through this building or renovation. And, in many cases, these steps are taken through the planning and design of multi-purpose rooms, allowing many church ministries to actually operate out of the same room.

With that in mind, church leaders should think about a room’s functionality. How can it help build ministries? What is the cost for maintaining a room/structure with many purposes?

 “Too often, architects focus too much on their own art. But, as church designers it isn’t about my art. It is a betrayal to think that my designs are about personal fulfillment,” said Don Mahoney, partner architect for Daniel Cook & Associates of Building God’s Way. “Our goal in working with churches is to distance ourselves from this secular view of architecture. That does not negate the importance of providing buildings that achieve aesthetic goals, as well. God created us with the ability to appreciate things from a visual standpoint, but He gave to us free tools such as color and proportion, scale and form that are important to consider as designs come together.”

For Mahoney, the question he poses to church leaders is simply: “What do you do here and how can we support it through architectural function and aesthetics?”

This basic first question to elders and pastors is firmly grounded in Scripture:

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” 1Corinthians 3:10

This philosophy clearly points to the planning of multi-purpose rooms. Take, for instance, the design of “gym-natoriums” or “café-toriums.” These are spaces that have multiple functions. The planning is, actually, quite involved and complex. But, when done properly, these rooms can build membership and ministries.

These types of facilities must be meticulously planned so that they can appeal to the many audiences that will be using them.

Today we’re seeing an increase in rooms that serve as a gym, worship center, and even a banquet hall. It’s likely that this type of room will also have a stage. Here are some of the factors that must be used in planning.

Traditional wood flooring can’t be used because of the high cost of maintenance and the damage that would occur because people will be wearing traditional shoes – high heels, boots, hard soles.  Likewise, carpeting (there is a carpet-like substance for gyms) can’t be used because food will stain it and there is a likelihood for tearing. It is more practical to use vinyl flooring that will serve all purposes and is easy to maintain.

Air Conditioning
In a traditional gymnasium, it is acceptable to have air conditioning systems that are somewhat loud. After all, the noise of the A/C will be drowned out by kids playing or crowds cheering. However, in a multi-purpose room, the installation of Duct Sox results in a quieter system, appropriate for facilities that accommodate speakers and concerts.

Again, lights in a gymnasium can be bright. Those lights are not appropriate for multiple uses that may require varying levels of intensity. Halogen lights are very bright and expensive to replace. Multi-Pod, Min-fluorescent, or LED lights are recommended because they can be adjusted to appropriate levels for basketball games, worship services, and dramas. Plus, they are much cheaper to maintain and operate (with multiple ballast systems, you can choose how many lights are really needed).

Most sanctuaries and meeting rooms will have ceiling tiles. But, if the room is doubling as a gym, don’t install tiles because one off-target dodge ball will break it and result in ongoing expensive replacements. Better to go with an open ceiling plan.

Again, acoustics in a gymnasium aren’t particularly important. Echoing will not damage the experience. But, if it’s being used a worship center, acoustics are of the utmost importance. Speaker systems must be installed throughout in areas that won’t subject them to damage. Acoustical panels come in numerous colors and are easy to clean and maintain.

One of the most important and overlooked design elements of a multi-purpose room is the availability and accessibility of storage rooms. It’s important for this type of room to have large storage areas around the perimeters of the space and even under the stage. Storage rooms are used to house tables and chairs, which should be placed on racks that can easily be wheeled out, set up, and then quickly dismantled.

God also has shown us that His temple must be used properly. One church in South Florida, for example, uses its worship center to host a ballet series. The church is regarded as a good neighbor and does earn money through the rental. But, in no way does this interfere with ongoing church activities and ministries. We’ve seen through Scripture that it’s important for congregations to use its many gifts and to be wise stewards. These standards are certainly applicable when planning a church.

“Each one should use what ever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

Make no mistake about the fact that God takes the construction of a church very seriously. This is a consistent theme and He is clear about the purpose, style, and function of His house. We see this early on in the Old Testament when God actually selects the location, the general contractor, and the purpose of His church.

“And the Lord said unto David, my father, Wheareas it was in thine heart to go build a house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart. Nevertheless, thou shalt not build the house; but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house unto my name. And the Lord hath performed his word that he spake, and I am risen up in the room of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built a hosue for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein (is) the covenant of the Lord, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” 1 Kings 8: 18-21.

Lee Walker is president of Walker Design & Construction, Boca Raton, FL, which has a strategic alliance with Building God’s Way, www.bgwservices.com, and has constructed dozens of churches in the past decade alone. Based in South Florida, Walker Design & Construction has been building quality, energy efficient buildings for more than 35 years, www.walkerdesignco.com.

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