Walk Through the Church Facility: The Worship Center

But auditoriums are for audiences observing a performance, rather than participating in worship through singing and reading of the Scriptures. The term sanctuary refers specifically to a holy place (and most specifically as the area around the altar), but has become commonly used to refer to the building set aside for worship. Some avoid this term sanctuary for the place of worship, believing God now dwells in each true believer, and the altar identification in the church is not appropriate with Christ’s finished work on Calvary as our true altar.

I am emphasizing the term of identification to underscore how the room should be designed. Audiences observe; congregations participate in audience with God. Audiences are entertained by performers; congregations are led in expressions of worship, and exhorted through preaching to live for and serve the living Christ who will rapture the Bride/Church. Audiences applaud performances; congregations express heartfelt appreciation to God through words and deeds.

Therefore, I prefer to call the place of worship the worship center, since there is no such word as “congretorium.” The worship center should be designed for congregational participation in worship as audience with God. These elements contribute to this setting of participation:

a. At least 20 footcandles of light throughout the seating area. This is the minimum light level for reading, but also the minimum level as a sign of life. Some churches have been amazed at the improved spirit in the services when the light level was made adequate.

b. A live ceiling for adequate reverberation to enhance congregational singing. Audiences have sound blasted at them; participating congregations need a live room with minimal sound reinforcement for the preacher or “special music.” The best solution is a wood deck ceiling; the worst design is a suspended ceiling with acoustical drop-in panels. The room configuration must avoid the box with sound bouncing from wall to wall. Sound from the speakers should be directed toward the congregation and oriented to seem like it is coming from the person speaking or singing.

c. Other signs of life such as comfortable fresh air, plants, color, and other decor. The room needs adequate height with a lighted ceiling to be uplifting. (Twenty percent of the light should be up light.) The higher ceiling also provides a greater volume of air for comfort, avoiding drafts from rapid changing of a small volume of air.

d. A level carpeted floor with movable upholstered seating in a radial configuration. By limiting the number of rows of seats and properly positioning the platform level, sloped floors become superfluous. Balconies and sloped floors are for audiences. Most church seating today is comfortable, upholstered, movable chairs (less costly than pews, providing some flexibility of configuration and use).

e. A large open platform. Design the platform with risers across the entire front to break up the abrupt front wall of the platform, and to provide risers for special presentations. The light level over the entire platform should be at least 35 footcandles without hot spots and dark spots. The lecturn should be small to avoid being a barrier to communication. The choir should be on movable risers and chairs so the area can be used for other presentations on a level floor.

The complications come with all the additional technology desired by many in today’s worship (or “praise and worship”) setting—drama lighting, screens, projectors, multiple microphones for praise teams, a praise band, multiple instruments, spotlights, complex sound systems with mixers, tape decks, CD players, and much more, or a living Christmas tree 40 feet high (a recent request). Keep in mind: The priority should be for a worship center to enhance congregational worship, not an auditorium for an audience. Subordinate other features to the worship priority.