Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Things to Do to Improve Your Old Church

At my appointment, Indian Trail UMC, we just celebrated 112 years of ministry this past week.  We are an old church, meaning years of existence.  We have old buildings.  The church buildings were built in the 1940-1950s.  There is a certain style, feeling and smell that comes with such buildings.  We hosted a Girl Scout Recruitment night last week and as parents and kids filled through I over heard one of the say, "This smells just like my grandmother's house."

There are some things we cannot change but we are attempting to do some things to revitalize our congregation.  Here are 7 things that we have done to improve our old church and make it more inviting.  They are simply and fairly cheap, but can deeply change the look and feel of an old building.  These small changes express something that a friendly congregation cannot.  They tell a visitor something beyond a warm handshake on Sunday morning.  It says, we care about our church and new life is happening here.

The other thing is to remember is that you don't want these areas to be stuck in people's head.  You want them leave feeling they connected with God and other people.  You don't want them sharing horror stories of things they saw when while they were there.  Here are 7 easy suggestions to take those eye sores away from your next church guest's experience.

1. Paint 
The walls of the church may have a layer of dust on them, but that doesn't mean with a good wash and paint job they can look fresh.  I am not talking about the sanctuary because that means Jesus would have to come back.  I am talking about hallways, Sunday School rooms, offices, entrances, and BATHROOMS!  A simple paint job can take the look of a hallway from drab to inviting. We recently painted our hallways, which were white, to a nice grey.  It gives the first thing people see coming into our offices/education building a warm and reassuring feeling.

2. Update fixtures 
The bathroom of one church I was an intern at had taps on the bathroom sink that were older than my grandmother.  They were rusted and hard to use.  Another church had door handles from the 60s that were hanging on by one thread of a screw.  You had to push it in, twist and pull back out to get it to open.  $20 can take a small item like door handles and bathroom fixtures and make them useable.  A guest may never even realize they were just put in but that is the point.  You don't want them going home complaining about not being able to get the water to work and forgetting everything else they experienced.

3. Flowers/Landscaping
Planting seasonal flowers can bring new life to the outside of a church.  Finding a green thumb in the congregation who can plant and let seasonal annuals grow makes the outside of the church look much more inviting.  Cut back shrubs or remove old ones.  I had a church who's shrubs out front had roots the size of trees.  They were original with the building.  When they were trimmed all you saw was the thick stems and it wasn't appealing.  Freshly trimmed shrubs, new flowers, bulbs coming up, and new landscaping timbers can radically change how your church looks from the street.

4. Throw it out
There are always pockets within a church that is the dumping ground for donations from the past. I recently found a 1970s carpet cleaner with a yellowing duck taped handle hiding in the walls of my church.  It looked like someone had it, wanted to get rid of it and donated it to the church (because that is place for all the junk you don't want in your house).  I was at another church that had a room for old medical equipment.  It was a good idea so that if someone was in need of crutches then the church could help out.  However it wasn't cleaned out for decades.  I am pretty sure there was a wheelchair that FDR used up there.  THORW IT OUT!  If it hasn't been used in 2 years it is no longer needed.  Yes, that lamb's costume was precious when little Johnny wore it for the Christmas pageant but he is married with two kids of his own.  Only 20% of the cotton balls stay on...THROW IT OUT!

5. Deep Clean
Once in a while, maybe every spring before Easter or every Fall, get together and clean the church top to bottom.  Or hire someone to do it.  There are cobwebs in light fixtures and corners that should be cleaned up.  Wash those light fixtures while you are at it so they look clean and I bet the light will work better too.  Also, look for dead bugs.  Vacuum window sills and behind Sunday School furniture to get those pesky and nasty things up off the floor.

6. Air Filters
Change the church's HVAC air filters as much as you do at your house.  I pulled one air filter out that looked like a cat had laid there for 14 years.  This improves the air quality and SMELL of the church.  No one likes smelling like an old musty building when they get home and changing the air filters is one easy fix to battle that stigma.

7. Take a Stranger Walkthrough 
Invite a friend who has never been to your church to come by and do a thorough walkthrough.  This stranger to your building will see things that you never see because you see them all the time.  Have them walkthrough with a camera and take a picture of everything that looks out of place, junky, spots on carpet or walls, dead bugs hiding spots or stained carpet.  Walking into familiar places blinds you to what you are actually walking into.  A stranger to that building will see things you never even noticed and give you a new perspective on what your old church looks like to those who are walking in for the first time.

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