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Strip Mall Churches: Flexibility is Key

Market: Religious

A popular architectural element in many communities is the outdoor strip malls that were popular in the early 20th century.  But today, many of these malls line our streets with vacancy notices taped to their doors.  In response to the decline in retailers occupying strip malls, houses of worship are purchasing these large spaces and repurposing them to host Sunday services and events for the community.  This type of real estate offers a lot of potential to religious organizations as far as square footage.  However, this space also faces some challenges in how to renovate the existing space to meet the needs of the congregation and community without altering the space thru construction.

For a church in a strip mall to attract and maintain members, they need to be creative in the use and design of their space.  Let’s take a look at ways churches in “unusual” spaces can take the space that they have and make it even better.


A carefully thought out acoustic design is essential in any place of worship occupying a non-traditional space.  Typically, these facilities are constructed from mostly hard surfaces like concrete, steel, glass, and wood.  These hard services do little to absorb sound echoing throughout the structure.  In fact, they enhance sound reverberation.   Adding sound absorbing panels are a simple yet effective solution to improve acoustics in the worship space, multipurpose room, or atrium.  These fabric walls can be secured to the ceiling or walls for sound absorption and add an architectural element to the area.  Consider using foldable fabric covered chairs to add another sound absorbing item to the ample space.

Portable wall divider separates a gymnasium into two classrooms

Flexible Design

Many houses of worship serve as an additional community center in their neighborhood.  It’s where we host bridal/baby showers, play sports, take classes, host weddings, baptisms, funerals, or gather together for meals.  When your house of worship is occupying a space in a strip mall structure, you’ve got to make the most of your church design.  The key here is flexibility!  It is important to design all spaces with the capabilities to change with the needs of the church.  The best way to do this is to use furniture that is easy to move and transition the design of your facility space.  Movable church walls, chairs, and portable screens are great ways to change your space to serve the needs of your guests.  For instance, there is a church in Paducah, KY who has one large open worship space in the retail strip mall they occupy.   At first glance, you might think that’s all there is to the church.  But a second look, you see a set of Screenflex Room Dividers on each side of the ample space.  Behind one set of partitions is a myriad of children’s Sunday school classrooms.  Behind the church partitions on the other side of the room are the church offices.  However, for the mid-week community meal night, a set of room dividers are closed and stored along the wall to create a larger space for their guests.  Having the flexibility to change the design of this open space helps this house of worship better serve their community.


A collection of three images demonstrating how room dividers create separation in a church gymLighting

I am going to be honest here, I am not a huge fan of the theatrical lighting found today in many worship gatherings.  The lights can be distracting when it flashes in one’s eyes.  I would say save your money here and restrain from adding this type of lighting to your design.  Instead, improve the harsh overhead lighting often found in this mall structure.  Retail spaces are known for having very bright lighting elements in the ceiling.  However, for a house of worship, the lighting should be dimmable to provide various illumination levels appropriate for the activity taking place.  Take the time to research if white light or tinted lighting is best for your space and the feel you want to create.

Intimate Spaces

With the popularity of large shared-spaces, we lose the intimate spaces that provide privacy for small groups to meet.  Depending on the needs of your house of worship, these private spaces can build fellowship, connection, and community.  Drawing people together is vital to a person’s growth.  Movable walls along with comfortable seating create a space that leads to more fellowship and less frustration of where to meet.

Grey room divider creates privacy for a youth's small group gathering in a gym



When occupying a strip mall, it is essential to have clean signage along the road, in front of the building and throughout the structure.  The signage is reflective of activities targeting a specific audience.  By clearly identify students’ areas, check-in stations, cafes, everyone feels at home within the space.  Whether it’s bringing guests into your church building or keeping people engaged, you’ve got to have clear signage that reinforces your congregation’s identity, liturgy and conveys a clear message.

Divide Fellowship Space • Reduce Noise • Display Materials

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