Are Churches Building the Wrong Space?

Church Facilities Expansion Survey reveals disparity between what unchurched say they look for in a church and what church leaders plan to build.

CAROL STREAM, Ill., Jan. 8 /Christian Newswire/ — When church leaders envision their next building project, many are selecting interior and exterior styles that may deter the very people they’re trying to reach–the unchurched–from visiting.  According to the Church Facilities Expansion Study, a joint research project in 2009 between the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN) and Christianity Today International, church leaders consistently chose building designs that are the opposite of what the unchurched said they preferred in a prior study, Sacred Space, conducted by CKN and Lifeway Research in 2008.

In the Church Facilities Expansion Study, most churches that are planning to build within the next 18 months say they will go with a more modern look for their exterior, sanctuary, and foyer designs. However, Sacred Space respondents, all of whom are unchurched and do not currently attend a church, said they prefer churches with a much more traditional, cathedral-like design.

“The unchurched may identify, and be drawn more to, church buildings that remind them of whatever faith tradition they came from,” said Jim Couchenour, director of ministry services for Cogun, Inc, a design/build firm for churches and a co-founder of CKN.

Forty-six percent of the 1,077 survey respondents said their church had experienced growth within the last three years, primarily, they said because of the style of worship they provide (contemporary services attract more worshippers) and the influx of young families within the church’s geographic area. Forty-one percent of these churches spent on average more than $2 million to build, relocate, or renovate facilities to accommodate this growth. Another 33 percent of survey respondents’ are planning to build, relocate, or renovate during 2010. Additionally, of the more than one-third that said they were already in the process of a building project when the economy tanked, they plan to move forward regardless. Another third say the current economy is not affecting their thinking about future expansion at all.

Based on the findings from Church Facilities Expansion Survey, churches plan to continue building, in spite of a flagging economy, and they will build according to the preferences of their growing congregation, not for those they have yet to reach.

For a free downloadable executive summary of the Church Facilities Expansion Survey, look under the ‘Learn’ tab on is a website created through a collaborative partnership between Christianity Today International and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network ( The site delivers thought-leadership and practical help on all of the issues surrounding ministry space.

Christianity Today International is a not-for-profit Christian media ministry founded by Billy Graham in 1956, with nine publications and an award-winning website reaching more than 2.5-million unique visitors monthly.

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