What Makes Your Church Different from 10,000 Other Churches?

God has given your church a specific place and people to minister to. There is no other church in the world exactly like yours, equipped to serve God and your community exactly the way He intends for you to do it. To borrow a phrase from my friend, David Putman, you’ve got to break the missional code of your community. David co-authored the book “Breaking the Missional Code” with Ed Stetzer. In a nutshell this says that you need to find out specifically what it is that your community needs and be that for your community in order for them to be receptive to the gospel.

Our partner Auxano states it in a question: What makes your church different from 10,000 other churches?

Find out what this is for your community and then go be it. Rick Warren was successful with his church model in his specific community in Southern California, but that doesn’t mean you will be successful with his church model in your community in rural Tennessee. Understanding this should give you a sense of relief and freedom, and it should transform your church programmatically and physically. Understanding this will help you see how you can employ intentional and strategic design to best utilize your site and facilities to become the heart of your community.

If your architect or design-builder brings you a set of “stock” plans to pick from (or a set of plans that might as well be, because it looks just like every other church you’ve ever seen), just remember, you get what you pay for, and what you get may have worked for the first church is was designed for, but you aren’t that church, and it may not work for you or your community. Now what I’m NOT saying is that every project has to be designed from scratch. Each project doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, to paraphrase a quote often attributed to various artists of different mediums, good architects borrow half of what they design, and great architects steal it all.

What this means is there are so many good design elements in existence in both the church and “secular” world and so many well established design “rules-of-thumb” for various ministry programs such that a great architect can draw from a wealth of resources and knowledge of built environments to pull together (“steal”) all the design elements into a cohesive, but still unique, plan that is right for your ministry and your community.

Don’t let any architect or design-builder presume to tell you who you are as a church. The great ones will find out what your DNA is and design a solution to meet your specific functional needs as a church…and your missional needs for your community. A great architect will design with the regional context in mind, taking the time to understand what makes a site in Atlanta different from a site in Louisville, or Los Angeles, or anywhere in between. A great architect will investigate and understand the specific opportunities and constraints of your site, and won’t suggest a “stock” plan to plop down on any site and “make it work”. Your church is not McDonalds, so don’t let your building look just like another McChurch down the road.

The key thing to look for when seeking out an architect to partner with your ministry is how well they listen to you about who you are and who you are trying to reach, so that with intentionality they can create a design to tell your unique story in the built environment. Partnering with a good architect may get you into a functional building, but partnering with a great architect will help your church “do your own thing” better than you could ever imagine.

>> Read more from Jody here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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Churches Need to Offer What Their Community Needs

I hope you are ready to jump into some controversy with me today because I’m going to talk about things that many Christians (and many “church architects”) take personally and seriously…what a church “should” look like. But, I may surprise you with the analysis if you think you know where I’m heading because at Visioneering Studios, we are challenging the way people think about the purpose and design of church facilities from the ground up.

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. Let’s start with the definition of “church”. Webster’s defines “church” as, “1) a group of Christians; any group professing Christian doctrine or belief; 2) a place for public (especially Christian) worship.” Is this definition in alignment with the Biblical definition of “church”? The Greek word for church is “ekklesia”, which means “that which is called out,” and that is the only word for Church in the whole Bible (and it is only used in the New Testament). Obviously this is talking about the people who have been “called out” and become followers of Jesus. Jesus even said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Wherever followers of Christ gather together there is the church. So, how did we get so confused and hung up on the form and structure of a building that we refer to as the “church” and that to most people, especially non-Christians, is seen as THE church? Jesus’ first “church” services took place on hillsides or beside lakes while he spoke from a boat. The disciples first “church” service (the day of Pentecost) took place in the temple court. First century churches met in houses and wherever there was room for people to gather.

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Clockwise from top left – St. Peters, God’s Creation, Traditional Church, Metal Box

Somewhere along the way “churches” started to become buildings, and they became “sacred” spaces that required design of a certain type. I can stand amazed in front of St. Peter’s in Rome or any number of other cathedrals throughout the world and feel staggeringly overwhelmed at the intricacy and details involved in those structures, but I can also stand awestruck in a forest or on a beach and wonder about the miracle of God’s creation. I can sit in a “traditional” church complete with stained glass, steeple, and pews and be lifted up before God’s throne in worship, but I can also sit in a pre-engineered metal warehouse with a small group of believers who have scraped together all they had to build their first building and be touched to my soul by a stirring message delivered from a down-to-earth preacher.

What we all have to realize is that “traditional” or “contemporary” are just man-made concepts that are totally unrelated to salvation. It may seem patently obvious to state it this way, but Jesus didn’t sit in a pew or a theater seat. He didn’t sing from a hymnal while a pipe organ played or sing with words on a screen while a band rocked out. He didn’t wear a suit and tie or a t-shirt and shorts. He didn’t preach in a church with stained glass windows and a steeple, or in a church with a coffee shop and a video venue.

The message of the Bible is timeless, but the presentation of the message is cultural. Jesus reached people where they were in that day and time in a method and in a location that they could be comfortable and relate to (see John 4:4-26 about the Samaritan woman at the well). I strongly believe that if Jesus was walking around in America today He would be using technology, music, buildings, and everything else at His disposal as tools to reach people where they are.

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Northside Christian Church – Spring, TX. Design by Visioneering Studios. Photo by G. Lyon Photography.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with traditional buildings, or pipe organs, or hymnals, but I would ask you to look in your heart and ask yourself if your church is being as effective as they could be in reaching your community and the unchurched in today’s culture using methods and facility prototypes created hundreds of years ago. Would you like your doctor to use leeches and other medical “technology” of a few hundred years ago to treat you today? I wouldn’t, which is why I think it is important to examine the methods we use to “treat” those in need of the ultimate healing. What type of places and buildings do people choose to go to spend their free time? What type of music do people choose to listen to on their iPods? Churches need to be offering their community what their community needs. The church facility can be a 7-day-a-week Christ-centered community instead of a 2-hour-a-week Christian insider’s club.

Don’t ever compromise the message. Don’t ever change the story of salvation. But, maybe it’s time to look at the method and environment where that message is shared. Is it more important to keep things they way they’ve always been because the people who are already “saved” and are already inside the walls of the church like it that way? Or is it better to find out what will reach those outside of the walls and make them comfortable stepping foot inside the doors of your church even if it makes the “insiders” uncomfortable? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to reach out to others? Isn’t that why the church exists? All I’m asking is for you to think about it.

Be intentional.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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Mac — 09/24/14 9:11 pm

Doesn't the church exist to comfort the souls and consciences of believers? New or old design the focus should be Christ. A good test for this is to invite a group of non-believers [unchurched] as a focus group....show them the designs of churches and have them give their thoughts opinions to questions like this: + What type of business/organization do you think belongs in this place? + What is the first thing you think of when seeing this place? + This facility is designed to be a Christian church....What other uses would you imagine taking place here? Their answers should be enough to tell you how best to design a building that will be purposeful in delivering the central message of Christ-Crucified.

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An Architect’s Secret Weapons: Environmental Design

Do you know what environmental design is? If you’re not in the “industry” you may have never heard that term, but if you’re a living, breathing American and aren’t living under a rock, then you experience it everyday when you go out in public. Environmental design is a broad discipline but at its core (when discussing built environments) it is a key element in transforming a building into an experience. Every store, restaurant, cool night club, theme park, and museum you’ve probably ever visited uses environmental design at some level to immerse you in their brand.

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Environmental design typically incorporates graphics, theming (whether 2D or 3D elements) and signage to carry forward the brand or tell the “story” of the space. Retailers get it, and they know how important it is to create an environment that transforms the simple act of shopping into an immersive experience, even though many of the “shoppers” don’t realize this subconscious manipulation is happening to them. They just think, “What a cool store!”

At Visioneering Studios we are working with churches and other clients across the country helping them figure out what their unique calling is and how to communicate their mission to the community through their built environments. We want the design of the site and the buildings to speak to this, and good design does achieve that goal. It’s easier to do this when you design extremely expensive buildings, because you can literally sculpt the building to the desired effect (just see these buildings by Santiago Calatrava or Frank Gehry as examples).

However most clients, and especially churches, don’t have an unlimited budget, so a creative architect must find other ways to achieve that result. Learning lessons from retail, you can take a big, dumb box (like a pre-engineered structure or a simple architectural form) and spend your money on creating specific architectural elements to emphasize the entrance, which then makes the big box just fade into the background as the canvas for your design. Now you’ve got an architecturally interesting entrance and have saved your money by not having to make the entire building an expensive piece of art. To take it to the next level the architect pulls out the third secret weapon…environmental design. (If you missed the first two, you can find them here: weapon one – Color; and weapon two – The Space Between Buildings.)

Now we are able to use screening elements, changeable print and digital graphics, signage, and props to provide some excitement to the building. It doesn’t matter whether it’s interior or exterior, and elements can be designed for installation on almost any surface including portable kiosks, walls, doors, glass, or fabric. This gives you tremendous flexibility and allows you to “tell your story” or communicate your mission or brand to everyone who passes by or stops in, even when nobody else is around.

We achieve this by partnering with environmental design firms like PlainJoe Studios. As either the architect or design-builder on a project, we work closely with the environmental design group during the design phase to integrate their environmental design elements into our architectural and interior design plans to help create a cohesive, multi-sensory experience. The next time you go visit your favorite store or restaurant look around. You might not have noticed the lifestyle graphics on the walls, the branded signage, or the theming elements and dimensional props before, but I bet you will now. Now visualize that same store or restaurant without those elements. It wouldn’t be the same experience would it?

Below are a few more examples of some projects we have done with PlainJoe Studios for various churches across the country. Could your church use a make-over? It doesn’t have to be expensive. Groups like PlainJoe Studios can tailor their custom graphics package to meet whatever budget your church or organization establishes, and a good environmental graphics package can typically be provided starting at just a few dollars per square foot. Obviously you could spend a lot more than that too, but you don’t necessarily have to in order to get some big impact in key areas of your facility. Good design and creative environments are inviting and make people feel comfortable. So, who wouldn’t want to make a good first impression on visitors before they even have a chance to meet your people or hear your message?

So which one of these environments do you like best?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
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— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

An Architect’s Secret Weapons: The Space Between Buildings

What would you say if your architect told you he could design you a space that is beautiful, functional, and spacious, and it would only be about 10% of the cost per square foot of the typical building? You might ask him what he’s been smoking, or you might say “I’ll take it!” before you even hear what it is. Too often architect’s forget about this secret weapon. The space between buildings can be an amazing environment, and guess what…you don’t have to put a roof over it or air condition it and that’s where the cost savings come in.

Shopping center behind a sea of parking

Shopping center behind a sea of parking

Town Center Mall Aerial

Typical Mall is an island in a sea of parking

Great outdoor space can change the entire experience of being on a site and visiting a building. When attention is paid to the arrival sequence from the time you visually see the site, drive onto it, park your car, and walk up to the buildings, you can create an exciting experience out of a typically mundane one. Picture your average Big Box shopping center on one hand with its sea of parking facing the road and compare that to New Urbanist developments that creatively find a way to stash the cars and move you right into a pedestrian friendly environment.

Vickery Village shopping center with great spaces between buildings

Vickery Village shopping center with great spaces between buildings – Cumming, GA

Baxter Town Center - Fort Mill, SC - Pedestrian Friendly New Urbanist Development

Baxter Town Center – Fort Mill, SC – Pedestrian Friendly New Urbanist Development

Make no mistake, cars are a part of American culture, and unless you are in a dense urban environment with good public transportation, which most of the country is not, you are not going to get away from having a significant amount of a site dedicated to parking, but the parking lot doesn’t have to be your most prominent feature if you have a good design team. I don’t want to spend too much time discussing parking here, because my main topic is the space between buildings where people interact and where true community has a chance to develop.

Millennium Park in Chicago

Millennium Park in Chicago

Throughout history outdoor public space has been the center of community life for people. Whether it was the Greek Agoras, the Italian Piazzas or the American town square, people have a desire to come together in an environment that is appealing in design, comfortable to hang-out in, and where they can enjoy God’s creation outdoors. Even in the harshest environments of extreme cold and extreme hot climates these spaces are being developed. The weather may not be conducive to outdoor activity every day of the year, but when it’s nice these places fill up. Environment’s don’t get much harsher than Chicago (freezing, snowy, windy winters and hot, baking summers), but head out to Navy Pier or Millennium Park on a nice day and the places are packed with people. If they can develop great outdoor environments in a climate that harsh, then what’s your excuse for not doing it on your site?

Navy Pier in Chicago

Navy Pier in Chicago

Navy Pier in Chicago

Pedestrians enjoying Navy Pier in Chicago

How much more would it have cost to take all these great outdoor environments and put walls around them, throw on some roofs, and air condition and heat those spaces? Plus how different would they feel? There’s a reason no indoor malls are being developed anywhere in the country anymore while New Urbanist open air Town Centers are popping up everywhere. People like to be outside and developers don’t have to build huge enclosed “spaces between buildings”…it’s a win-win for everyone.

Church with Mall-type Parking

Church with Mall-type Parking

 

Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA with pedestrian friendly layout

Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA with pedestrian friendly layout

Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA with great spaces between buildings

 

These same concepts can be applied to church campus designs. Churches often get stuck in a rut called “tradition” or “the way it’s always been done.” With church design that usually means plopping the building down in the middle of the site and then surrounding it with parking, just like the malls and shopping centers do. Church leaders and church designers could learn some lessons about creating places people enjoy coming to that include great outdoor public spaces that are “gifts” back to the community. Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA is a good example of this intentional decision to incorporate pedestrian friendly design features and create interesting and inviting “outdoor rooms” between the buildings.

If you are a church planter or pastor of a church and you are contemplating your first building project or an expansion of your current campus, wouldn’t you want to develop spaces that your neighbors would desire to visit, and that your congregation would enjoy hanging out in between services and during the week? The “old school” church site and church facility sits empty six and a half days a week. Is that really good stewardship considering the amount of money being invested in land and building costs? Isn’t it a better investment to make your building and the spaces between them serve a purpose and serve the community the rest of the week? Isn’t getting people on your site a win-win? They can see that you’re not some “scary and secretive institution” and that you care enough to provide these great spaces with no strings attached. Before you start your next project figure out how to turn your church inside out so passers-by can see “community” happening right in your front yard every week.

Where is your favorite outdoor room? What features does it have and how could they be used as an outreach tool on your church expansion project? If you missed the post on “Weapon One”, you can read it here.

Read more from Jody here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
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— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

An Architect’s Secret Weapons: Color

What turns a building into a work of art? What makes good architecture stand out from the masses of boring buildings? These are all questions of opinion. Most people don’t know the answer to these questions, but they know a good building when they see it. They may not know why they like it, or what specifically makes them like it…they just know it’s good.

This next series of posts is going to discuss some of the secret weapons in the architect’s arsenal to pull off great designs. The exciting thing I’m going to share about each of these is also that they can all be done without busting the budget…in fact this first item probably gives a project more bang for the buck than anything else you can do.

What is this ultimate secret weapon? Color. Yep, that’s it, simple color.

Central Christian Beloit

Central Christian Church – Beloit, WI. Photo by PlainJoe Studios.

Since my company, Visioneering Studios primarily works with churches, I’m going to aim most of this discussion in that direction. Your typical church architect faces a dilemma when it comes to color…the church building committee. There are usually two outcomes from this dilemma, neither of which is good. Result 1: the building committee doesn’t want to “offend” anyone with color so you get three shades of gray, white and beige throughout the building. Result 2: the building committee lets everyone have an opinion and they pick 325 colors that don’t match with anything.

Nothing changes a room, a building, or an environment as quickly as good color selections. Look at the ads in any magazine (especially architecture or interiors magazines), or just pay attention to the “rooms” shown on any TV show or commercial. You may have never noticed them before because they are usually the “backdrop” for the product being sold or the entertainment show you are watching. But if you pay attention you will find a carefully coordinated and selected color palette in every environment, not plain white, not wildly clashing colors, but complementary, well-orchestrated colors and textures.

Color can set moods. Color can create environments that can be bold and playful, elegant or rustic, comfortable and uplifting. Your project can have so much more impact if you find a good interiors person and allow them the freedom to infuse color into your building (inside and out!).

Northside Christian

Northside Christian Church – Spring, TX. Photo by G. Lyon Photography.

On your next project, turn color loose and don’t be afraid to let your interiors person fill your building with a palette of perfection. After all you have to paint every surface or have some finish on it anyway. What other material could you select that doesn’t affect price? Maybe it costs you a few hundred dollars extra for a little more labor “cutting in” between the colors and having to buy smaller quantities of multiple colors instead of one big batch of “white”, but where else could you get more bang for your buck on your next project? Give it a try. You won’t regret it, but even if you do, you can always go buy that “white” paint and have a painting party.

Do you have a favorite building or room? I bet it’s not plain vanilla! Share a link to a picture of it with us by leaving a comment below.

Read more from Jody here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Forehand

I am the national Vice President of Operations for Visioneering Studios, an architectural, urban planning, construction, design, and development firm based out of Irvine, California with other offices in Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Chicago, and Charlotte (which is where I’m located). Every day is an incredible journey and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with some of the most dynamic and fastest growing churches in the country as well as spend time with incredible people both as coworkers, clients, and friends.

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Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.