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10 Design Secrets to Creating a Killer Lobby

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Follow these step-by-step instructions to transform your church lobby to a beautiful, inviting space that encourages visitors to return.

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7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Architect
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7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a General Contractor
9 Signs That It Might Be Time to Hire an Interior Designer
7 Causes of Building Project Burnout (and How to Avoid Them)


You’ve only got about 10 minutes.

According to Greg Atkinson, founder of the First Impressions Conference, guests who visit your church decide if they’ll return in the first 10 minutes of their visit. Auxano’s Will Mancini agrees, but his countdown graciously ends at 11 minutes.

Even before your guest steps foot into the worship experience, the gavel will have dropped. As a result, the lobby may be the most critical environment in your building if you’re serious about reaching the lost.

With only 10 minutes on the clock, every dollar invested to enhance the usability, functionality and general aesthetic of your lobby may be some of the most effective dollars spent. Even if you feel your lobby needs an appointment with a wrecking ball, you can do some things now to leverage what God has entrusted to your care.

Your church lobby deserves ruthless evaluation through the critical eye of a newcomer. There is a lot at stake every week. So, don’t wait to make a few enhancements.

Here are 10 design secrets to help you take your church lobby to the next level.

1. Clear the Clutter

If you church is like most churches, you may have more junk in your lobby than you care to admit. You’d be shocked at how quickly you can improve a space with just a little purging. So, remove anything superfluous and eliminate everything that doesn’t reflect the heart of your mission or strategically move people toward taking the next step.

Churches across the nation are ripping out their massive welcome desks and replacing them with identifiable human beings stationed throughout the lobby with iPads. Also, anything printed on paper can quickly clutter your lobby. So, reduce as much printed collateral and migrate as much information as you can to your website. That means your 1980’s brochure rack can probably go too.

Dump any and all worn out furniture. And say goodbye to that ficus tree from 1992. As a matter of fact, if you have any silk plants, kick them to the curb immediately.

2. Right Size Your Lobby

If walking through your lobby on Sunday morning feels more like you’re navigating Walmart on Black Friday, then you may need to quickly increase the size of your community space. Sure, you can do a building campaign and add more interior space. Or you can think outside the box and invest in the front porch for some low-cost square footage. Just add outdoor furniture, some sweet market lights and a little music, and you’ve just expanded your lobby.

I’ll admit, if you live in Antarctica this may not be a practical solution, but for most cities who enjoy decent weather for at least seven months out of the year, outdoor lobbies are completely doable.

If your lobby is too big, shrink it. Take a lesson from your church planting friends and invest in a little pipe and drape to quickly shrink any oversized space. Then search for a more permanent solution when funds allow.

3. Create Community Connectors

Every lobby should have designated space for people to hang out and for relationships to organically form. So regardless of the size of your space, be intentional about creating seating areas for people to connect.

When you pick the furniture, make sure to pay a few extra bucks and grab commercial-grade goods. I know it’s tempting to make a pilgrimage to IKEA or your local furniture mecca, but unless you land the tough stuff, your new digs might not survive the next middle school lock-in.

Always purchase more chairs than sofas (and for the record, the biggest sofa you’ll ever need seats three). Aim for a simple style, and your design choices will have a little more longevity. And if you’re developing a coffee shop environment, be sure to vary the heights of the tabletops.

And when in doubt, hire a professional.

4. Remove the Clogs

Creating a great lobby experience is a little like performing heart surgery—part of the job is to find clogs in the major arteries and remove them.

Take a second to evaluate the traffic patterns of people in your lobby and make a mental note of where people tend to clump together and where the natural flow of people clogs. Significant blockages occur in major arteries anytime something causes people to stop: the coffee bar, the kids’ check-in area or wherever the pastor happens to be standing on a given Sunday. The clogs are different in every context.

Differentiate the major arteries from the places you actually want people to linger and build community. Then work to eliminate clogs from the major arteries and dangle a few carrots where you actually want people to hang out and gather.

5. Point the Way

Have you ever been on a trip with a dictator driver who refuses to stop for restroom breaks? Every time that driver stops for gas, full-bladdered passengers jump out and race into the gas station. In a panic, their eyes quickly scan the store for that sign pointing the way to restroom relief.

Thank God for that sign.

For your first-time guest, maybe it’s not the restroom they are craving. Perhaps it’s the quick and painless hand-off of four children. Or perhaps a warm cup of coffee. Your guests should be able to self-navigate your building without the help of one of your volunteer greeters. If they cannot, take a hard look at your directional signs and wayfinding.

If you have some work to do, check my article “Seven Steps to Improve Your Wayfinding.”

6. Put Coffee Everywhere

You don’t have to build a colossal coffee bar that serves custom chai lattes to warm up the lobby. There’s actually a growing trend of lobbies spreading out the goods with several stations instead of one monstrous coffee bar. Depending on where you are in the country, you might even be able to secure a keg of nitrous cold-brewed coffee.

And it’s not just that kick of caffeine that makes coffee a valuable addition to any lobby. Scientific studies have proven that when guests hold a hot drink, they are significantly more likely to see the people and environment as warm and welcoming.

7. Check the Lighting

You would be shocked with how a change in lighting impacts the space. I’m not talking about switching every tungsten bulb to LED. I’m talking about switching out that chandelier from 1975 for something a little more hip and trendy. Sometimes just updating the fixtures is enough.

8. Update Your Colors

When your local paint store offers 63 shades of the color white, it doesn’t take long to realize that picking the perfect color can be super tricky. On top of that, there are a ton of variables that impact the tone of the color, including finish, light and neighboring color choices. If your church has overdosed on beige, then the palette you choose for the lobby will immediately update the space.

I strongly recommend using a professional when choosing your colors and finishes. There will always be that wannabe designer in your church who thinks they can handle the job but shouldn’t do the job. Just outsource the design and save yourself a major headache.

9. Add Personality with Graphics

Art can cover a multitude of sins. It adds personality to a space and helps redirect your eye from the places that aren’t as flattering to your building.

But don’t just pick up a framed art piece from your local craft store. Supersize your graphics and print a giant lifestyle photo from one of your events. Or grab some sweet stock photography to spice up your hallway, no text necessary. Unless you have a designer’s eye, it might be smart to go with high contrast black-and-white images, especially if you are planning to mount several photos that may have competing color palettes.

10. Hire a Professional

I get it. It’s tricky to know when to spend a few extra bucks to hire a professional and when to recruit the self-proclaimed interior designer from your community. Believe it or not, recruiting that volunteer hobbyist to help design your lobby may cost you more money long term than doing it right the first time. Save yourself a headache and have confidence that your lobby will be done well.

There’s a lot at stake every week when guests walk in your door. You’ve only got about 10 minutes to make the right impression. So, get started now and don’t wait to make your lobby an environment that helps newcomers stick.

Also from Visioneering Studios:
7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Architect
7 Steps to Improve Your Wayfinding
7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a General Contractor
9 Signs That It Might Be Time to Hire an Interior Designer
7 Causes of Building Project Burnout (and How to Avoid Them)

Dave Milam is vice president of strategic design at Visioneering Studios.

Visioneering Studios is a nationally licensed real estate, architecture and construction company with multidisciplinary offices throughout the U.S. Visioneering has partnered with many of the fastest-growing ministries in the world. VisioneeringStudios.com.

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