Tag Archives: space

Avoiding Space Disasters

I tell folks the angriest and most perilous moment in my career revolved around shared space. And it had nothing to do with childcare or outside groups, it was all about the parlor.  A Sunday School class had redecorated an unused room for use as a parlor for weddings and funerals. It shared a door with the ladies room closest to the sanctuary and was nicely furnished with armchairs, couches, end tables and lamps. A very nice space.

One day, it became apparent that the oldest men’s class needed a smaller classroom on the ground floor closer to restrooms and the sanctuary. The parlor was a perfect fit. I set it all up with the teacher and class, made new signage, and updated our Sunday morning visitor’s information. Then I heard that the class who had donated the furnishings was upset that they had not been consulted. I went by to smooth things over the next Sunday, and a few members lit into me. How dare I do such a thing after they had spent time and money making that room special? Uncharacteristically, I lit back, and “explained” that once you donate something to the church you no longer have ownership, and did they really think that the oldest men of the church were going to color on the walls and put gum on the chairs? We found another solution, but despite apologies and offers of support, relationships were irreparably damaged. Not my best day.

Fast forward a few years to another church. This time we needed to move a class or two to accommodate the mobility needs of older adults and space requirements of growing younger classes.

I made a tabletop size map of our classroom building. Each room was marked with its square footage and recommended maximum occupancy. Then I made paper markers for every class imprinted with average and maximum attendance figures. I invited all our teachers to come and help plan a new use of our space. After explaining the space needs we were facing and the information that was available. I let them ‘go to it’ in developing a plan. They tried various configurations, looking at best fits and walking distances to entrances, restrooms, nursery and sanctuary. In less than an hour they had come up with a plan that everyone could endorse. Teachers agreed to go back to their classes and advocate for the plan that we would try for six weeks to see if it needed adjustment. We did make one adjustment and have continued to adjust as needed for ten years. Those that will murmur at the gates of heaven still did, but got no traction because their trusted teachers had come up with the plan. We shared ownership of the space and the solution.

You may not need to go to such lengths at your church, and after over ten years in one place, I don’t either. But collaboration built good relationships and effectively met real needs. Co-laboring is harder, but it beats tongue-lashing any day.

Community Space

I’m blessed to serve in a church where the congregation sees its facilities as an opportunity for ministry. This outlook was expressed in the summary of our first Dawnings Process in 2015:

God calls us to be the Center of our Community; relating, loving, and engaging with our neighbors as followers of Christ who makes all things new.

Our community lacks a center, both in physical terms of a space for the community to gather for enrichment, and in spiritual terms of a focal point for connecting with God and God’s people.  By being intentional in making God’s love visible to our diverse neighbors, and promoting and sharing the resources that we have been given, we make room for God to transform our congregation and community.

One of the Sunday classes is often called the “Community Room” but community use is not limited to that one space. Every building on campus has been opened at one time or another to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, veterans, cheerleaders, sports teams, school tutoring and testing, speech therapy, community meetings and fundraisers, and huge weddings for the local Ukrainian population. Those are in addition to Childcare, Afterschool, and DayStay Adult Day Care.

Have there been hiccups along the way? Sure, but we have seen them as learning experiences rather than deal breakers.

We have learned to be very specific in communicating expectations, (see my E-ncourager article of August 15) and include those in our building use request form signed by the responsible person.

We have learned to leave space on the calendar, and in the parking lot, between major events so participants and staff can have time to clean and evaluate before another group or event sets up.

We have learned that having a single person to unlock and lock up, rather than widely distributing keys, makes everyone more secure. We are moving to programmable electronic locks for all our main doors.

We have learned that someone has to clean up when the cleaning up isn’t done, and worry about new “lessons learned” later.

We have learned to look for ways to say “yes” rather than starting with “no.”

I think that last lesson is the best when thinking about how we share the space we have been given, with a community that needs to feel loved and welcomed by God’s people.

These thoughts above are from Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry for Western North Carolina. He is an associate pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders in the Western Carolinas as a coach and consultant.