This information is based on requirements and recommendations for Southern Baptist Churches in America in general and may or may not apply in any given situation. To discuss your particular needs, contact Visioneering Studios @ Lifeway.
Rules of Thumb is intended to provide general guidelines for estimations of property, building space, and other needs prerequisite to actual planning. It is not a substitute for actual planning and design.
A rule of thumb is useful only in making approximations and should not be used dogmatically. Understanding the variables affecting the values is essential in the application to specific situations.
Facilities for worship, education, fellowship, administration, parking:
1 acre per 100-125 in attendance on site at one time
Outdoor recreation: 2 to 4 additional acres
Note: These requirements are based on usable acres. Zoning regulations, storm water retention requirements, utility easements, irregular property shape, steep slopes, and low-lying areas may reduce usable acreage.
One space for every 2.0 to 2.5 people in attendance on site at one time
Parking Ground Coverage: 100-110 spaces per acre used for parking only (Assumes efficient layout with parking on both sides of driving lanes and allowing for some landscaping and general access.)
Note: 90° parking on both sides of two-way driving lanes is generally the most efficient layout for parking.
Parking space dimensions
Standard: 9 feet by 18 feet
Handicapped: 8 feet by 18 feet, with 5-foot access aisle
Van accessible: 8 feet by 18 feet, with 8-foot access aisle (Access aisle can be shared by two parking spaces.)
Handicapped parking requirements vary. Check local requirements. The following requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be used as guidelines.
1 to 25 = 1 required minimum accessible spaces
26 to 50 = 2 required minimum accessible spaces
51 to 75 = 3 required minimum accessible spaces
76 to 100 = 4 required minimum accessible spaces
101 to 150 = 5 required minimum accessible spaces
151 to 200 = 6 required minimum accessible spaces
201 to 300 = 7 required minimum accessible spaces
301 to 400 = 8 required minimum accessible spaces
401 to 500 = 9 required minimum accessible spaces
501 to 1,000 = 2 percent of total
Over 1,000 = 20, plus 1 for each 100 spaces over 1,000 total
Note: One in every eight accessible spaces, but not fewer than one, must be van-accessible.
General building size
Up to 300 capacity: 15–17 sq ft per person
Above 300 capacity: 12 – 24 sq ft per person
Note: Rectangular buildings with straight row seating require less space per person than buildings with radial seating. In some instances, ten square feet per person is adequate in straight-row seating for buildings with capacity over 500.
Front to back depth: 7 feet minimum; larger buildings require 10 feet or more
Height (based on flat floor in seating area): fewer than eleven rows of congregational seating, 2 feet maximum; up to eighteen rows of congregational seating, 3 feet maximum
Distance from platform to front pew: 7 feet minimum; larger buildings require 8 feet or more
Note: With a Lord's Supper table platform of 4 feet, 10 to 12 feet will be required.
Choir capacity: 10 – 12 percent of congregational capacity
Choir rows: 3 feet minimum depth
Back and front rows: 3 feet, 2 inches minimum depth
Riser height: 6" minimum, 12" recommended
Seating: Movable chairs at 24 inches width per person
Surfaces: Acoustically reflective floor, walls, and ceiling surfaces recommended
Floor covering: Hardwood, stone or vinyl; Carpet not recommended under piano or in choir area
Preferred location in front of choir and at center rear of the platform
Allow 20-25 square feet per instrument
Video projection screen(s)
Height equal to about .12 times the distance to the farthest seat in the congregation
Local building codes and the National Life Safety Code adopted by the locality should be consulted for minimum requirements.
Row spacing: 34 inches minimum, 36 inches or more recommended back-to-back
Row lengths and seating: Average minimum space per person, 20 inches width; more realistic, 24 inches; 13 or 14 persons maximum on each row
Note: Most building codes are based on 18 inches per person.
Aisle widths (check local codes): Center or main aisle, 4 feet minimum; 5 feet or more recommended
Side aisles, 2 feet, 6 inches minimum; Some codes require 3 feet, 8 inches
Note: A center aisle less than 6 feet wide is tight for weddings and funerals.
Requirements vary by locality. The following requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be used as guidelines for worship centers with fixed seating.
Capacity of seating in assembly area:
4 to 25 =1 required wheelchair location
26 to 50 = 2 required wheelchair locations
51 to 300 = 4 required wheelchair locations
301 to 500 = 6 required wheelchair locations
Over 500 = 6, plus 1 additional space for each total seating capacity increase of 100
Serving worship center only: 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 square feet per seat in worship center
Fellowship lobby serving worship center and education space: 15 to 25 percent of the worship center area
Capacity: Less than 50 percent of main floor seating
Riser depth: 3 feet 6 inches for first row, 3 feet 4 inches for the back row, 3 feet 2 inches for other rows
Cross aisles: 4 feet minimum
Other aisles: Same as aisle width on main floor
Stairwells: Two minimum, exit to outside (One may be sufficient for less than 50-seat capacity). Additional stairs may be desired based on design.
Balcony locations: 45 feet minimum, platform to balcony; 35 feet minimum, between side balconies
Note: Provide clear sight line from rear balcony rows to main floor Lord's Supper table and decision areas.
Water depth: Between 3 feet 3 inches and 3 feet 6 inches
Inside pool dimensions: 3 feet by 6 feet minimum, plus internal steps; larger sizes are recommended
Baptistry floor (above last choir row): 6 inches minimum, 18 inches to 36 inches is desirable
Equal to distance between roof ridge and ground level
General building size
(Education, fellowship, administration, music, and media library, with some multi-purpose space)
First unit building: 30 to 40 square feet per person
Small churches: 40 to 45 square feet per person
Large churches with extensive programs: 45 to 55 square feet per person
Churches with school programs will have additional needs.
Location: ground level
Space per child: 35 square feet recommended
Room size: 320 square feet recommended minimum; no walls less than 16 feet long
Windowsills: 18 to 24 inches from floor
Storage in rooms
Sink at adult height in each room.
Restroom with child size fixtures between each pair of preschool rooms: toilet 10" high, lavatory 24" high
Preschool room capacities
Babies to 1 year old = 7 to 9 capacities
2 years old = 9-12 capacities
3-4 years old = 12-16 capacities
5 years old = 16-20 capacities
Weekday child care
Space per child: 35 square feet or as required by codes
Play yard: 75 square feet per child minimum, or as required by codes.
Rooms usually require ground level location, often with direct access to exits. Check codes
Office, resource room, sick room, etc. as needed
See preschool listing for additional requirements
(Check state and local codes for detailed requirements.)
Space per child: 25 square feet recommended
Room proportions: approximately 1 1/2 times as long as it is wide
Windowsills: 18 to 30 inches from floor
Room capacity: 24 maximum
Sink at adult height in each room
Space per person:
Classrooms: 12-15 square feet recommended
Department rooms: 10-12 square feet recommended
Multi-use classrooms/department rooms: 18 to 22 square feet recommended
Location: ground level for senior adults
Secondary corridors: minimum width, 6 feet 4 inches; recommended width, 8 feet
Primary corridors: minimum width, 8 feet; recommended, 10 feet to 20 feet
Space per person:
Classrooms: 12-15 square feet recommended
Department rooms: 10-12 square feet recommended
Open room department: 18 to 22 square feet recommended
Church recreation building
Overall building size
Junior high gymnasium
(For most churches, a junior high court is not recommended, since it will not accommodate league play or cross-court play.)
Court size: 42 feet by 74 feet
Room size: 48 feet by 80 feet minimum , 62 feet by 94 feet preferred. Plus 3 feet for each row of spectator seating
Building size (with rest rooms, central desk and storage only): 50 feet by 96 feet minimum, 64 feet by 110 feet preferred
High school gymnasium
Court size: 50 feet by 84 feet
Room size: 56 feet by 90 feet minimum, 70 feet by 104 feet preferred. Plus 3 feet for each row of spectator seating
Building size (with rest rooms, central desk and storage only): 58 feet by 106 feet minimum, 72 feet by 120 feet preferred
With activities rooms, lounges, snack area, multi-purpose rooms, crafts rooms, locker rooms, central desk, exercise room, storage, etc.: 10,000 to 20,000 square feet.
Junior high, 42 feet by 74 feet
High school, 50 feet by 84 feet
Clear ceiling height, 20 feet minimum, 25 feet preferred
Side and end lanes, 3 feet minimum, 10 feet preferred
20 feet by 40 feet, 20 feet ceiling height
24 feet by 30 feet to 40 feet by 60 feet, or more
Group meeting rooms
15 square feet per person
Direct access from the gymnasium, with double-wide doors for roll-in table/chair carts.
Separate storage spaces for recreational equipment, crafts supplies, kitchen pantry, and janitorial supplies and equipment.
Restrooms for gymnasium area are in addition to minimum number in preceding chart
Note: The recreation building can be reduced in square footage and in height and still accommodate a broad recreational program for all age groups if space is not provided for basketball and volleyball.
Softball: Requires approximately 1 acre Diamond, 60 feet by 60 feet. Home plate to fence, 200 feet
Football: Requires approximately 1.5 acres Field size, 160 feet by 360 feet
Soccer: Requires approximately 1.5 to 2.0 acres. Field size, 195 feet by 330 feet minimum; 225 feet by 360 feet recommended
Volleyball: Requires approximately 0.7 acre — Court, 30 feet by 60 feet, plus 6 feet at sides and ends
Playgrounds: 75 square feet per child — Separate playgrounds for younger and older children
Pastor's Study: 250 to 325 square feet recommended; 140 square feet minimum
Staff Offices: 150 to 200 square feet recommended; 120 square feet minimum
Other office space, based on church needs: Offices for support staff, workroom(s), reception area, storage, restrooms, lounge, kitchenette
Rehearsal Room: 15 to 20 square feet per person. Capacity at least 10 percent more than worship center choir area.
Robing Rooms: 4 to 6 square feet per person
Music Library: 1 to 2 square feet per choir member
Orchestral Rehearsal Room: 25 square feet per person
Handbell Rehearsal Room: 20 feet by 30 feet desirable (allows for a five-octave set of handbells with twelve ringers, 32 feet of tables).
Individual Practice Rooms: 10 to 15 persons at 10 square feet per person
Voice and Piano Practice Rooms: 8 feet by 10 feet minimum
Size: 2 square feet per person based on capacity of educational building is recommended; minimum of 1 square foot per person
Dining capacity: 1/3 to 1/2 educational building capacity recommended. Some rural and newer churches may require greater capacity.
Space required for table seating: 12 square feet per person recommended, 10 square feet per person minimum, 15 square feet per person for round tables
Stage requires additional space
Institutional Kitchen: 1/4 to 1/3 size of dining area
Storage for tables and chairs
Preschool rooms should have direct access to a rest room (which can be shared by two preschool rooms).
Where space permits, for the convenience of parents, churches are encouraged to provide a diaper changing table in at least one rest room for each sex.
Handicapped access must comply with codes, usually requiring at least one fixture of each type to be accessible to wheelchairs in each public rest room.
Other building issues
Mechanical equipment rooms
Space requirements vary with region and equipment type
Consider equipment and air flow noise in the worship center
Zone equipment so various program areas can be heated and cooled independently
Provide one closet for each approximate 15,000 square feet of building
No building area should be farther than 200 feet from a closet with a sink
Provide a minimum of one closet for each major building area and each building level
Preferred locations: between rest rooms, near heavy traffic areas, near elevators
Do not combine custodial closets with utility rooms housing telephone switch gear, elevator equipment, electric panels, HVAC equipment, etc.
Provisions for disabled persons
Requirements vary by state and locale. Many codes are based on standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the North Carolina Building Code, or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Extra-wide parking spaces (see Parking)
Building entry: No steps (Provide ramp if steps are needed)
36 inches minimum door width
5 feet minimum hallway width for two wheelchairs to pass
5 feet, 6 inches minimum hallway width to allow for two persons on crutches
Restroom dimensions to allow minimum 5-foot turning radius for wheelchair
Slope of walks: Not more than 1 inch vertical in 20 inches horizontal
Slope of ramps: Not more than 1 inch in 12 inches
Handrails at ramps; grab bars in toilet stalls
Wheelchair spaces distributed throughout the worship center
Elevators may be required
Post accessible route maps at handicap parking areas and building entrances
Hearing assistance in worship center
(Total building debt excluding parsonage)
Recommend no more than 25 to 30 percent of annual income go to debt retirement (fast growing churches may go as high as 35 percent)
2 to 3 times annual income of previous year
Building project budget
(Percent of construction cost)
Architect and other fees: 6 to 12 percent
Furnishings: 5 to 15 percent
Landscaping: 5 to 7 percent
Contingency: 5 to 10 percent
Construction loan financing: varies
Financing closing costs: varies
Note: Construction costs will usually be only 70 to 80 percent of total building project budget.
Capital fund raising
(Results depend on commitment to project, the quality of the church's fellowship, the church's giving potential, and the need for the project.)
Typical fund raising results for building program and/or debt retirement:
Pledged: One to three times (on occasions more) previous year's budget income, paid over a three-year period.
Receipts: 90 to 110 percent of amount pledged.
Permission to photocopy this article in its entirety for individual church use is granted.
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