Building an Economical Yet Adequate Church

Few ministers ever build more than one or two church buildings. I have partici­pated in only two. There seems to be very little information available with reference to the type of building needed for small-to-medium Seventh-day Adventist churches with a minimum amount of funds available.

WILLIAM C. RISLEY, Pastor-Evangelist, Southeastern California Conference

Few ministers ever build more than one or two church buildings. I have partici­pated in only two. There seems to be very little information available with reference to the type of building needed for small-to-medium Seventh-day Adventist churches with a minimum amount of funds available. Thus most new churches are more or less an experiment.

In 1950 I was sent to El Cajon, California, to do evangelism, only to find no hall available and the church building too small to seat its 129 members. The church had $238 in a building fund of several years' standing, no really moneyed members, and no visible source of substantial donations. This is perhaps a typical situation. We did not have years to spend in raising the money; the growing community of 35,000 was hungering for evangelism. One thing we could do was to economize in our planning. We also chose the contractor with the lowest bid, who would use all the donated labor our members and friends could supply, both skilled and unskilled. This resulted in more than three thousand hours of donated labor by our willing hands.

In talking with other pastors who had built in recent years, I have found that nearly all felt there were weaknesses that could have been cor­rected in the plans, had they been aware of them. We therefore decided to do as much re­search as consistently possible in our planning. Our building committee chairman, John Wood­ward, and I started out to inspect church build­ings. When we found anything worthy of note, we invited our building committee to study it also. We usually asked two questions of the minister or janitor or other person who showed us through the building: (1) What do you like especially well about your building? (2) What would you do differently if you were building now? The plan proved so enlightening that by the time we had completed our building two and a half years later, we had visited more than one hundred church buildings, mostly new, of all denominations throughout southern Cali­fornia. Although the perfect building has never yet been built, we feel that our finished product is ample reward for our efforts.

As one economy measure we decided to keep hall space at a minimum. This is perhaps more feasible in California than in some other cli­mates. Our architect advised modern Spanish style as being most economical for us to build. Our covered patios or porches enabled us to build with only a few square feet of hall space. The open-beamed ceiling lends spaciousness without excessive cost. To build for a capacity less than double our membership would have been shortsighted and faithless in such territory as suburban San Diego. The increased cost per capita then demanded further economy. When it seemed our resources were exhausted and our fund-raising campaign bogged down, we passed out $500 from our building fund and our mem­bers put their "talents" to work as suggested in Christ's parable in Matthew 25. The results in renewed courage and enthusiasm were as grati­fying as the $2,500 brought in a few months later.

We finally settled on an auditorium seating three hundred, with a balcony and overflow room increasing it to 450. The auditorium and balcony have been well filled every Sabbath since the opening a year and a half ago.

Utilizing Space

In our plan we decided to eliminate all waste and "catchall" space, but to provide for every conceivable need if at all possible. Every square foot of space under our two stairways was put to use. Under the lobby stairs leading to the balcony was just the place for the missionary secretary's booth, with the space under the lower part of the stairs fitted with shelves for literature, large stacks of Ingathering papers, et cetera.

At the rear of the building, on the side of the rostrum opposite the pastor's study or minis­ters' room, we built a multipurpose room, taking our cue from the new type of multipurpose " room being built into many new public schools. This room has a door into the auditorium, one to the rostrum, one to the outside, and a stair­way to the baptistry and dressing rooms. These men's and women's dressing rooms, incidentally, double for both the choir and the baptistry, closet space being provided for both choir and baptismal robes. The multipurpose room is used by the janitor during the week, the flower com­-mittee on Sabbath morning, the Sabbath school officers' assembling before Sabbath school, the choir before the church service, and the deacons and deaconesses in preparing for the quarterly service, all without any noticeable conflict.

The space under the stairway in this room was not left in one big room for a catchall, but was partitioned off to fill some definite needs. Under the lowest part is a large compartment for flower vases and equipment. In the center, cab­inets are built for the janitor's supplies, the choir's music, the ordinance of preparation, and the communion service. Under the highest part is the janitor's closet, with a stationary tub and hot and cold running water. This is piped in next to the baptistry and serves the janitor, the flower arranger, and the deacons and dea­conesses in preparing for the quarterly service.

In a lovely new Lutheran church that we visited, the minister's wife, in answer to our second question, replied, "If we were building again, we would surely provide a place for the deaconesses to pour the wine besides on my husband's desk when he is preparing for the morning service." So we placed in the center of our communion supply cabinet a sliding table—a breadboardlike shelf—about thirty inches from the floor and measuring 30 x 45 inches, to hold the bread-and-wine service. This shelf is held in place by two heavy cleats along the sides only, so that the ladies can pull it out, pour the wine and prepare the communion service, cover it up, and then push the table back in and lock it up until time to place the bread and wine on the communion table just before the service. The linens are on shelves above, and the pails and washbasins are shelved below. These were not arranged haphazardly, but our present stacks of linens, pails, and basins were all measured and space was pro­vided for the complete service for the largest possible membership the building could ever hold.

Another small, three-by-five-foot multipurpose room was provided, at little extra cost, by wid­ening the foyer at one end. This room is used by the Sabbath school secretary, the treasurer, and the deacons. It holds a counting table and shelves for offering plates, evangelistic song­books, and such things as are supplied from the rear of the auditorium, and keeps them separate from the missionary secretary's supplies.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We had to cut our ministers' rostrum down to a mini­mum of seven feet in width because we could not buy any more land to the rear. We did not want to cut more from the seating capacity of the auditorium. There is always a great deal of space under the platform, usually of no value. So under our rostrum we placed a header and built a lower platform on rollers, which is pulled out much the same as is a drawer or a trundle bed. It is about half the height of the upper platform or rostrum, and is built into the front paneling so that it is undetectable when not in use. We use it for our thirteenth Sabbath programs, young people's meetings, weddings, et cetera. It could well be used by Sabbath school officers where there is objection to their using the rostrum. The extra cost was negligible. The center panel, five feet wide, is also removable when steps are desired for wed­dings using the upper platform or both plat­forms.

We wanted an overflow room, but for rea­sons of economy we needed to use it for our Sabbath school youth department also. We studied many kinds of folding and sliding doors and windows, but found our solution in the Bellflower church near Los Angeles. It had a large double plate glass between the auditorium and the classroom with several inches of space between the panes, but installed much the same as a department store window. A plain draw drape harmonizing with the color scheme of the room covered the window in the smaller room. The room could not be entered from the auditorium, entrance being from the hall. This we found to be nearly soundproof so that neither the piano, the organ, nor singing was disturbing from either room. We built ours to seat about seventy-five, with an outside entrance on the patio. With a loud-speaker in the small room and the drapes drawn open, this room has served ideally on several occasions an as overflow room, and the regular Sabbath use of the room is as ideal as an entirely separate room would be.

One thing that impressed us in our visits to churches was the wide variety of entrances. Sometimes we had to climb many steps to get into a church, or we had to study several in­conspicuous doorways to determine where the main entrance was. If every Seventh-day Ad­ventist church is supposed to be also an evan­gelistic auditorium, should not the very char­acter of the entrance itself say "Welcome" or "Come in"? And should not the entrance be accessible to the aged and the infirm as well as to the young and the healthy? One needs only to study theaters to see the importance of the entrance. No matter how ultramodern or how ancient, where can a theater be found whose entrance is not conspicuous, enticing, and ac­cessible? It is not always a matter of cost. Simple and inexpensive entrances can be inviting.

Providing for Worship Atmosphere

It is good to plan the inside architecture so that the interest is centered on Christ. To do this we followed the lead of some of our newer churches and elevated our baptistry, placing a beautiful art-glass picture of Christ the Good Shepherd above it. This was placed behind the choir loft. To further center the interest we saved the cost of paneling the side walls of the platform, and used the money to panel the back wall and arch above the baptistry, fram­ing the picture window. This is just a matter of taste, but shows that costs can be juggled around to accomplish a purpose while strict economy is maintained.

The modern idea of greenery and built-in planters is an asset, I believe. In several of the newer buildings we visited, we felt just a little nearer to God and nature where there were built-in planters somewhere about the rostrum, containing either real or artificial greenery. This might be even more desirable in cooler climates where flowers are not so abundant the year round as they are in California. Our plant­ers are built as flower boxes beneath the arched openings to the organ tone chamber. We keep artificial greenery in them for convenience in care. Some of these things add very little to the cost but are a great help in establishing a reverent mood in the church.

In a Dutch Reformed church in Redlands the minister told us that he placed the clock on the side wall near the front because, if a meeting ran overtime, some would always turn around to look at the clock in the back of the room, and this caused more consciousness of time in the congregation than would a quick glance to the side. He felt amply repaid in attention from his congregation. So we wired for our electric clock on one side wall near the front, and to balance it, on the opposite wall we placed a pair of door chimes for signaling the close of Sabbath school classes. Our congregation has been well pleased with both the appearance and the convenience, and the lack of clock watching is a gratifying psychological result.

One thing we found that architects do not always anticipate in a church, and even some pastors who are not evangelistic-minded do not plan for—an adequate wiring system for use with projection equipment. A signal system should be provided, as well as a conveniently located system for turning on and off the audi­torium lights, while leaving sufficient exit and emergency lights. Plug-in outlets should be placed for both small and long-range projection equipment, so that wires need not be strung along floors. We have used the General Elec­tric touchplate system of silent switches. For added convenience we have installed plug-in touchplate switches both in the balcony and at the rostrum for controlling the auditorium lights.

The public-address system should also be wired in, and should include a system whereby one class can be equipped with hearing aids during Sabbath school as well as other services. This should also be arranged so that this class recitation or study can be heard in the foyer by the receptionist during class time without covering the auditorium. Acoustics is a tricky thing and needs careful study before building. Sound-absorbing material, such as carpeting, drapes, and acoustical ceilings, seems to be the best protection against a noisy auditorium. Breaks in the walls, such as arches, balcony, et cetera, seemed to make some improvement in our auditorium as compared with some others of comparable size and construction. The saw-toothed walls of the Voice of Prophecy audi­torium in Glendale are a fine acoustical study.

The Baptistry

Baptistries, we found, were a problem in many churches. Some leaked and ruined plas­tered walls and furnishings. Some required pe­riodic repairs. Many times dressing rooms were inconveniently located or entirely lacking. After considerable investigating and even some ex­perimenting, we arrived at a new but so far foolproof and economical installation. A local company that waterproofs boat bottoms had our carpenter line it with three-ply, and then they covered it with fiberglass and a transparent chemical "glue." This, sprayed with a special variegated paint to harmonize with the sur­rounding walls, made a beautiful baptistry. We have held five or six baptismal services in it with no sign of a leak. They tell us it will never leak, but if damaged it can easily be spot-repaired at little cost. The entire cost of build­ing it was less than $300. The baptistry is filled with cold water on Friday and the thermostat is turned on three hours before the baptismal service, to heat the water to the desired tem­perature by means of a copper coil along one side of the tank circulating warm water from the central heating plant.

After studying heating and ventilating sys­tems carefully, we decided on radiant heating in our concrete floor, although the initial cost was a little high. In the year and a half since occupancy, we have been well pleased. In colder climates I believe the results would be even more gratifying. Our elderly people are espe­cially happy with it—when their feet are warm they are warm all over. There is no feeling of draftiness or heat waves, and the head is cooler than the feet. One is unaware of the temperature—it is like a "nice" day inside. The babies in the mothers' room play on a warm floor. There are no fumes, no smell of heat, and no smoked-up walls. The water that cir­culates slowly over and over through the pipes is heated, in our case, with natural gas, and this is as economical as any other type of heat­ing system. There is a separate thermostat for each room and one for the baptistry, so that the entire plant need not be heated. Some have questioned the flexibility of regulating this system, especially in our warm climate. How­ever, after two or three weeks of experiment­ing, our deacons learned just how to set the thermostats so as to maintain a pleasant and not too warm temperature throughout the day. Our Chula Vista church has had this type of heating system for four or five years, with the same satisfaction.

We hope someday to have an organ, so we followed the specifications that the Hammond Organ Company furnishes free upon request for the tone chamber, which we built just above the pastor's study to the right of the platform. This will give us the best quality of speaker tone for any make of electric or electronic organ.

The ten-inch slope in our auditorium floor is scarcely noticeable, but is worth the effort in holding attention. Too often church builders sit on the platform end of the sermon and have long forgotten how hard it was to "sit still and pay attention" when they were too small to see the preacher over the heads of their seniors. We also visited several churches whose balcony slope was too gradual to give clear vision of the speaker on the rostrum. We checked ours before it was finished and had it raised so that not only the rostrum but the lower platform was in clear view of those who sit in the bal­cony. [Those in the balcony should also be able to see some of the front rows of the main con­gregation, so as to have a feeling of unity—being a part of the entire congregation.— E DITORS.]

We covered our concrete floors with asphalt tile, laid by our own members, with the future hope of carpeting at least the aisles. Where the runners are to be we laid tile runners of the approximate color anticipated in the carpeting. We discovered from studying department stores and public buildings that a medium shade of tile shows less dirt and wear than either a very dark or a very light color.

We could not afford a cooling system at the present, but we built the chamber and open­ings for two large evaporation cooling units above the baptistry arch. We could not afford Sabbath school classrooms for all divisions, but we made the plans for them and are using the church school rooms as such until we can build them. One mistake we found in some of the newest buildings was the building of children's department rooms proportionate to less than half the required size for the membership the auditorium will accommodate. One of our most fertile fields for evangelism is being tragically retarded for lack of study, research, and vision.

We wanted a tower, but could not afford to waste the space in it. Our lower tower room serves as a mothers' room off the front foyer, and the upper tower room off the balcony serves as a quiet place for prayer bands, which we hold each evening before our evangelistic services, and for teachers' meetings, committees, et cetera.

As a permanent economy measure we in­stalled in the rest-rooms delayed-action paper. toweldispensers furnished without cost by the paper company, and toilet-paper rollers that dispense two sheets at a time. We never find paper strewn about the rest-rooms. These may be simple items of economy, but the sum total is a more efficient and economical church plant.

We have been asked how we went about choosing committees and getting the building program started. First we called the church to­gether in business session and got their vote to build. Then we elected a building and a finance committee, limiting them to five mem­bers each for speedier action. If I had to have a large committee I believe I would elect only one committee of not more than eleven mem­bers and then let them choose from among themselves two smaller committees, one for plans and the other for finance promotion, the large committee making the major decisions. I believe a finance committee will have greater interest in raising the money if they have a voice in the plans. The large committee should also elect from among themselves a three-man committee, including the pastor, to check and O.K. the payment of all bills.Ability to work with others and accept a ma­jority vote is a far greater asset on a committee than specialized skills. It is helpful to have at least one woman on a building committee. We did not have any on ours, but we found that our resourcefulness increased considerably when we took our wives with us on our inspection tours. Their judgment showed experience in arranging supply cabinets, rest-rooms, and vari­ous fixtures.We have not mentioned Dorcas rooms, since we already had a well-equipped Dorcas and Welfare building on our property.The result of our careful investigation and preparation is an economical yet pleasing and worshipful church edifice to which we are proud to welcome visitors.

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WILLIAM C. RISLEY, Pastor-Evangelist, Southeastern California Conference

January 1955

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