Over a decade ago, former Disney Imagineer Mel McGowan started calling into question the true meaning of the spaces we commonly call “church.” Since he knew environments can facilitate mission, the overwhelming emotive of the archetype church building and its surroundings seemed to not be mission-like at all, but rather characterless. A bit vacant. Unoccupied. Much like a church parking lot during the week.
Church “space,” for the most part, had become lost to its original mission. Institutional, commonplace and disconnected from the surrounding community, the word “church” had come to mean “a building” or even worse, “a building with walls” and even worse than that, “a building with walls where only Christians go.” For centuries, communities were built around a central cultural, commercial and spiritual hub. Churches weren’t just an entity. They were integral to the larger social spectrum.
Mel, acutely aware that a process of cultural shifting and liturgical architectural stagnation had essentially steered the design of “sacred space” into “a building with walls,” founded Visioneering Studios in Irvine, CA and set out to instigate our own paradigm shift to “Create true centers of community where the lost and the least would feel at home seven days a week.” Fortunately I found others that were on the same path. Across the country and around the world, many churches are recognizing the need for change.
Recognizing the Need for Change
One great example of a church reorganizing for change is Grace Place in Berthoud, CO. The church recently moved out of three buildings on two blocks in downtown Berthoud to one facility. Visioneering Studios did a master plan, design, architecture and interiors that are built entirely around the needs of the community. Located in a small town about 50 miles north of Denver, the church doesn’t just offer a main worship building with an auditorium and lobby. It also features a student lounge for teens, a commercial kitchen that serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week—and a rooftop deck seating area—all of which are designed to encourage “hanging out.” A second building is dedicated just for children, where an outdoor theme of camping and canoeing, complete with backpacks and gear for decoration, encourage a oneness with nature.
Grace Place Pastor and Founder Clay Peck has said the idea behind the new church facilities was to make it open, fun and relevant to the entire community—even for those who don’t attend church—which is why it also features a concert-style stage.
In its next phase of development, Grace Place will offer even more features to encourage communal gathering for reflection, enjoyment and prayer, transforming the current auditorium into a student center and creating a larger, 1,200-seat worship space with a prayer tower, as well as a community garden, greenhouse, fishing pond, creek, waterfall and walking trail that will connect to a nearby regional trail.
Coming Full Circle
Today, the notion of a “big box” church is being replaced by a much more relevant concept. Churches, rather than standing apart from their surrounding communities, are becoming once again a crucial and viable destination that serves the greater good, bringing them full circle to the churches of centuries ago. That’s exactly where they should be.
When it comes to facilities, are you dreaming outside the box?