Have you ever been in an environment that feels cold and sterile? The feeling of the space colors every part of your experience in it. It’s a completely different story, on the other hand, to walk into a space that feels warm, inviting, and comfortable. Because the environment helps shape the experience people have when they come to our church, we are intentional about the atmospheres we create. Our goal is to curate spaces that make people feel at home and encourage them to engage in whatever activity the space is designed for—be it singing, prayer, contemplation, or conversation.
If you’re looking to increase the functionality and appeal of your environments, here are four things to consider…
What is an environment?
Maybe as you’re reading this, you are realizing that environments aren’t something you have ever given much thought to. At VOUS, we consider an environment to be any physical space that people come into in our church. This casts a wide net for what an environment could be. Any area a guest might pass through, from the parking lot to the auditorium, is an environment waiting to be maximized. This includes VOUS Kids, Connect Corner, the courtyard, the Resource Corner, etc. We’re equally intentional when planning and creating environments for church events outside of a Sunday.
Why do environments matter?
Environments matter for a few reasons. First and foremost, at VOUS, we are all about people. One of our core values is that people are our heart. Our mission is simple—to bring people who are far from God close to Him—and the environments we create help move this mission forward. We want people to feel welcome and at home when they come into VOUS. Curating a comfortable environment helps break down barriers or preconceived ideas someone might be carrying into church. Creating a warm, inviting space encourages guests to let their guard down. We want them to feel comfortable being themselves, ultimately helping them encounter Jesus. Their experience becomes about having an authentic, organic encounter with the God who knows and loves them, which is the heart behind everything we do.
On a more practical level, environments help communicate who VOUS Church is. Part of my job is to build and protect our brand. Every design and aesthetic decision is specifically made with our identity and values in mind, considering what VOUS means and how we are perceived.
What makes an environment inviting?
What is inviting to one community might not be inviting to another. What works for us in Miami might not work where you live. You know your community best! Use that knowledge to cater your environment to the demographics of your church, business, or organization. The main framework we like to follow is a home environment. Our environments generally lean toward warmth and a lot of our office furniture is non-traditional. If you walked into our office, you would see dining tables instead of desks, couches, and a skate ramp (because hard work can also be fun!).
One thing to consider when creating an environment is the purpose of a space. The Connect Corner will feel different than the auditorium, which will feel different than VOUS Kids. Each space serves a different purpose but is equally valuable. Even the online space is an environment we create. While we can’t choose where people watch from, we can curate what they see on their screen as they participate in Church Online. We like to broadcast Culture Room before and after our online services. While a service is more programmed, Culture Room allows our online church guests to feel the more organic, conversational parts of VOUS and enables us to connect with them the same way we would if they were in our courtyard.
How do we create an inviting environment?
I like to follow a three-step creative process:
This step focuses on ideating, researching, and planning. Who is this environment for? What purpose will it serve? What elements are needed? Is it indoors or outdoors? What teams do I need to collaborate with? This is the time to think through the environment from start to finish.
Begin finding solutions to the questions you asked in step one.
This is when everything in the environment comes together into one cohesive space.
The courtyard is one of our primary environments. We believe that lasting life change happens in community, and the courtyard is one of the fundamental aspects of conversation and relationships at our church. The courtyard is where connections are made, stories are told, and people receive encouragement and prayer. We like to say the longer the linger, the stronger the member, so we aim to make the courtyard a place where people want to spend time. When creating this space, everything we decide considers how we can make conversation and celebration easy. The courtyard is curated to each location as much as possible. Our South Miami location is more family-oriented while our iTech demographic leans more toward young adults, so we consider those factors in our creative process. The courtyard at SOMI includes space for kids to play while CITY’s courtyard features a DJ and areas to lounge.
Whether you’re an environments pro or this concept is brand new, you can create an inviting environment right where you are with the resources you have. You can start small; maybe change the lighting, play some music, repurpose old materials, or rearrange the furniture. Small changes can lead to great results.