Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Church Design Zebras

In medical school, they call them zebras.  Most things a doctor sees are just plain old horse.  Colds, flu, plantar warts.  And so the saying "When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don't expect to see a zebra".  Yet it's well-known that new med students are prone to diagnose common symptoms as rare diseases.  Mostly because once you think about a zebra, it sticks in your mind.  

Our church has spent a year and a half in the design process.  We started with a series of meetings to discuss the history and meaning of church architecture, then moved on to simple bubble diagrams of what type of spaces we needed.  Once we had design concepts and preliminary floor plans from our architects, we had a series of all-Sunday afternoon sessions in which we laboriously listed every function of the church and how it would work in the new space.

And always, always, there has been concern about the zebras.
"What if we need to do a two-casket funeral?"  
"We simply must have a bride's room!"
"I want to be able to completely curtain the stage for a musical performance."
"What if we have 800 people for Christmas?"

Once someone fixates on a zebra, it can be hard to move them off of it.  And zebras require special care, because they are often tied to cherished events like holidays and weddings, or to a congregant's particular ministry focus like the music program or Vacation Bible School.  

It helps to gently remind people that they didn't build their own house to anticipate every possible eventuality.  And we can't build the church to, either.

They didn't build their house to hold, year-round, the 35 relatives that fill it at Christmas time, or to anticipate their daughter's wedding dreams.  Those are zebras.

The 80/20 rule works well here.  We've worked hard to ensure that the design is amazing for 80% of the church's functions.  And that it is flexible enough to *accommodate* the other 20%...some of which we can't even anticipate.

Zebras are rare.  So we've made sure that we can set up extra chairs, shift classrooms, meet outside, and hang the odd theatrical component from the ceiling for their occasional visits.  But it wouldn't be a good use of the Lord's funds to build the church for the zebras.


John said...

Wise advice. I'm a big fan BTW, and when I was researching for an essay at Bible college a couple of years ago, I quoted you at the beginning to articulate my argument.

K! said...

Thanks for the advise. I will surely share it to our church members, as we are beginning to plan our new church. God bless you!

kellysem said...

Great analogy! Being on the designing end of the process I agree that most people don't understand how much a herd of zebra's will cost. The programming stage is so important, that is when the design problem is actually defined, in terms of functional requirements as well as the intangibles.


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