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Church Real Estate and Room Size

by Nathan Artt, on July 2019

There has been so much clamor in the church world about the direction and the future of room sizes. Are we going to a microsite model? Are we going to home church? Is the right venue size 500? Is it 1,000? Not to minimize people’s passionate opinions on the subject, but thankfully, I don’t feel that this is as much a subjective conversation as it is an objective one. If you want to know the direction of church real estate, look at what is already going on in the real estate community around it. We’re usually about 10-15 years behind.

Due to technology, we’ve seen an overall “back to the future” effect,  where suburban communities have changed from being simply commuter towns for big cities to building themselves around the live, work, play environment, where each town has its own housing, retail, restaurants, and now even offices. People work more virtually. What people don’t do as much anymore: drive 30 minutes. For anything. 

What effect does that have on room size? Simple:

  • Your people may drive outside their community to go to church. Their friends and coworkers they are trying to invite will probably not. 
  • If you grow, you will serve more smaller communities than one larger community. 
  • People want to go to church where they live. 
  • People want to serve where they live (they care about the community).

Bottom line: you need more venues with smaller rooms, and therefore smaller buildings with fewer parking requirements. 

So how does this concept affect the way you expand through Intelligent Real Estate? First, you don’t have to move outside of your community to serve your community. Secondly, it means you have more real estate options, as more buildings and building types are available to fit those needs. And what happens when you have more options in the real estate market? Supply versus demand: you pay less and have more control (flexibility). Pay less and have more control? That sounds a lot like the main objectives we’re trying to accomplish here with this concept of Intelligent Real Estate. 

Two Main Factors of Room Size 

There are two main factors that drive the determination of room size:

  1. Population Density (how many people live/attend/give within a defined area)
  2. Group dynamics (how humans interact in differently sized environments)

We have been tracking these statistics for a long time due to the popularity of the conversation about room size in church world. Bottom line, there are two things we see with churches in multiple, smaller venues than in churches with larger venues:

  1. Significantly higher giving unit to attendance ratios (more people give as a percentage of overall attendance).
  2. Much, much higher volunteer participation rates.

We’ve learned something basic in this situation: there is a direct correlation between the level of significance people feel in a church to the level of their serving/giving. If you are a student of people, you probably already know or would guess that people feel more engaged and prioritized in smaller environments. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: would it feel different for you to be on a small, scrappy team trying to accomplish a big goal, or walking into a beautiful 3,000 seat venue with thousands of other people where the goal feels like it has already been accomplished? Which environment would be easier to cast vision and need in? We believe this is one of the biggest advantages of small, flexible buildings. However, what is a small room? Should we look at 500, 700, 1,000? That is typically driven by the next factor.  

Population density is one of the biggest drivers in real estate. How many people live/work/play within a community drives much of how communities decide what to build, and how much of each use (multifamily, retail, office, parks, etc.) to build. Similar considerations should be taken into place when determining room and facility size. The easiest way to figure this out is to take your existing donor or attendance reports, sort them by address, and create a heat map of where those people come from. 

If you agree to the model of hosting four services before you decide to expand, and you have 150 people within a community, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to be looking for venues where you can create a 1,000 seat environment to accommodate 2,000+ adults. It may not make any sense to do anything. However, if you have 400 families within that community, and you notice that you have also lost quite a few families from that area over the past few years, then it may make sense to start looking for a flexible venue around 400-500 seats, where you would be able to get up to 1,000 to 1,200 adults in worship. 

Finding the right room size is a critical component to your church's ability to expand over time. We hope these figures have been instructive for your season of growth. 

Topics:Financial StrategyFacility StrategyMultisiteChurch Growth

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