There are thousands of churches across the United States, and each church has its own story and uniqueness. How is that story being communicated, internally and externally? Does your church communicate who you are?
Imagine that you’re redesigning your church. Your main goal is to effectively convey the story of your missions and programs. Your church has some great programs that include providing shoes for children, digging wells to provide clean water, and sponsoring various overseas mission trips. Missions are the heartbeat of your church. You envision that all of the communication and interaction surrounding missions is going to happen in your church’s lobby, café, or other gathering areas.
So, you hire an architect. He knows the vision, but his main focus is on the facility—what the walls, floors, and ceilings of the building will look like—not necessarily what will go inside of it. Then, a contractor comes along. He’s going to build out the space, and he’s aware that there may be some items that might go on the walls. At some point in the process, the contractor realizes he’s missing some area. He needs to use another wall for some storage, and needs another space to put an information booth.
The project is completed. You’ve got a lobby that has an information booth and shelving to display items from the countries where your church hosts mission trips. It’s a nice lobby—but something’s missing. Your initial vision has completely been eliminated. Why? Because the architect and contractor weren’t in tune with your primary goal: to build out a space that would communicate your church’s main goal of missions and outreach.
When I worked for Disney, we found that the story and vision for a particular ride, attraction or land that we developed was so important that we actually had a show producer write the script for the narrative of an area. Even when it came to describing a merchandise shop, the narrative told the story of what that merchandise store was supposed to be and even the backstory of the family that may have owned it. All of these details informed those who were involved to keep true to the story of the space.
The reality is, if you don’t have a consistent, cohesive team that is part of the original narrative and walking through the entire build process together, you’re ultimately going to experience some level of VISION EROSION. Designers, architects, and contractors involved in the project will often make decisions and choices without the benefit of being informed, thereby eroding the final product.
The problem of vision erosion doesn’t just apply to construction. In almost anything, whether you’re developing a script or in the planning stages of a wedding, those initial discussions you have are important because they set the basis for the larger narrative of what you’re trying to accomplish. There is a huge benefit to having a team that knows your vision from the beginning and can make informed decisions throughout the process that align with those initial goals.
Here at Visioneering, we have the great benefit of having continuity and context for all the Design-Build projects we work on. Our entire team knows the story that accompanies your vision, and our designers and contractors work together to craft that vision and build a project that uses your money and time wisely. We believe that every building tells a story, and every space is unique. Our Design-Build process is design-led and centered around highlighting the larger narrative of your organization. Through Design-Build, we can help you develop a different kind of build—one that stewards both your story and your space well— so you can launch your inspired vision into reality.
This article is an excerpt from our free resource, DEMOLISHED. Download your copy today at demolishthebuild.com. If you’d like to eliminate vision erosion from your building process today, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.
On my way out of Phoenix, AZ into San Diego, CA on Wednesday evening, I looked out the window of my American Airlines Airbus 321 and saw a site that looked like a big mega-church. I wondered if it was possibly a project by Visioneering Studios, since we design and build churches across the country. As we cruised by at several hundred miles per hour, I snapped a couple of pictures out the window, hoping to research the site after I got to the hotel in San Diego.
The site was a bit remote, not unlike a lot of other suburban megachurches that often have to go to the outskirts of larger cities to find enough acreage to house their campuses. This building site was right off the main highway for easy access and great visibility (another trait churches look for in selecting a site). It was surrounded by undeveloped desert scrub brush and not much else, but residential rooftops were nearby. Growing churches often seek to get out in front of the suburban expansion coming their way that will one day put them right in the middle of the community. This site had huge parking areas and the design of the building included a covered drop-off, a cylindrical tower “entry” element, and an interesting and creative layout that was reminiscent of churches we’ve designed at Visioneering Studios.
While I was too far away and passing by too fast to see any facade details or logos, I was quite certain it was a church, and I was interested to find out which one it was and if we had designed it. Later that evening, I got to my hotel room and popped open my MacBook. I was able to trace my flight path and find the “mystery” church site. As I scrolled the map east from the airport and zoomed in on the site to find out the name of the church, another name popped up instead… Casino Arizona!
Wow. That was not what I was expecting at all. I was surprised, but shrugged it off and quickly forgot about it as I tried to get to sleep. The next day passed, full of great meetings with a multi-site church about changes to some of their campuses, and then it was time to head home. Leaving San Diego this morning, I connected in Phoenix again, and as the Boeing 757 raced skyward toward Charlotte, I noticed that we were backtracking along the same route I flew in on a couple days prior. I now saw the casino out the window again. This time, I already knew what it was and that’s when I had an unexpected and troubling question pop into my head: What does it say about the churches we work with, and the designs we create, that they can be confused with a casino?
Woah! My initial reaction was negative and surprising, even to myself. I thought, “Have church facilities become ‘secularized’ to the point that they look like ‘sinful’ casinos?” That’s a charge often hurled at mega-churches by smaller, more traditional churches and individuals who look condescendingly at the broad-brush caricature that culture has painted of megachurches and their “excess.”
Having worked with churches for 15 years, I’ve learned that there will always be some bad apples out there that people can point to that fit that mega-church caricature. It’s sad that this is true, but for every bad apple I have seen or heard about, there are hundreds of others that are fulfilling the Great Commission, connecting with their communities, and sending people and resources to the ends of the earth, serving the hopeless and helpless.
I’m not one who tries to over-spiritualize every event in my life, and I don’t audibly hear the voice of God speak to me. I often wish I did. But those who hear that still, small voice are often the ones who have changed the world in the most incredible ways through sacrificing their own personal comfort and ending up in places I never even knew existed.
As the plane accelerated upward and eastward leaving the casino behind, inside I felt what may have been the prompting of the Holy Spirit as another emotion and another question suddenly bubbled up. Maybe it was because on my flights this week I brought along Mark Batterson’s new book, “Whisper,” which is about learning to be still and listen for God’s voice in your life, but the new emotion I felt was joy. The new question I asked myself was, “If a casino, whose sole purpose is to take your earthly treasures from you, can use creative architectural design to develop a place people want to go to, why can’t a church ‘redeem’ this type of engaging design and use it as ‘architectural evangelism’?” Externally focused, life-giving churches will use whatever means and methods are necessary, short of sin, to reach others for Christ because they understand and fully embrace the eternal consequences that are at stake.
I long ago realized that arguments between believers about things like pipe organs vs. electric guitars and pews vs. theater seats are all spiritually-neutral, personal preferences. Jesus never sang from a hymnal while wearing a suit and tie and sitting in a pew, as light filtered through the stained-glass windows and someone played “Amazing Grace” on the organ. He also never sang a Chris Tomlin song from words on a screen while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, sitting in a theater seat sipping a latte while haze and moving lights created the ambiance for the shredding, electric guitar solo. Neither method changes the eternal truth of the gospel message, so as long as that truth is being preached and lived out by that church, the rest is just following Paul’s example.
We’re all moved to worship, and drawn to a deeper relationship with Christ in various ways, which is why I believe that Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that he would “become all things to all people so that in all ways he might save some” is still applicable to these discussions about personal preferences today.
So now I don’t feel bad that I mistook a casino for one of our church projects. I know that this style of facility has been used in amazing ways across the country to reach millions for Christ, and I’m glad to have played some small part in that through my work at Visioneering. I also know that this style of building is not for everyone, and not for all time. Things change. Large mega-campuses may never completely go away, but there’s been a trend in the church market away from these over the last few years toward smaller, community-based, multi-site locations. If I were to fly over one of these smaller church projects we’ve designed, I may mistake it for a great restaurant, or retail shop, or public park, or I may not be able to distinguish it at all, and that’s okay. As long as we are designing churches as engaging spaces that are outward-focused and serve others while reflecting the beauty and creativity of our Creator, I’m good with whatever form that takes.
Put your outdoor work in orderand get your fields ready; after that, build your house. Proverbs 24:27 (NIV)
I spent 2 years of my life traveling and interviewing the top churches in the country about what kind of building we should build. We finally designed it, had an architect draw it, and created our master plan for all of our property. The only thing was, I never felt a peace about building this thing.
My wife and I planted Coastal Church in Daphne, Alabama 4 years earlier and it had taken off like a rocket. We had three Sunday services running over 1000 people every weekend, and looking to add a fourth service to handle the growth. Everything in my head said that a building was the next thing, but I just couldn’t get it in my heart. I prayed and fasted for 2 years for direction, but I had no clear direction from the Holy Spirit to proceed.
Then one day, while sitting in my recliner, a thought entered my mind: “What if we built all of our toys first?” What if we build something that celebrates the beautiful Gulf Coast and invites the community to come and do life together with us? When I said that, the direction from God that I sought for 2 years came and creativity began to flow. My wife loved the idea (always ask your wife — she will tell you if your idea is idiotic). Our trustees loved it, and our lenders actually said to me, “Chad, if you guys do this, it will change the way people build churches everywhere.”
As Pastors, we are taught in seminary and Bible college to build our sanctuary first. It went against all of my training to build a mile-long walking trail, a baseball field, 2 basketball courts, 2 playgrounds, a 5,800 square foot coffee house, and a splash pad first! Before I presented this to everyone, I asked for a scripture that I could stand on and God, who is rich in mercy, provided.
“Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that build your house” (Proverbs 24:27). Upon reading this, I laughed and whispered through my tears, “Yes sir, Jesus!”
Not only were we able to build all of this by God’s grace, we now have 5 campuses with over 2,000 people attending each weekend. We are still packed and adding services again very soon, but the same God who led us here will show us the next step to take, and the next seed to sow for our future. In the meantime, we are having the time of our lives!
But I Thought Visioneering Studios Was Just a Design Firm?
Originally posted here on 9/30/2013. Updated 2/13/2017 by Jody Forehand.
You probably think you know who Visioneering Studios is. You’ve heard of them from other churches who have used them over the last fifteen years, you’ve listened to them speak at church conferences, you’ve seen pictures and blog posts on social media, and you’ve read articles in publications. But chances are, if you haven’t talked to anyone at Visioneering Studios lately, you don’t know who they are today, or who they are becoming tomorrow. You don’t know how Visioneering Studios has grown and changed over the last decade. We approach projects differently than many firms, strongly believing in the importance of a multi-disciplinary process that integrates real estate, design, project management, and financial analysis, utilizing our experienced team members, affiliates, and strategic partners with backgrounds as architects, designers, planners, construction managers, real estate developers, facility managers, and financial analysts. It is our goal to help churches navigate the complex maze that is involved with modern design and construction projects by being your ministry partner from dream to dedication day and beyond, utilizing our unique ENVISION.DESIGN.BUILD processes. With close to 50 people in various offices around the country, our team has your project needs covered. So in the interest of getting the word out, I’m going to do a little mythbusting.
Myth: Visioneering only works with big megachurches.
Fact: Visioneering has worked, and continues to work daily, with churches of all sizes from 50 people to 20,000+. In fact, we work with many church plants to help them get in their first building or onto their first site. We also work with many churches wanting to launch multi-sites, often in smaller venues. One of our newest offerings is in real estate consulting, which can help churches find their first piece of property (and not make a huge mistake by “getting a great deal” on a piece of undevelopable wetland), or helping larger churches make the multi-site jump, utilizing demographic data and trend analysis to help determine where the next site should go.
Myth: Visioneering just comes up with master plans and pretty pictures.
Fact: Visioneering started with one employee and a couple of contracted consultants who primarily provided master plans. So technically, this used to be true, and is still partially true… Visioneering still starts most of their engagements with amazing master plans and pretty pictures. But Visioneering takes it so much deeper now. In fact, Visioneering’s name is a mashup of “engineering God-inspired Visions” for the churches we work with, and that is still what we are doing today…just on a whole other level. Visioneering’s team of 50 professionals around the country provides real estate consulting (to find the right property or help clients leverage their property to its highest and best use), master planning, full architectural services, interior design, construction management, and turnkey design-build.
Myth: Visioneering’s design fees are expensive and so are their buildings.
Fact: Don’t let your eyes deceive you. When people see pictures of some of our projects they are often blown away by the look and the great design, and instantly think these buildings must be expensive. But creative design doesn’t have to mean expensive design…paint colors other than beige still cost the same as beige. Don’t assume you can’t afford Visioneering. Call us and let our team explain how our process doesn’t have to cost more, and can provide more value that you realize. Visioneering’s design fees are competitive with the national market, and when you compare apples-to-apples on scopes of services (disciplines included) and the creativity of the designs, it is easy to see the differences. It’s the same with our buildings. We’re not trying to win the race to the bottom and be the Wal-Mart of the design and construction world, but we realize that each church is called to be good stewards of what they have been entrusted with. We believe that includes being good stewards of the outcome — not just what is initially the cheapest. Can you design or build a cheaper building? Yes, but will it achieve your church’s goals in your community? Cheapest doesn’t equal best stewardship (see this post on Architectural Evangelism). Good designers can create a smaller building by being more efficient with the space layout, and the quickest and best way to save money on any project is to build a smaller building. Intentional designers can provide the most bang for the buck by limiting the “wow” design elements to areas that have the most impact, while using simpler products and design elements in other less critical areas of the building or site. Strategic designers can create outdoor rooms that are usable and attractive for many parts of the year as expanded lobby and amenity areas, at costs exponentially lower than enclosing those spaces in steel and concrete and having to heat and air condition them.
Myth: Visioneering only designs new buildings on undeveloped sites.
Fact: The large majority of Visioneering’s projects are on sites that have already been partially or fully developed. In addition to “green field” sites, Visioneering has extensive experience with projects involving expansions, renovations, and interior upfits for churches of all sizes across the country. In fact, as the paradigm of church facility development shifts toward smaller venues and multi-sites, Visioneering is increasingly working on Tenant Improvement projects within shopping centers and warehouses where the site is developed and the exterior shell buildings are complete and largely unmodifiable (see pictures of our project for Elevation Church in a former K-mart and furniture warehouse space).
Myth: Visioneering is a southern California design firm, not a national facilities solution provider.
Fact: Visioneering started in Irvine, California as a design firm and still has an office there, but over the years, Visioneering has grown from one employee in Southern California to a national company with almost 50 employees located in multi-disciplinary offices in every time zone in the continental United States to better serve your project. Visioneering has won national awards as both an architect and a builder. Currently, we have architectural licenses in about 40 states and can provide construction services in about 30 states — but we’re not done yet. If we’re not in your state yet, don’t worry, just call us and we’ll begin the simple process of getting registered and licensed there to serve you too. We’re still growing to meet the needs of new clients across the country as their facilities solution provider, in whatever form that may require. Beyond just architectural designs or construction management services, Visioneering offers turnkey services to help churches manage projects from dream to dedication day, and beyond. In addition to world-class designers and construction managers, Visioneering also provides real estate and Development Advisory Services before ever laying pencil to paper, to help your church figure out your budget, scope, and schedule even if you don’t know where to begin. Our ebook on this subject is available for free download. Being “trusted stewards of your story and space” also means helping you steward the financial and facility resources God has blessed your church with. Through our Envision process, we can help your church determine what spaces they need, when they will need them, and how to phase expansion so that it is financially feasible without robbing funds from ministry programs.
Myth: Visioneering only works with churches.
Fact: While it is true that a large portion of Visioneering’s past and current workload is with churches, Visioneering does serve clients in other market sectors, such as other non-profits like Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Christian schools, and charitable organizations. We also provide design and construction for general commercial and retail sectors such as restaurants, offices, hotels, and mixed-use developments. Our experience is in creating environments that people desire to visit, and that helps keep our designs sharp and on the leading edge of industry trends. No matter the sector we work in, the design trends often translate seamlessly to our church projects, which are themselves geared toward creating destinations that people want to visit because they are culturally relevant and designed to respond to the greater context of their community.
So, if you worked with Visioneering in the past or had someone else tell you who Visioneering is, chances are you only know who Visioneering used to be. It’s time to find out for yourself who Visioneering is now, and who we are becoming. Like any healthy, growing entity, Visioneering has evolved over the years: master planner…design architect…architect-of-record…builder…integrated project developer…total facilities solution provider. Keep your eyes open though, because what we are today may not be all that we are tomorrow.
If you have any other questions about whether Visioneering’s capabilities as a facilities solution provider are a good fit for your project, give us a call or leave a comment here.
I’ve got to admit…I’m a podcast junkie. I especially crave for those, which intersect the worlds of design, architecture, and urbanism. I know…I’m a real urbanerd.
My addiction is so bad that so much of my data plan is consumed by downloading podcasts…regrettably, and most likely, while I’m untethered from a Wi-Fi connection. I go on digital binges while I’m on my walks, bike rides, or especially, while I’m commuting to/from work. It’s a real problem, but I succumb to them thinking that one day…one day I will have use for all of these great stories.
So, what are my podcasts of choice? Well, let me give you a peek behind the curtains of my ether world, my podcast library.
This is one of my worst podcast addictions, rather, my absolute favorites. When I discovered 99% Invisible, it was a monthly podcast, which was great, but that’s a long time in between shows. Then, in 2013, it successfully completed a $375,000 Kickstarter campaign to launch into a weekly format. Nice! So, when every Tuesday rolls around, you bet your life I’ve got my ear bud IV injecting digital goodness into my ears!
99% Invisible is self-described as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible that shapes our world.” The show’s creator/host has probably one of the greatest-sounding names in radio: Roman Mars. He was named by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in 2013. As strong as his name sounds though, his style and delivery is very demure. He tells stories that “reveal something surprising about the built world”, pursuing the “cool thing inside of the boring thing.”
If I have ever experienced podcast withdrawals, it’s been with Design Matters. Back in June, the shows terminated production. I kept going back to my podcast feed to check on new episodes and found that they had stopped. I finally had it and reached out to its host and creator, Debbie Millman, on Facebook. Under the guise of “Hey, I really love the show…” I popped the burning question, “Where are all the new shows?!”
She graciously thanked me for my “kind words” and informed me that Design Matters was produced in seasons and that the new season would commence in October.
October? Are you kidding me? What was I going to do until October?
Well, it’s October now. It’s all good!
Debbie Millman is the President and Chief Marketing Officer of Sterling Brands, a leading brand consultancy. She also serves as the Chair and Founder of the Masters Program in Branding at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In 2005, she started a radio show in which she interviewed her design heroes as a way to learn anything about and from them. Design Matters was the first podcast on design on the Internet, ever. Part of the Design Observer media channel, it has produced over 200 interviews with artists, designers, architects, and though leaders. If you love design and want to learn from the greats, this show is a requirement for your weekly fix.
DnA: DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
DnA: Design & Architecture is a “multi-platform exploration of who and what matters in our designed world – on radio, podcast, blog and at public events.” Hosted and Executive Produced by Frances Anderton, a frequent speaker and writer on architecture and design, this podcast focuses its discussion on the Los Angeles region. It is a show of KCRW, a public radio station based out of Santa Monica, CA.
Here’s my only problem with this show – it doesn’t have a reliable release calendar. It’s like a girl who is told by her new beau that he will call, but never tells her when. That’s kind of the way I feel about this show. I will probably refresh my podcast feed later today to see if there is anything waiting for me.
My good friend and fellow urbanerd, Sean Benesh, introduced me to The Urbanist. Produced by Monacle 24, and hosted by Andrew Tuck, this show is about “the people making city life better, from dedicated mayors to hi-tech businesses.” Produced as a very high-quality audio magazine by producers from around the globe, it really brings to the forefront the conversations urbanists are having at both a local and global context.
So, there you have it, my podcast of choice. Check them out, the first one is always free, I promise. Let me know what you think. In fact, if you love podcast as well, comment below and share your favorite shows.
The World Architecture Festival was held in Singapore from October 1-3, 2014. In this expansive exhibit, some of the most remarkable architecture created in the last year were recognized in the categories of sports, residential, transport, religion, civic and community, office and more.
The ultimate winner of the festival for “World Building of the Year” (yes, there is such an award), was a beautifully-elegant chapel in Vietnam on the outskirts of Hochiminh. This structure, “The Chapel”, was created by a21studio.
Planes of metal sheets and steel frames establish the main space of the structure that opens under a canopy of painted white corrugated roof that spills into the walls. Roof support of the building is created by a tree shaped steel column with steel bars that branch out while alleviating obstructions on the open ground plane. Colorful translucent panels drip from the roof as book-ends and along the ridge of the roof, paying homage to the youthful patrons that commonly inhabit the space.
A few lessons of holistic design, humility, and the inherent connection to our spirituality can be taken from this enchanting “World Building of the Year”.
Faith-based spaces have always been and will always be crucial to the composition of how we move about our lives. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Due to a financial crisis occurring in this region, the area was lacking in communal spaces where the youth could gather, bond, create, celebrate, be protected, and simply be. Not coincidentally, a place whose heart is based on the worship of our Creator, has become this place that breathes life into the hearts of the people in Singapore. Here art galleries stimulate creative exploration, a shared afternoon tea rekindles a nostalgic memory, or two lovers can be wed in a grand celebration. The spiritual is the normal and the normal is spiritual.
Quality in design, space and life does not come only from the grandiose and opulent things. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5
The design team saved costs by using materials that were a surplus from the previous project. By using readily available steel and metal, the construction process was shortened with available material and ease of construction. The structure is essentially a single space of pure white where accent materials of varying color, texture, and transparency are utilized minimally but in powerful ways. Humility in the chapel’s design is used as a virtue in creating lasting impressions when and where it is necessary
Humanity is tied to something greater beyond ourselves and the time we have on this earth. “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” Matthew 5:3
This chapel has a role in feeding our spirit, reminding us of our Creator and the role we have in that interplay of being caught up in the story of something greater. That story, and that draw, is a captivating one that pulls like shores on tides, and will not be something that we can ignore in how we act, speak, worship, and live in the infinite spaces we move about.
First, let me say that just using the term “church architect” already makes me cringe, because unfortunately the American countryside is littered with examples of bad design foisted on the public by well-intentioned “church architects” who unfortunately just don’t get it. Second, let me also say that for most successful church projects the best solution probably isn’t a “church architect” anyway. Instead the best solution is most often an architect skilled in culturally relevant placemaking working as part of a fully integrated design-build team, but that’s a discussion for another day.
If there’s one thing I’ve heard repeatedly when working with churches at Visioneering Studios it is, “the last architect we worked with just didn’t get us.” More than a few times churches who come to us have already spent months (or years) and thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars working with another architecture firm on their church campus or church building, only to become exasperated and frustrated and left with nothing to show for it but a roll of plans on a shelf. We’ve had several of our best projects come at the expense of previous architects who got fired because they just didn’t get it.
Here are the Top 10 complaints I’ve heard from churches about their frustration with church architects:
1. They don’t listen to us.
2. They don’t get our culture/ministry/style.
3. They aren’t bringing us any ideas.
4. They aren’t showing any creativity in their designs.
5. They tried to tell us how we “should” do church.
6. They tried to modify one of their “stock” plans to work for our unique needs.
7. All their projects looked the same.
8. They designed projects we couldn’t afford to build.
9. We were looking for a ministry partner and we got a sales program.
10. There was no consideration of future phases.
Results like this leave churches confused and unsure of what to do for their facility needs. If you are talking to a church architect and they tell you they have all the answers before they’ve spent any time with your church, or they pull out their “stock” plans with their 200-seater, 500-seater, and 1000-seater, you have my permission to run in the opposite direction.
At Visioneering Studios we never tell a church how they should do church. That’s up to you in following your God-given vision and mission. We come in and ask tons of questions aimed at finding out the unique DNA of your church and your church’s vision for reaching your community. We look at the historical context of the area where your project is located. We investigate the cultural and architectural context of your region. We listen to what your community wants and needs, and we help you figure out how to turn your site and your building into a destination and a ministry tool to serve and reach out to others.
Our experience working with hundreds of churches across the country has proven one thing. Each church is as unique as each individual that God created, and no cookie-cutter solution is going to serve your church’s specific needs adequately. When we partner with a church we treat our initial design concepts as a hearing test. If your architect isn’t a good listener they won’t be a good architect either. We try to reflect back to you in our design what we heard from you during all our preliminary programming discussions. If we heard right we proceed, if not, we course correct before moving deeper.
If this all sounds unusual, it is. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in pursuing for your project, we’d love to talk with you further.
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.
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.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with traditional buildings, or pipe organs, or hymals, 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 protoypes 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.
It is my opinion that if you utilize the above 2 methods to manage your worship seating, you can exceed to the 80% rule to 85-90%…maybe more. You may ask why this is important me (and to you). Here is why…it goes back to stewardship… financial and facility stewardship. If we can maximize the space God has already entrusted to us before we venture into a another building initiative, we are being better stewards of our current spaces as well as the money entrusted to us. I like the sound of that.
For the past 20-25 years, there have been 2 words that have been very divisive in the church. They are words that really have no place in addressing our churches, our music, our methods, our focus, our dress codes...and yet the church has allowed them to become vernacular which has caused a rift between church leaders and members.