Studies have indicated that faith affects our physical well-being. So as healthcare designers, how do we create worship spaces that are spiritually inspiring and have meaning to different cultural traditions found in hospitals today? We know that community needs and faith-based traditions often set the framework for a hospital’s worship space. Yet as communities become increasingly diverse—from smaller towns to larger cities—one size does not fit all.

Today’s designers seek solutions that are spiritually generous enough to encompass all faiths and are able to incorporate universally common elements.

I recently talked with HGA colleague Thomas Johnson, who has specialized in liturgical design and healthcare worship spaces for more than 20 years.

He noted that the concepts of worship spaces have changed with hospitals’ evolving missions. Many hospitals were originally faith-based institutions established to serve communities with common cultural and religious traditions. Their chapels served as mini-churches, in which patients, visitors and staff assembled for a structured service. Yet as hospitals moved away from denominational affiliations, healthcare chapels shifted from a denomination-based paradigm to a spirituality paradigm—becoming places of meditation and solitude.

Today, before beginning a concept, healthcare designers need to investigate what influences the design of a worship space. Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Talk with the hospital’s ministry staff about expressing spirituality.
  • Survey staff, patients, caregivers, and doctors about the community’s faith-based needs.
  • Look for common liturgical elements that encompass all faiths.
  • Remember that a worship space should be different from a “mini-church.”

Worship spaces will probably always be part of hospital design. Although some hospitals still design specific faith-based chapels, most are moving toward nondenominational worship spaces. As we consider the changing demographics in today’s communities, healthcare designers need to create worship spaces that reflect the multitudes of faith relying on a hospital for wellness.