The Power of Visual Impact - Environments

Your church spaces need to be reflective of the culture you are trying to create. Maximize the power of visual impact with these 6 tips.

“The medium is the message and your building is your medium” ~ Marshall McLuhan.

The design and architecture of your church has a much bigger influence on your visitors than it does on your regular attendees. With that being said, having a great facility does not guarantee your church will grow, but like it or not, your facilities can either enhance or undermine the worship experience of people; especially visitors. When it comes to church visitors, you don't have a second chance for a good first impression.

We have the power and responsibility to communicate our culture and who we are as a church. We do this with simple things like good signage, clean facilities, interesting and compelling displays and familiar branding.  Visually we need to communicate who we are and how our visitors, and specifically how the unchurched, fit into the big picture.

In fact, as Andy Stanley writes in his book Deep and Wide, “The sermon begins in the parking lot.” 

Unchurched people come through our doors with many different ideas about church…or what church is. They often anxiously as questions like:  "What are the expectations here?" "What should I wear?" "Will I fit in?" "Where do I go?"  "How long will this be?"  "What’s worship?" Unchurched people are cautious and uncertain about what they are about to experience. So you can't assume they will know where to go or what to do!

Yes, we need to see our facilities with fresh eyes and put ourselves in the shoes of the unchurched because “time in, erodes awareness of.”

But maintaining a fresh eye approach to our environments isn't always easy. 

We must pay attention to what’s happening outside our walls. To stay connected and always keep a growth mindset.I personally try and read a book a week and even purposely read books that are on different topics and from different perspectives than my own.I listen topodcasts that challenge my perspective.I travel and visit other ministries.Inspiration is everywhere…convention centres, hotels, even shopping malls. 

Another way is actively inviting unchurched people.They help us see our “familiar” through their eyes.They discover things about our environments that we’ve never noticed.Be intentional.

Is it easy for unchurched people to find a parking place? Do they feel welcomed by a host or greeter at the front doors?  How difficult is it to find the bathrooms and do they feel that this is a safe place for their children?We want our environments to have a welcoming visual impact. But visual impact encompasses more than just paint colors or artwork on the wall. It focuses on everything.  

So where do you start? Whether you’re a business or a church, where do you start to be sure you’re maximizing the “Power of Visual Impact” to reach your “customers”.

Everything Communicates Something

Everything communicates something.Piles of boxes in your lobby that have been there for months communicates we don’t care.The lack of directional signage shows we’re not expecting visitors.The Christianese coffee shop logo says:“Were an insider focused club and you don’t get our cheesy jokes, so essentially you're an outsider." 

We were just as guilty a few years ago.Our coffee shop was called “HeBrews”. Regular attendees got the pun, but most unchurched people don’t know there’s a book in the Bible called Hebrews.They don’t get it.When we disconnect with the unchurched; they clearly get the message:“this isn’t for me!"In contrast, today our coffee shops say “Starbucks”.Unchurched people are immediately put at ease, because they know and trust Starbucks.It tells people we are relevant and we value excellence.Bottom line - be sure the message unchurched people are receiving is“you’re welcome here, we were expecting you”.

Unify Around A Single Vision

Simon Sinek states in his book 'Leaders Eat Last' that“Without great environments, even great ideas are useless”. That’s a heavy statement.Is it possible for environments to drown out the Gospel?

Nothing can be dynamic unless it’s specific.By that I mean get specific about your spaces and your branding. Because your environment can become a distraction! Define the message you want to get across and make sure it’s cohesive.

If you were Google, you’re going to be very clean, lots of white with pops of colour and creativity. If you were Pixar your work spaces may be huts and tree forts!

Start by thinking of your building as a blank canvas. If you trying to be welcoming, be sure your signage is clear, that visitor parking spaces are clearly labelled, that your kids ministry is easy to find and easy to check in. Info tables must be approachable and not intimidating.Volunteers and staff must understand what you are trying to communicate and who you are trying to communicate to.If you want to foster community create gathering spaces throughout your building.Everything must be culturally connected.

During our regular Sunday services, our greeters go outside with signs that are brightly coloured and wave at cars coming in to our parking lot.The signs say things like: “Welcome Home” or “welcome to the party”.  Why? Because it sets the tone. We make people feel welcome and special before they ever set foot on the property. 

Do something unexpected for a church to do.We get comments all the time, like:“This is church?” “I didn’t know church could be like this”.People have preconceived ideas of what church is.It’s up to us to help them get past that stereotype.

A great example of this would be last year’s "Summer at the Movies" 

During the month of July we played off familiar movies incorporating them into our Sunday messages. But we went beyond just the message into the facility, creating an 80s sci-fi theme with a Tron bike, Ghost Busters signage and a hanging x-wing fighter from Star Wars. But we went beyond the facility into the environment by having our greeters and ushers dress up as theatre ushers with red uniforms and hand out popcorn.They became part of the environment and added value to the overall experience. We created visual impact. 

Phillip Petty states “A branded environment matters because it differentiates you from the competition”.  So how do you rebrand your church environments to compete for the unchurched audience?

Start by knowing your audience.When was the last time you hung out with someone outside the church? Or watched nonChristian programming? Some of us live in a little bubble where we distance ourselves from the very people we’re trying to reach. 

Have you ever visited a church that uses power point and feature dusty rose walls and burgundy flora curtains from 10 years ago? Our purpose is not to discredit anyone but the church can become a time capsule of what used to be current. We have to communicate the gospel to a world full of technology and information overload.The message of the gospel is always relevant but it needs to be packaged in current and relevant ways.People outside the Church world are not going to magically stumble into your building. You have to create a compelling brand that gets their attention.Create environments that culturally represent your core values. Rebrand or redecorate all you want, but if your environment and culture isn’t friendly and excellent, the unchurched won't stay.

“Branded environments combine architecture, interior design, graphic design, technology and features to create a holistic user experience”.

When all these elements are unified around a single vision and a single message the experience will be holistic.Recently we hosted a youth conference at our Lethbridge campus.We purposely crafted and created the experience we wanted our visitors to have.From our sign people waving signs in the parking lot to our registration forms and info centre, everything matched in colour and design concept. The right music enhanced the experience.TV screens, and phone charging stations conveyed vital information, while meeting an important basic need for our attendees, all in the same branding designs.All together these elements created a coherent flow throughout the building and added clarity and a sense of security for our visitors.

Eliminate Clutter

“Perfect is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” ~ Antoine De Saint Exopery, french writer & poet.

Last week we talked about cringe factors, and specifically "clutter". Whether it’s the elements of our environments or the Christianese with which we speak, verbal clutter as well as visual clutter, distracts.  How do you address “clutter” and how do you edit excess?

Remove the “good” to get to the “great”.“Good enough” is a swear word for our staff.If it isn’t adding value, it’s a distraction.Why draw a map on the wall to show people which hall way to go down to find washrooms if a simple arrow will make the point.Less is more in a lot of cases.“More” usually creates clutter and clutter - visual or verbal - is a distraction.

Create Collaborative Areas

Create intentional environments that foster connections between the unchurched and churched people. Look at your lobby. Is the area open and easy to clearly see where you need to go, where kids ministry is, where guest services are and where info centres are? Do you have an area for first time visitors? Unchurched people are usually leery of going somewhere alone to an enclosed space for information. These spaces should be as open visually and be as accessible as we can make them. 

Intentional environments should go beyond Sunday mornings or our "public" spaces. Silicon Valley is full of innovative approaches to the traditional “cubicle” and silo mentality of work places. Environments that promote mingling of workers create spaces where workers collide intentionally.  In these collisions ideas are shared and connections are nurtured.  How can you create intentional collisions and chance encounters that prompt a better exchange of information, problem solving and creativity in our office and work areas?

Look at how you can reorganize and add purposeful collaborative areas. Natural gathering points will foster community and collaboration. “Water cooler” conversations happen when you get people out of their cubicles. Our offices represent our culture. What we value should be reflective in our designs.  Develop multi-use spaces. Create meeting spaces with white board walls for creative endeavours, spaces conducive for teaching and others for having coffee. Our most innovative moments are when all the right people are in the room and one idea leads to another. Providing spaces and offices where interactions like that are natural will result in better communication, accelerate your decision making and overall, create better ideas.

See your office space as a strategic tool for growth.

Utilize Technology

With the advent of technology, most churches and businesses have been playing “catch up” and because technology changes so fast it can be hard to keep up. But there are a few simple things you can implement to update your environment and advance the connection between the churched and the unchurched worlds

Screens are a great investment because you can change the look and feel of an environment regularly. Inexpensive screens allow you to change graphics frequently to fit your series or event.Long term, you will save on printing costs and you can communicate and update information quickly and effectively.We have screens in our coffee shops, hallways and lobby areas. They reinforce our brand, communicate upcoming events, convey our culture codes or reiterate key points from our messages.  

Our biggest screen in the building is on our stage and it is simply drywall and screen paint and 2 projectors, so it doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. The wall itself only cost us $300. I think some of the best and most creative things Jen and her team have done were done when they didn’t have a big budget to work with.

Whether you’re a business or a church, start to maximize the “Power of Visual Impact” by:

  1. Looking at with things with fresh eyes.

  2. Realizing everything communicates something.

  3. Unifying around a single vision.

  4. Eliminating clutter.

  5. Creating collaborative areas.

  6. Utilizing technology.

We are in the communication business and we have the greatest message of all to communicate so we need to get serious in every aspect as to how we are communicating that message to those that need it most.

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