Designing Church Interiors That Encourage Connection — Jillian Design Co (2024)


Written By Cassie Morain

I don’t have to tell you how the pandemic affected the church. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a church employee or highly involved volunteer seeking to help improve your church’s interiors. Taking you back to March 2020 could be a bit triggering, based on how I know the pandemic affected many of my ministry friends. You led your churches through one of the most trying times in recent history. It was tough. You’ve been through it, friends. (Also - can I just take a second to applaud you? You led us through that, to the other side. Thank you.)

Here we are now, a few years later, gaining a sort of normality and learning what this new life is like. We learned a lot about ourselves. One thing we learned was the importance of face-to-face interaction in church. Before 2020, we may have embraced the idea that a church experience can be the same through a screen as it can be in-person, but weeks of forced screen-church proved to many that it’s just not the same. There’s something significant to being in the building, physically present, and around each other. This may not be a universal truth, but I know many of us feel this in our bones: Church-at-home is not the same as church-in-the-building.

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We use the word connect so flippantly in church, but the pandemic fueled a desire to be connected and part of a community. Instead of filing in during the first song and slipping out quickly after the last “amen,” people seem more open to lingering at church. So how do we support this with our church interior design? How do we create spaces that encourage connection and relationship? This is an important factor in post-pandemic interior design, which every church should seriously consider when designing their church lobby (or any common area). There are three things I think churches should keep in mind as they create these spaces:

1. Make people the focus, not screens.

If we want people to connect, we want their eyes to focus on others, not technology. By conservative estimates, Americans spend over 7 hours daily staring at screens. Screens are a huge part of our lives, to say the least. Humans are wired for eye contact. Screens divert eye contact, which disrupts connection. Therefore, I suggest not making screens the primary focus of your design elements or your information sharing.

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There's nothing wrong with having a TV streaming the service in your church lobby, or even a screen with revolving slides of upcoming events. Both can be really helpful and informative. But instead of letting those stand alone and take the place of people, I suggest mounting them at eye-level and stationing volunteers nearby to encourage conversation. This takes the focus away from the screen and instead emphasizes relationship.

2. Create gathering spaces.

Create spaces for people to gather. Intentionally make spots where people can sit and chat. You can spend a lot of money renovating your church lobby. Still, unless you give them a reason to stick around, people won’t stay to enjoy the environment you’ve created.

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People naturally stand in groups or circles, but seating areas serve as an invitation to sit and stay awhile. This can look a variety of ways. Soft seating is inviting, but high-top tables with bar stools are my go-to. This seating style doesn’t feel as permanent as a full sit-down arrangement. A high-top stool feels less threatening for those personalities where connection isn't easy.

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I always like to have various seating styles in my design plans to accommodate different personalities. I also like to have movable chairs so that the seating can expand to accommodate everyone in the group. If people are comfortable, they will stick around. And that is the goal!

3. Serve snacks and drinks.

The best way to get people to hang around will always be to serve snacks and drinks. Think about the last party you attended. Now imagine it without food or drink. Yikes! How long would you stay? We structure almost all of our celebrations around food, don’t we? Appetizers, then the meal, then dessert or cake. Without food, what is there to do?

Hospitality is biblical, and feeding people is a huge part of that, but I don’t think you’ll find a scripture that mandates a coffee bar or donuts on Sunday mornings. I think instead, you have to think about what kind of spirit you want to create in your common areas on Sunday mornings. Then, work backward from that. If you want the environment to feel warm and welcoming, offering coffee goes a long way to creating that feeling! Same with water bottles. Have your volunteers pass out a small snack if you want people to feel served and thought of.

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It doesn’t have to be a costly effort. Not every church can have a Starbucks-level coffee bar, but every church can be inviting and extend biblical hospitality that says, “You're welcome here, and we love you.” It can be simple as a coffee station or snack table. The people who serve and welcome them are important, not the menu or structure. The beautifully designed coffee bar or connection center is a bonus.

Designing effective church common spaces is all about strategizing how to bring people face to face and eliminate barriers. If you can make people the focus, not screens, create intentional gathering spaces where they will linger and talk, and serve snacks and drinks that give them a reason to stick around, you’ll soon find your common areas and church lobby to be a place where people make meaningful connections.

coffee barlobby spacecommon spaceseating areas

Cassie Morain

Designing Church Interiors That Encourage Connection — Jillian Design Co (2024)
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