John Tagle Associates

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March 21, 2017 Where’s the Front Door? Posted In: Design

Revitalize - Transform pt 3

Royal Oak 1st United Methodist Church

Royal Oak First United Methodist Church

“Where’s the front door?” may sound like a rhetorical question, but it’s not when it comes to churches built in the first half of the 20th century. In this third post, I’ll discuss why the front door isn’t the front door any longer in churches from this era.

Front doors are meant to be the primary entrance that directly takes or directs you to your destination. For those of you who read the transportation “mission and model” example in my introductory post, it provides us with some background to the front door issue.

In the first half of the 1900s, cities were much more consolidated. By the 1940s and 50s, urban (suburban) sprawl was accelerating at a faster rate and to further distances from the core city. The automobile made this achievable. Cars were affordable, providing newfound independence and mobility for families.

Let’s take this back to churches and our front door issue. Churches used to be built on main streets nestled next to or within residential neighborhoods. Why? People used to walk to church from these surrounding areas. This location was convenient for attendees. It also gave the church a strong visible presence with the front door on “Main Street.”

An abundance of parking was not as necessary as it is today. Rarely do people walk or ride a bike to church, even in the churches highly populated with millennials. The automobile has changed the church model.

Now that most attendees drive to church on Sunday, where do they park? There are only so many parking spaces on Main Street. Over the years churches have been able to purchase some of the small residential lots that sit directly behind the building, next door or across the street.

Today, people have to park behind or along the sides of the church some distance from the Main Street front door. Having the “back door” as the most convenient building entrance is a common phenomenon in urban churches. It’s also less than ideal in more severe weather climates.

So how do we overcome this? In our previous post, we talked about literally breaking down barriers—the walls—to eliminate compartmentalization in the building. This solution serves a dual purpose. Removing certain walls provides the opportunity to spatially and visually connect the back and front entry points. Whether the church is entered from the back doors (parking lot) or the front doors (main street), members and visitors can walk directly without obstruction into the main lobby, which should be a large gathering space.

Royal Oak 1st United Methodist Church interiorRoyal Oak First United Methodist Church

The immediate visual connection to people and orientation to “Where do I go from here?” is easy and obvious. This is a vital missional element in extending “the invitation” that the building must make to welcome visitors and members alike.

In my next post, I’ll share how to preserve the legacy of older church buildings with modern craftsmanship.

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