FACILITIES & The Usefulness/Uselessness of Gymnasiums

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 4/26/16.

Oftentimes my students bring up the usefulness and missional intent of gymnasiums.

Here is how one student put it: “The gym is never used as a gym…. To many people, it is a nice addition to our church building, but not worth the $2 million dollar price tag…. $2 million dollars is a LOT of money for a small town.  Because we did not see an increase in attendance, this put a lot of strain on the current membership of the church. This has tied up finances, which has influenced church ministry.  Although we have not used the gym as a gym, the church bought room dividers and have been able to use the room in a multitude of ways. It is a sanctuary, fellowship hall, gym, youth group room, and classroom as needed. It is the most flexible and (because it’s large and flexible) most widely used room in the church.”

I answered her this way, posing a question I would like to pose to you.

I stated, “Thanks for sharing how your church made a common misstep, when you noted, ‘The gym is never used as a gym, and the office area is nice, but not necessary. To many people, it is a nice addition to our church building, but not worth the $2 million dollar price tag’.”

My experience has been that gyms are typically underutilized.  And, though as you pointed out they can be used for other things (dividers can make them Sunday School rooms, or they can be an alternative sanctuary) a gym works best as: a gym.

One church I attended built what the pastor called a “sanctinasium,” combining the words sanctuary and gymnasiums.  He hired a popular college basketball player to be youth pastor.  And, he was a very adept youth leader.  In fact, he recruited local students to play basketball in the gym several nights a week.  But in a few years he was disappointed.  He told me that he only reached about 20-30 youth a night and it left out the non-athletes.  In hindsight, he wished the church had built a more multipurpose venue.

Thus my experience has been that if you are planning to build a gymnasium, look very carefully at other options or ways to build more flexibility into the typical gymnasium design.