10 Simple Rules for Designing a Great Worship Space

10 Simple Rules for Designing a Great Worship Space

By Stephen J. Ferrandi, Director Trinity Church Property Management 

1. Ceiling Height 
Create as high a ceiling as possible.  High ceilings help create the feeling that the space is important, which in turn helps instill reverence in the space.  High ceilings are also required to create the acoustics needed for music, praying in unison, and projection of the voice.  Music requires a high ceiling in order to sound full-bodied and powerful.

2. Symmetry 
Use proportional spacing and balance to create a Symmetrical worship environment.  The sanctuary, platform, altar area, pulpit, bimah, stage or other focal point of the worship space should be centered to allow most members of the congregation an un-obstructive view.  When placing seating, it is important to use symmetrical design.  If  pews, theater seats or movable chairs are to be installed, several issues are important to consider prior to installing the seating.  First, seating in an auditorium space is governed by federal, state and local fire and life safety codes.  Prior to purchasing seating for your space, understand the Requirements for your area.  Many states limit the length of pews or rows of theater seats in order to insure a quick exit in case of an emergency.

Additionally, the minimum width of both center and side aisles is also regulated for the same reason.  Keep in mind when planning a seating layout, that if your sanctuary space will be used for weddings or funerals, a center aisle that is five feet wide or wider will make walking down the aisle more picture perfect for the bride, and more dignified for the pall bearers with a casket.

3. Color Selection
Select colors that create interest and drama in the space.  When choosing wall colors, select a palette that is off-white, cream or a very light tint.  Walls painted dark colors, although dramatic, absorb light and cause the worship space to appear dark.   Dark spaces can prove to be a difficult environment in which to read text or music.

4. Fabrics 
Use fabrics, polished wood, lighting fixtures, artwork  and window to create drama and give the space the feeling of reverence.  The right combination of fabrics, decorative artwork and accent painting can set the mood for the worship space.  Prior to designing, visit as many churches and other worship centers as possible to see what you like. Use rich fabrics to add warmth and color to the room.   

5. Artwork 
Size artwork so it fits the space and creates impact.  Artwork may be statues, tapestries, sculptures, paintings, crosses, crucifixes,  murals, mosaics, and decorative windows. 

6. Decorative 
When selecting decorative windows, commonly referred to  as “stained glass” there are several issues to consider.  Not all stained  glass windows are the same – in fact most church windows which the average church go-er calls stained glass aren’t stained glass at all.  The term stained glass refers to a specific style of decorative glass windows  where the artist paints directly on the glass prior to firing the window in a kiln to meld the paint and glass into one creation.  Stained Glass windows are just one type of decorative church window.  The other major classifications of church windows include art glass, etched glass and faceted glass windows. 

7. Lighting Fixtures 
Selecting lighting fixtures that are both decorative and functional.  There are many lighting manufacturers who have lighting fixtures sized and designed specifically for worship spaces.  A complete listing of these firms can be found onwww.PraiseBuildings.com under the sub-category of decorative lighting. 

8. Woodwork 
Used as a decorative element to trim walls, frame artwork or ceilings, wood is an excellent, long-lasting material.  Make sure it is installed by a skilled woodworker and stained and varnished with top quality materials. 

9. Furnishings 
Just like in a home, furnishings make the room.  Select a style of furnishings that creates the style and level of comfort and formality desired for the space.   Pews come with many options, from solid wood in a variety of stained colors to white colonial style ends with carved wooden caps and fully upholstered seats and backs.  Pews can be purchased to fit the architectural style of the worship space, no matter whether the space is gothic, colonial, traditional or contemporary.  When selecting seating, whether pews, theater seats or stackable chairs, meet with several different manufacturers and compare styles, construction methods, and quality. 

·  When considering pews, and altar furnishings, keep in mind that the most visible part of the pew is the seating surface.  Whether you select an upholstered seat and back or solid wood – select a pattern or finish that will create the desired effect in your worship space.  Remember, the seating will be the single largest item in your worship space.  Your seating selection will set the tone for the entire space.  Your sales rep will prepare a diagram showing the layout of your seating with the approximate number of people each pew will seat and the total seating capacity of your space by fire code.   A complete listing of every seating company in North America can be found at www.PraiseBuildings.com .

Although the largest single furniture investment are the seating used by the congregation, the seating and altar appointments – pulpit, lecterns,  presider chairs, altar, flower stands, candle stands, tithe box represent the focal point of the furnishings.  Since these furnishings are what everyone during the church service are actually looking at, it is very important that you select both the style and quality of altar appointments to set the tone for the entire sanctuary.  If you are looking for a modern sanctuary, then you must start with modern altar appointments.  The same is true if the desired look and feel of the interior scheme is colonial, gothic, contemporary, relaxed, urban, or a host of other popular styles.  

10. Sound Systems 
Although the majority of the sound system is not seen, it is a major component to nearly every worship space.  In many more contemporary spaces, it is not uncommon for sound systems to cost tens of thousands to many millions of dollars.  When selecting a sound system, meet with a several qualified sound consultants and have them design a system specifically for your worship space.  Buying components off the shelf and putting a sound system together, it might have worked for that great stereo in college, just won’t work in a House of Worship.  Do it right the first time.  Have a sound consultant experienced in systems for churches come to your church and design the right sound system for your church.   A complete list of sound firms can be found at www.PraiseBuildings.com .