Inside look: College chapels

No longer just worship spaces, these buildings on school campuses are technology-rich, multifunctional and welcoming to all
By: | Issue: March, 2017
February 15, 2017

Trends in campus chapels mirror those of places of worship in general: New and renovated spaces are becoming more tech-enabled and multifunctional, with added emphasis on creating a gathering place for an entire community, regardless of religious denomination.

Echoing national shifts, organized religion is becoming less prominent on campus. In 2015, 29.5 percent of incoming freshmen defined themselves as agnostic (8.3 percent), atheist (5.9 percent) or “none” (15.4 percent).

Compared to 2014, this represents a 2 percent decline in the number of students identifying with a specific religion, according to “The American Freshman: National Norms, Fall 2015” report from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA.

Despite the decline, higher ed institutions continue to build and renovate spaces where students can observe their religions and seek spiritual guidance. The facilities can also host a variety of non-religious activities, such as concerts.

“What I’m seeing from churches is that they are becoming very much a community space,” says Alison Istnick, managing editor of Worship Facilities Magazine. “So while churches in the past have gone with raised flooring and permanent, theater-style seating, what we’re seeing now is floors that are flat and movable chairs.”

This flexibility provides opportunities for income as campus chapels can be rented by off-campus organizations or for weddings.

Institutions are also creating community spaces outside of the chapel itself. Foyers, sanctuaries and entrances have become common areas, with more casual furniture—much of which includes USB ports and device-charging capabilities.

By developing more social and spiritual areas rather than strictly religious ones, it encourages all students to visit.

At both public and private Christian-based institutions, where ministry is part of everyday life, chapels are seeing significant technological upgrades.

“LED lighting is a very big feature these days,” says Istnick. “Many churches are using it for house lighting now. It is fully dimmable, saves money, and can create different moods with color-changing options.”

The latest in digitally controlled A/V systems is now present in chapels. High-quality speakers and monitors, as well as Wi-Fi and digital signage, feature prominently in new and renovated facilities.