April 27, 2011 by: Heimsath Architects Staff

This is the First part of a three part Article on Church Multi-User spaces.  If you are interested in downloading the entire article, please see the link at the end.

Cafetorium, Sanctatorium, Sanctunasium, Family Life Center, <Insert Donor Name Here> Hall… Multipurpose spaces of all types are very common elements in church design.  And why not? They make great first phase buildings, they allow you to fundraise from multiple sources of your ministry (and sometimes even outside your ministry), and they allow one building to satisfy many different needs of your community.  However, designing these spaces to truly be flexible takes a lot of thought both on your part and your architect’s part.  Get it right, and your building will seamlessly serve your congregation’s needs for years to come.  Get it wrong, and you and your congregation will be fighting over the space or adapting your desires to the building’s limitations for years to come.  Here are 10 points you should be sure you understand before you begin to design.

Multipurpose Hall, Emmaus Catholic Church, Lakeway, TX 

Parish Hall – Emmaus Catholic Church, Lakeway, TX. 

The thoughtful use of simple materials like a solid vinyl floor, an acoustic tile ceiling, and simple trims combine with the sparing use of special items like the pendants make this relatively inexpensive space look opulent.


1.  Understand who the users are and what they need

The first thing I ask a client when we set out to design a multi-purpose space is, “Are we building a gym that you occasionally eat or worship in, or are we building a fellowship or worship space that you occasionally play ball in?”  Of course this is a dramatic oversimplification of the issue, but it does start getting to what is the primary use of the space.  In reality, what needs to be done is to determine who are the various users of the space (worshippers, diners, mother’s-day-out kids who need a wet-weather play space, basketball leaguers, etc.) and then design the spaces around these needs.   My business partner Ben likes to refer to such spaces as multi-user spaces rather than multi-purpose spaces.  We design a space tailored to each user; they just all happen to be using the same space.  Because each group we work with has a different set of users, we get a wide variety of multipurpose spaces.  Worship one night, banquet the next, and then youth sports the following afternoon can be a reality, but only if you focus on each group’s needs to make the building work.

Multi-use Space, Foundation UMC, Temple, TX

Foundation United Methodist, Temple, TX

This multi-user space includes the main worship space (with an active audio-video component), dining (the doors to the full commercial kitchen are to the right of the stage) and basketball/volleyball.  A curtain is used to protect the stage from the ball sports.


2.  Storage –Everything with a Place and Everything in its Place

One of the critical issues in multi-user spaces is storage.  Worshiping in an echoing hall with bright HID lights and a basketball goal hanging over the platform is not conducive to good meaningful worship.  Similarly, playing a basketball game with all the chairs stacked up at one end of the room is not conducive to good play.


Especially if the space is going to need to transition quickly with volunteer help, make sure your storage is ample, close, easy, and well thought out.  There should be a room large enough to allow you to clear the chairs and tables completely from the main room (this will be a big room, so try to resist the temptation to turn it into a classroom).  Sports equipment and storage needs also need to be taken into account.  We find that retractable basketball goals in rooms that need to also look nice are a great idea—especially if they can retract so that they vanish into the ceiling.  It’s also important to take into account audio-visual needs for worship and banquets; this equipment needs to be secured from both theft and ball-strikes.

Multipurpose Hall, St. Peters Episcopal, Washington, NC

St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Washington, NC

In this Parish Hall, fellowship and worship were the primary drivers, but basketball can still be included, if you make sure you have a place to store the goals!


3.  Location, Location, Location

If you want to make your multi-user space work well and thus be used, you need to think about its location on the site and its relative location to the facilities it will need.


As to the space’s location:  It close to parking?  Is the circulation path to the space clear and easy (especially important if outside users will use the space)?  Is it convenient to the other spaces the various users will use?  Is the entry from the outside clear and apparent?  Can it be accessed independently from other parts of the campus? (This is very important if you want to have outside users.)


There are a number of critical support spaces that need to be thought out.  First, as the location of the storage needs to be easily accessible, especially think about rolling carts of tables and chairs, or large sports equipment.  Make sure the doors are sized appropriately, and, if the storage is not directly accessible from the room, make sure the corridors will allow for turning and moving.  Second, the kitchen also needs to be close if dining will be a function.  You need to think about how the patrons will be served and how the dirty stuff gets back to the kitchen.  Will you have a separate serving line in the kitchen?  Is there a serving window? Keep in mind the kitchen is noisy (and the noise usually coincides with an event in the multi-user room) and that doors and especially pass-through windows allow the noise to transfer.  Also, remember your kitchen needs access from the outside to bring things in and take things out  (don’t forget to read my previous article on church kitchens!).   Finally, restrooms need to be close by and easily found.

Multipurpose Hall, Spiritual Renewal Center, Victoria, TX

Spiritual Renewal Center, Victoria, TX

This 2 parts of the multi-user dining/retreat hall can be expanded and contracted to meet the needs of varying sized groups and varying space requirements

We have reached the end of PART 1 of 3.  Stay tuned for the next installment!  If you just can't wait, or if you would like, download a pdf of the article:

 Designing Church Multipurpose Rooms




Church Design & Construction/ Fellowship Hall